‘The road to colonial hell, at least for the colonized, has always been paved with good intentions.’
Ngũgĩwa Thiong’o, Something Torn and New (Civitas Books, 2009), 12. So wrote Kenyan academic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. This is especially so in the arena of education, where the good intentions underlying the project of knowledge production and dissemination are often undermined by what Morgan Ndlovu calls ‘invisible forms of colonisation’, including the colonisation of the imagination and of the mind.
Morgan Ndlovu, ’Coloniality of Knowledge and the Challenge of Creating African Futures’, Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 40, no. 2 (2018), 99. Commenting on the education system in general and the Higher Education system in particular, Ndlovu identifies the ongoing coloniality of knowledge as ‘a key lever in the structural system of colonial domination as a whole’.
Ndlovu, ‘Coloniality of Knowledge and the Challenge of Creating African Futures’, 110.
Education, even theological education, cannot therefore be seen as an unfettered good. The possibility of this colonial underbelly to an endeavor long seen as a beneficence ought to prompt some serious self-reflection among those of us who are involved in its Methodist variety, especially given the prominence of education in the expansion of Methodist networks around the world. As David Hempton notes in his history of the Methodist movement, beyond Britain and North America, ‘the pattern of using education as the chief device of christianizing native populations became the Methodist hallmark’; or again, ‘the thrust of the mission was the education of the native population’.
David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (Yale University Press, 2005), 157.
For me, this learned perspective on the coloniality of knowledge systems has been brought into sharp relief – enabled and provoked, even – by the more immediate experiences of colleagues and students from around the world with whom I’ve had the privilege of working. What I have only begun to grasp about this subject has been the lifelong experience of others. At the same time, because, as noted above, the coloniality of knowledge is so often ‘invisible’ – hidden from the awareness of both the colonised and the colonisers – I have come to realise that the task of decolonisation is not just ‘someone else's’; it is mine, even with all the inherent privilege I unwittingly carry. It has therefore become increasingly important to me that Wesleyan higher education exposes and addresses the coloniality of all our knowledge – where ‘all’ means both ‘every aspect of our knowledge’, and ‘the knowledge of all of us’. It seems to me that there are some peculiar resources to hand within the Methodist movement that may enable us to participate together in this decolonising work; in other words, to be a ‘world parish of higher education’.
One such resource is the Wesleyan commitment to conference and conferring. Sitting around a table together – whether digitally or physically, and even when socially distanced due to public health restrictions – promotes the creation of space for other voices, other perspectives, other stories, other knowledge, besides our own. Simultaneously, while creating space for otherness, Christian conference at its best might assist us in recognising that our own contributions are someone else's other. To use an idiom drawn from José Medina, my ‘view from here’ is always someone else's ‘elsewhere’.
See José Medina, Speaking from Elsewhere (SUNY Press, 2006). In conferring together, we come to recognise that all our perspectives are penultimate, provisional and open to critique. Christian conference, thus, can decentre all our limited horizons, ultimately subjecting our restricted perspectives to the judgement of God's expansive and decolonising love.
See Joseph Drexler-Dreis, Decolonial Love: Salvation in Colonial Modernity (Fordham University Press, 2019).
‘Sitting around a table together’, especially with those who are ‘unlike’ us, is, therefore, characteristically Methodist. David Hempton, in his McCosh lecture at Queen's University Belfast last year, described Methodism as a ‘classic international network’ that achieved most success in its frontier encounters.
David Hempton, ‘Networks, Nodes and Nuclei: Towards a New Theory of Religious Change’, McCosh Lecture 2020, Queen's University Belfast. Intersectionality – the interplay of different political, social, cultural and religious contexts – or ‘hybridity’ – the polyvalent nature of identity – are not new threats to Methodist knowledge in the twenty-first century, but rather energising dynamisms of Methodist formation from day one.
One way to put this, in more theological terms, is to say that as we together figure out what it means to be the people of God called Methodist today, we can only do so in an exercise of ‘social holiness’. Social holiness, as Wesley understood it, is the default expectation that we deepen our Christian vocation only with and not at the expense of others. Intercontextual learning – learning across cultural, contextual and even linguistic boundaries – is the educative equivalent of Wesley's instruction not simply to ‘send charity’ to those in need, but rather to go in person, not thereby to promote the inevitability of power relationships but rather to open up the possibility of genuine transformation through mutual exchange. Learning from and with others is not just an idealistic dream; it is an ecclesial necessity if we are to be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Like charity, Christian conference can be viewed as a transformative work of mercy, which decentres the self and enacts solidarity at the periphery – and, as such, is every bit a means of God's grace. We thus trace the vital Wesleyan spiritual thread from works of mercy, through means of grace, to social religion, entire sanctification, the spread of scriptural holiness, and the dialogical and decolonising theological practice of Christian conference.
I invite you, therefore, to see this issue of Holiness as an example of decolonising Christian conference. Around the table in this issue is a British perspective on holiness, a Nigerian perspective on missionary success, a South African perspective on theological curriculum and a Cameroonian perspective on altruism. Each article speaks for itself and yet also contributes to a common conversation: how can we find words for what God is doing with us?
So, Philip Turner describes a study of understandings of holiness in ‘Village Road Methodist Church’, concluding that ‘holiness’ can become meaningful and transformative as congregation members intentionally speak together about it. Chinonyerem Ekebuisi delves into original archive material about the early Primitive Methodist Mission in Nigeria to account for its phenomenal growth in the early twentieth century. He argues that the growth was only possible, however, because the Primitive Methodist missionaries were willing to cultivate religious growth that had been started by a native Nigerian (and non-Methodist), Garrick Braide. In Simangaliso Kumalo's article on decolonising theological curriculum in South Africa, he speaks about the vital importance of African languages and the need to identify or coin contextual terms for Wesleyan theological concepts. Finally, Epiemembong Ebong writes from the difficult context of Cameroon, suggesting that African cultural notions of ujamaa, ubuntu and harambee provide resources that could enable the Christian Church to promote altruism rather than egoism – what a Wesleyan might see as the necessarily ‘social’ element of ‘social holiness’. As usual, a selection of reviews, brought together by our Reviews Editor, Michael Wilson, rounds off the issue. Here are more voices – both the voices of the works reviewed, and the voices of the reviewers – to sit with you around the table of our conversation.
There will be some things here with which you might agree; and other things with which you might disagree. You will warm to the writing style of one author more than another; you will enjoy one turn of phrase, finding another off-putting. Yet this is precisely the point of theological conferral, of the decolonising of our knowledge, and of the Holiness journal itself: to put us in touch with other voices, to expand our horizons, to decentre our own perspective, and to open ourselves up to the ‘world parish’ of a God who continually delights in calling others to join Him – and us – in the fellowship of grace.
Those of you who are avid readers of Holiness will be aware that there has been something of a hiatus in publishing over this past year. One contributing factor has, of course, been the global coronavirus pandemic, which has provoked such disruption in every aspect of our lives over the past year. More positively, though, another reason for delay has been a significant piece of development work for the journal, transferring to a new publishing platform with Sciendo, the open access arm of De Gruyter. From this issue onwards, readers should benefit from the new digital interface, and authors will have a more streamlined submission portal. Over time, this transition will enable Holiness to grow as a globally relevant academic journal, indexed by leading academic search engines, while keeping its commitment to open access – free for authors and readers alike.
A final reason for delay has been my own workload. I have worked as Editor of Holiness alongside my other roles at Wesley House for just over the past two years. This work has been enormously stimulating, and I have had the privilege of working with students and colleagues from partner institutions around the world. However, the time has come for me to move on from Wesley House, and from 1 January 2021 I take up a new appointment at Cliff College as Programme Lead for Learning Innovation, where I hope to continue developing the decolonising agenda that has been set out in these pages. As I move on from Wesley House, so too I hand over the journal into the experienced hands of the Rev’d Dr Richard Clutterbuck, the new Interim Editor. I am grateful to Richard for taking on this role, and to the Rev’d Dr Daniel Pratt Morris-Chapman and the Rev’d Dr Michael Wilson who will continue to serve as Assistant Editor and Reviews Editor respectively. Over the past couple of years, the Editorial Board has embraced the vision of Holiness as a tool for stimulating the work of decolonising global Wesleyan theology, and this issue shows the beginning of the realisation of that, with its more globally oriented authorship. I look forward to the greater things that the new team will do with Holiness.
I end, then, by thanking you for ‘sitting around the table’ with me over these past years. May we all continue to learn from one another, as together we are graciously called by God to the vocation of holiness.
Andrew J Stobart