The ambiguity of God : a post-colonial inquiry into the politics of theistic formulation in South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis sets out to locate a post-apartheid perspective within what might be described as postcolonial Religious Studies, drawing on the genealogical method of Michel Foucault. Roughly stated, I understand the methodology to represent a shift away from preoccupation with the actual truth or otherwise of an idea, towards concern with the agitation - the discord, the discrepancies - that characterizes the appearance of an idea. Within the parameters, paradigms and possibilities imposed by this method, I inquire into the politics of theistic formulation in South Africa prior to the Union of South Africa (1910). Part One of the thesis discusses the politics of the advent of the Christian God in Southern Africa. In the three chapters that comprise this section, I situate colonial beliefs about God within colonialism as a discursive genre; in particular, evidence is provided of the deployment of religious (and in particular theistic) sensibility as a strategic category in the Othering discourse by which European expansion into Southern Africa was promulgated. Chapter Two opens by observing that colonial constructions of Otherness served not only to "erase" (Spivak) autochthonic identity, but also to eulogize and assert the colonial Self. Contextualizing my argument in the debate about the ambiguous effects of colonial missionary activities, I examine the mythically imbued, Othering discourse of Robert Moffat as a particularly conspicuous instance of the missionary qua colonial Self. Chapter Three gathers the concerns of Part One around the problem of theistic formulation in a colonial context, by discussing John Colenso's discovery of a theistic sensibility indigenous to autochthonic Africans as an example of a transgression of the Christian discourse that colonialism made function as truth. Part Two makes use of the categories established in Part One, and applies them to Afrikanerdom: its Othering in British colonial discourse; its religiously imbued, mythic history; and its beliefs in God. Having brought to theistic formulation a Foucauldian suspicion of systems of truth, my argument turns in Part Three to bring a particular theology, theologia crucis, alongside Foucault: accepting that the "dogmatic finitization" (Wolfhart Pannenberg) of Christian belief is inherently susceptible to the play of power, I observe that theistic formulation cast in terms of the cross - the "Crucified God" (Jurgen Moltmann) - holds a subversive potential in which may lie possibilities for an alternative to "truth".

Bibliography: leaves 115-131.