Dictionary of Third World Theologies

Dictionary of Third World Theologies

Nottingham, William J

Dictionary of Third World Theologies. Edited by Virginia Fabella and R. S. Sugirtharajah. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000. 261 pages.

The editors of this splendid wordbook explain that the title Third World is not taken with its original political connotation but in its representation of relationships of power. During the years of the Cold War and in the assemblies of non-aligned nations, the term took on a geographical and cultural coloration: the East, the West, and the Rest. It often served as a convenient generalization grouping nations that were former colonies of Europe and former mission lands of the Western Church. But “Third World” has come to mean the excluded peoples of the world, the unequal balance caused by domination and exploitation.

Third World refers to the marginalization that takes place both at the global and local level, and it defines the perspective from which these 157 entries have been published. This dictionary is not a typical academic word study that happens to be written by theologians living in a certain part of the world or representing an unfamiliar culture. It is rooted in the experience and analysis of the oppressed; by theologians who take as their starting point the unequal relation between strong and weak, rich and poor; and theologies that are derived from the gospel in concrete situations of injustice and exclusion. The editors explain that the articles are “exploratory and critical rather than definitive or apologetic.” In many respects, they are a protest for a more global understanding of Christian faith and a challenge to traditional definitions that ignore the reality of vast numbers of the dispossessed.

Each entry is cross-referenced and followed by a brief bibliography. Titles include mission themes like Accompaniment, African Independent Churches, Basic Ecclesial Communities, Folktale/Myth, Globalization, Option for the Poor, Paradigm Shift, Third World Debt, and Violence. Theological and social terms, which are seen from a Third World perspective, are Atonement, Deconstruction, Development, Ecology, God, Salvation, Syncretism, Trinity, and others. There are seven regional entries under Bible, eight under Christologies, three under Ecclesiologies, three under Liberation Theologies, five under Third World Theologies in the First World, and seven under Third World Women’s Theologies. In other words, different contexts result in different perspectives. Also, little-known topics are presented; for example, Burakumin Liberation Theology from Japan, Chipko Women’s Movement and Dalit Theology from India, and Minjung Theology from South Korea.

A valuable resource of ninety-four English-language journals, nearly all from Asia and Africa, with mailing addresses, is to be found in pages 249-261. This follows an eight-page list identifying the 107 contributors from around the world. Latin American theologians are among the writers, but a roster of the many excellent journals in Spanish or Portuguese is not provided, nor are periodicals in French from West Africa and the Pacific. This limitation serves as a reminder that language itself is a factor in exclusion.

Among the better-known authors are Leonardo Boff, Masao Takenaka, Kwok Pui-lan, Dwight N. Hopkins, Virgilio Elizondo, Jose Miguez Bonino, Ninan Koshy, Aruna Gnanadasan, Tissa Balasuriya, Pablo Richard, Elsa Tamez, Nairn Ateek, Wesley Ariarajah, Gustavo Gutierrez, Maurice Assad, Ivone Gebara, Chung Hyun Kyung, Christopher Duraisingh, James H. Cone, and Mercy Oduyoye. For the most part, they are members or friends of EATWOT, the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. Some have been on the staff of the World Council of Churches; others are on the faculty of distinguished institutes and seminaries. The editors and Orbis Books have assembled a group of theologians and a series of articles that is out of the ordinary. They point in a fresh way to ministry and mission in the coming decade.

William J. Nottingham

Christian Theological Seminary

Copyright Christian Theological Seminary Winter 2003

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