M.M. Thomas: Theological Signposts for the Emergence of Dalit Theology
Bird, Adrian P
Dalit Christian Theology emerged as a counter theological movement in India in the 1980s. As a theology ‘of the Dalits, by the Dalits, for the Dalits’, Dalit Christian theology sought to counter prevalent trends in Indian Christian theology which had proved inadequate to reflect the actual experience of the majority of Christians in India. The emergence of Dalit Christian theology as a contextual liberation theology thus reflects a polarising shift in theological discourse within India. This thesis argues, however, that the theology of M.M. Thomas, a leading non-Dalit Indian Christian theologian of the twentieth Century, offered significant theological signposts for the emergence and development of Dalit Christian theology. While it is clear that he did not, nor could not, construct a Dalit theology, this thesis argues that Thomas’s theological reflections in the midst of a rapidly changing and pluralistic religio-secular Indian context brought to the fore of theological debate essential questions relating to the concept of salvation, humanisation and justice relevant to the emergence of Dalit Christian theology. Seeking to relate Christology to the Indian context dynamically, M.M. Thomas sought a theology which could be ‘challengingly relevant’ to the people of India in the post-Independent search for a just and equal society. In order to substantiate the thesis, this study examines the reflections of two first generation Dalit Christian theologians, Bishop M. Azariah and Bishop V. Devasahayam. From within a framework of methodological exclusivism, both theologians appear to reject the theological contribution of M.M. Thomas, regarding him an Indian Christian theologian with little relevance to the Dalit theological quest. Closer textual examination, however, reveals that the theological contribution of M.M. Thomas is discernable within emerging Dalit theological discourse. This thesis further investigates the relevance of M.M. Thomas’s theological contribution for Dalit Christian theology today through the critical assessment of twelve second generation Dalit theologians studying at United Theological College, Bangalore. These voices assess the rise of Dalit Christian theology, and examine the relevance of Thomas’s thoughts for contemporary Dalit discourse.