2018 Abstracts


Christianity and Indigenous Peoples: A History in Two Themes by Dr Tolly Bradford and Ms Jessica Joannou from Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta

This paper outlines a very brief history of the role of Christianity, particularly in a spiritual sense, in the history of Indigenous—non-Indigenous relations in the region we now call Canada. Instead of trying to achieve any sort of comprehension in terms of geographic and chronological coverage, the paper highlights two patterns that seem to dominate this history: 1) that a “supremacist characteristics” guided how EuroCanadians interacted with Indigenous peoples during the 18th, 19th and 20th century; and 2) that despite, or perhaps because of this “supremacist characteristics,” many Indigenous peoples developed affiliations or even full conversions to Christianity. To illustrate these patterns, I draw on the history of the nineteenth-century Canadian Northwest (that area now covered by treaties 1-7), and some of the testimonies gathered at the TRC’s Northern events during 2011. This historical sketch emphasizes the complexity and the contradictory nature of the history of Christianity in colonial interactions in Canada, noting that Christianity was central in the making of the colonial order in Canada, but was never completely controlled by any one figure or group. The paper closes by reflecting on what this sometimes paradoxical history suggests as we think about the place of Christianity in the process of reconciliation.

Believing in Christ as Indian Hindus: The Socio-Religious Identity of the Hindu Devotees of Jesus Christ by Dr Vinod John from Taylor Seminary and South Asian Church, Edmonton

The essentially missional nature of the Christian faith in its interaction with different religious traditions and cultural contexts, has mostly engendered certain distinct Christianities around the globe. The essential nature is not only missionary but also dynamic and transformational, which has led its followers to contextualize and produce indigenous expressions of their universal faith in Jesus Christ. The history of Christianity is replete with such model of the gospel’s transformative nature in societies around the world. The Christian missions not only transform the cultures they reach, but Christian missions, and thus the Christianity it produces, also gets transformed and particularized in that process. Not only do people become followers of Christ, but Christianity, too, in the process, becomes local and indigenized according to recipient’s culture, which includes its theology, ecclesiology, and missiology. This “World Christianity” recognizes and promotes what Lamin Sanneh terms is the “translatability” of our faith, because the “gospel exists not to alienate but to invigorate and transform” the cultures and the people that accept it. Thus, the world Christianity witnessed around the world today “is not primarily the result of attempts by the powerful churches to replicate themselves worldwide but the result of indigenous response and grassroot movements.”

This process is no different in India where the gospel’s interaction with local Hindu faith and culture has produced and continues to create local expression of Christianities. One such form of this emergent expression of indigenous Christianity among high caste Hindus, in North India, appears to be a believing in Christ but belonging to their ancient Hindu community, claiming to be the followers of Jesus Christ but self-identifying themselves as Hindus. This paper, based on my doctoral research among Hindu followers of Jesus Christ in North India, proposes to delineate the construction of a socio-religious identity among caste Hindus in North India and outline its missiological/theological challenges.

Justice UnLocked: A Eucharistic Theology of Land by Dr Stephen Martin from Kings University Edmonton, Alberta

“When the missionaries came they had the Bible and we had the land. Then they said, ‘Let us pray.’ When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.” (Desmond Tutu)

The missionaries brought something else besides the Bible. They brought a framework for interpreting its message deeply influenced by a Lockean link between private property, the image of God, and “productive” labour. These doctrines are usually criticized in terms of an ethic of justice and human rights. What is less often discussed is the way they also reflect a certain theology of the Eucharist, an understanding which sees it primarily in symbolic and vertical, rather than participative and integrative terms. What would happen if we understood the Eucharist as mediating relationships between First Peoples and settlers on the one hand, and the land on the other? And what if we called that mediation, “justice?” Drawing on case studies in South Africa and North America, and the works of theologian William T. Cavanaugh and biblical scholar Christopher J.H. Wright, this paper explores such a refiguration of the relationship might look like. Can Christians participate in the Eucharist and injustice at the same time?

Documents and Loving Relationships: The United Church of Canada’s Reconciliation Efforts by Mr Martin Nord from the University of Western Ontario

Relationship with God is the center of the life of the church. We are called to reflect this by loving others, but churches have long struggled to show that love in relationship with Indigenous people. The United Church of Canada (UCC) now acknowledges and actively works against this history of broken relationship. Ideally, relationships happen face-to-face, but such opportunities do not often extend beyond family, friends, and congregations. When the Other is not included in these circles, relationships must be fostered in less ideal ways, often through documents. The UCC uses documents in this role to accompany its other work with Indigenous people. But documents are an imperfect solution for the problem of broken relationships. Drawing on document theory, this paper suggests that documents cannot replace loving relationships, even as they are the default form of communication across distances. Emmanuel Levinas emphasizes the importance of face-to-face relationships as the impetus for real understanding and the movement past mere knowledge of to responsibility for the Other. Because documents lack the immediacy of face-to-face interactions, they reduce this responsibility.

During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s tenure (2008–2017), the UCC produced 38 public documents that demonstrate its understanding of its position in Canada’s settler-colonialism. Their language reflects Hans-Georg Gadamer’s approach to understanding through openness toward the Other and questioning of self. That is, these documents say the right kinds of things. Yet, archival evidence and a hermeneutic reading of these documents suggest that they defer—even as they yearn for— the fulfillment of right relationship. Despite the church’s best efforts, documents cannot repair the broken relationship between the church and Canada’s Indigenous people. The UCC must work against documents’ limitations to reach across the distances that still separate people as it communicates its ministerial work and reflects God’s love.

Can There Be Reconciliation Without There First Being Truth? Indigenous and Settler Cosmologies and the Ni wapataenan/Maskihkîy âcimowin Projects by Rev Matthew Oliver (Métis P.Eng.) from St John the Evangelist Anglican Church and Reverend Lori Calkins (Métis) from Indigenous Ministries Initiative, Anglican Diocese of Edmonton

With Canada150 there has been Settler talk of reconciliation and much Indigenous counter-talk about the lack of real reconciliation. Reconciliation requires a level of truth speaking sufficient to ground all parties in a deep and relational understanding of one other’s reality. The Cree word for truth is tâpwêwin, which can be understood as “speaking from the heart”. Tâpwêwin asks us to quiet our own voices and assumptions and listen with open hearts, minds and spirits. It asks us for vulnerability and humility as we learn another’s deep and intuitive cosmology or worldview in the form such learning is offered, lest the exercise become merely another opportunity for the imposition of a solitary worldview. Even surface adaptations in an attempt to encompass a radically different worldview will ultimately be unsuccessful. Interactions involving the western church and Indigenous peoples have consistently left the dominant, colonial worldview unquestioned, with the result that reconciliation-focused overtures have often not been gladly accepted by Indigenous peoples, sometimes leading to anger and confusion on the part of those making the overtures.

This presentation will begin with a discussion of three cosmologies: Western science, Western theology (reflecting the worldview of the church), and Indigenous (from the presenters’ points of view). It will be demonstrated that the worldview of many sciences remains Newtonian: positivist, reductionist, linear, mechanistic and human-centric. Western theology, the historic queen of the sciences, continues to operate in the same mode, meaning the dominant worldview in the Church is also Newtonian. Newtonian perspective and scientific method pursue objectivity by deliberately separating ontology (understanding of being) from epistemology (understanding of truth).

In sharp contrast, Indigenous cosmologies find the separation of being and knowing inconceivable. In a relational reality where all my relations encompasses human, non-human, living and what Western eyes would call inanimate entities, the knowing of something is inseparable from its relationship with the knower. Echoes of this Indigenous cosmology are heard in modern physics, where the quantum understanding of reality also reflects an intrinsically relational Creation. The discoveries of modern physics are only now being integrated into other scientific fields. These contrasting and incompatible worldviews come into play, often unconsciously, in attempts at reconciliation between Settler and Indigenous. If truth is to precede and enable reconciliation, the first step is acknowledging and learning these contrasting cosmologies.

The practical challenges of cosmologies in collision will be discussed as a real manifestation of divergent understandings of reality. These discussions will focus around the stories of two recent public art installation projects in Edmonton that brought together Settler and Indigenous in a space that could allow collaborative creation. The 2016 Ni wapataenan (We see) project focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), as well as boys and men. The 2017 Maskihkîy âcimowin (Medicine stories) project brought together Indigenous, Settler and newcomers to share stories through a web application that tied each narrative to the land around a large tree sculpture, The Giving Tree (a Métis narrative about sharing and community). Both installations involved joint Settler/Indigenous dialogue and a mutually-accepted goal of engaging both the physical and spiritual realities of reconciliation.

The learnings from these experiences will be summarized as a means for the Settler Church to understand its need for a revision of its default understanding of reality. It will be argued that the Indigenous worldview, like the quantum understanding of reality, is a more authentic and Gospel-centric cosmology than the Newtonian framework that has shaped the Church’s thought since the Enlightenment. This revision is essential if the Church hopes to engage in reconciliation with Indigenous communities as well as recover its own true cosmology.

African Folk Christianity: A Case of Reformed African Traditional Religion or the Disconcerting Homologies Between Christianity and African Traditional Religion? by Mr Fidelis Olokunboro from University of Notre Dame in Indiana

It is no news that Christian evangelization in Africa was conducted and “successful” at the expense and obliteration of African Traditional Religion (ATR). The disappearance of shrines, other vestiges of ATR and the multiplication of Churches in many parts of Africa will give an impression of the spread of Christianity and the annihilation of ATR. But a thorough examination of some Christian practices in Africa appears to suggest continuity between practices in ATR and African folk Christianity. That is, what is practiced as Christianity seems to be a recycling of practices in ATR. Since ATR enjoys theistic plasticity, it is not impossible that Jesus Christ may be functioning as the head of the pantheon of African Christianity. This invites us to re-evaluate changes in the religion of Africa. Are the African religious practices new forms of ATR or they are Christian practices?

I intend to investigate and establish the convergence and continuity between the indigenous religious practices and some folk Christian practices, using the rituals of Roman Catholic and African Independent Churches as a case studies. To do this, I will examine some forms of African Christologies and Theism and how they play into Theistic understanding in ATR. I will also investigate some Christian religious practices and how they coincide and are a reproduction of some core rituals in ATR. I intend to conclude by delineating the creedal crisis and the countercultural merits of African folk Christianity, and how it operates on a different logic as a popular religion.

Postcolonial Considerations on Shusaku Endô`s Silence and Indigeneity by Rev Dr Tobias Schuckert from International University Liebenzell in Germany

In 1966, the Japanese author and Catholic Christian Shusaku Endô published his novel Silence (沈黙, ”Chinmoku”). In this book, Endô portrays a Jesuit priest who came to Japan in the 17th century. The priest is confronted with the great suffering of Japanese Christians caused by a severe persecution through the Japanese officials. Throughout the story, the Jesuit priest, who represents the Western church, discusses issues of Christianity with Japanese people. Eventually, he learns that Christ is different as he had thought before coming to Japan. This novel does not only deal with the question how the God of love can be silent although the church is suffering, but it also contains a significant indigenous view on Christianity in Japan.

Shusaku Endô, who grew up as a minority Christian in Japan, uses the novel to present a postcolonial critique on the European church and the attitude of missionaries with a colonial mindset from Western nations. Furthermore, Endô presents a fresh perspective on Christology from Japan.

This paper proposes a postcolonial reading of Silence and thus, gives new perspectives from Japan. It introduces indigenous Asian views on missions, ecclesiology, and Christology based on insights from Endô`s novel, relevant for a global theory on indigeneity. Thus, it proposes not only new ways of intercultural encounter of Christians from different cultures, it also delivers new indigenous forms of Christian living based on a Christology that starts from Christ`s weakness rather than his victorious character. Moreover, it attempts to foster cultural identity of indigenous groups, with consideration on the Japanese minority, the Ainu from Hokkaido. It relates, furthermore, theological insights from Silence to current global issues of indigeneity. By doing so, it leads to a theory of church in poverty characterized by hospitality and inclusivity.

Animism, Contemporary Philosophy of Mind, and the Christian Faith by Dr Jonathan Strand from Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta

Indigenous cultures around the globe have often exhibited perspectives which have been called ‘animistic.’

‘Animism’ is defined as “The attribution of life and personality (and sometimes a soul) to inanimate objects and natural phenomena.” (OED)

The theses of this presentation are that 1) such perspectives and attributions are not as implausible as many in western (European-based) culture might assume, from the standpoint of the best, current (European-based) Philosophy of Mind. And 2) there is also not as great a contradiction between Christian and animistic perspectives as many may think.

The origins and history of western Philosophy of Mind will be surveyed—going back to the ancient Greeks (Plato and Aristotle) and the early modern philosophers (Descartes, Leibniz, Locke). The best current thinking in Philosophy of Mind will then be discussed vis-a-vis animistic perspectives.
Then the foundational documents of the Christian faith (the Christian scriptures and creeds) will be discussed as they relate to animism.

This will reveal that, in light of the best insights of contemporary Philosophy of Mind, animistic perspectives are not as implausible as many might think. And there is not as great a contradiction as many may think between Christianity and animistic perspectives.

Reference will also be made to the adoption of animistic perspectives among contemporary environmentalists.

Law and the Christian Faith with Canadian Indigenous People by Mr Bill Werry former Deputy Minister of Indigenous Relations in the Government of Alberta

This power point presentation with provide an overview of the legal and policy framework in Canada that guide relationships between indigenous communities and non-indigenous communities. The presentation will provide an explanation of Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 and reference several Supreme Court decisions from 1990 up to 2016. The presenter will provide a description of the major reports that are driving all of us toward a new relationship with indigenous people as we move forward. The presenter will share his personal perspective as a lay member of the Christian community on the principles that should guide this new relationship and his own personal spiritual experience in creating relationships with indigenous people that lead to positive outcomes for indigenous people and their communities. This presentation is intended to be interactive with the questions forming a large part of the learning opportunity.