Discernment at the Periphery
Although underemphasized by contemporary theologians, demonology haunts some of the most important theological and social questions of our time. Specifically, demonology is a necessary site of Christian reflection in light of the contemporary social and theological problems of colonialism and anti-Black racism. This dissertation charts pathways for a contextual, prophetic, and decolonial Christian demonology for the 21st theology. This dissertation first retrieves underappreciated attempts to revive demonology among 20th century American and European theologians. This theological tradition, which I dub “Euro-American political demonology” endorses possibilities for Christian demonology as a political theological doctrine in a world of violence and systemic injustice. The second chapter, drawing from Black studies and decolonial theory, analyzes the precise role of Christian demonology in the emergence of the anti-Black colonial reality. Returning to Euro-American political demonology, the third chapter assesses whether this demonological tradition responsibly and effectively speaks to the anti-Black colonial context, putting these thinkers in conversation with liberation, postcolonial, and decolonial theologies. I determine that Euro-American approaches demonology, while instructive, do not take sufficient account of the modern anti-Black colonial context, nor the particular implication of demonology in the emergence of that very social reality. Aligning with emerging decolonial approaches to theology, the final two chapters turn to Black and womanist reflections on demonology, demonization, and the practice of discerning the spirits. For Black American populations, demonology has remained a salient language for articulating resistance and healing in a world of demonizing, anti-Black, violence. Womanist theology, in particular, approaches demonology in the context of the difficult praxis of Black persons discerning their divine dignity living under a colonial matrix that demonizes Black flesh. The final chapter traces the themes of demonology and discernment in the literature of James Baldwin, commending Baldwin as a resource for decolonial approaches to demonology. Baldwin, particularly through his literary work exhibits a Black grammar of the demonic which frames the drama of discerning the spirits. For Baldwin, discernment is an embodied and communal praxis of embracing possibilities of Divine love and resisting the powers of anti-Black coloniality.