Decoloniality and Interreligious Studies in the North American Context
Decoloniality challenges the disciplines of the study of religion and theology in terms of epistemologies, pedagogies, theories, and methods. It contests Eurocentric ways of knowing, teaching, analyzing, explaining, and researching by offering sharp decolonial critiques of concepts, systems, and ideologies that these disciplines have taken for granted both explicitly, such as modernity, secularity, and even “religion,” and implicitly, such as coloniality, capitalism, cis heteronormativity, Euromerican exceptionalism, racial/religious hierarchies, and anti-indigeneity.
The decolonization of the study of religion, philosophy of religion, and theology is an ongoing process with, hopefully, a vibrant future not only disrupting the fields but also transforming the systems, structures, and ideologies that shape our modern world. There is a large body of decolonial knowledge and literature. Insights are beginning to be shared in more accessible ways online. Strong examples of this are the online resources “Decoloniality and the Study of Religion” and “Decolonizing Continental Philosophy of Religion” at the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities Project on Decoloniality. Worth noting is that, while decolonial theory is substantively challenging these disciplines, the scholarship remains dense and highly technical and assumes significant background knowledge in the history of the study of religion. The Journal of Interreligious Studies intends to offer more readable resources with less jargon.
The JIRS seeks to make indigenous knowledges and practices, as well as decoloniality, a critical aspect of interreligious studies in the same way decoloniality makes a critical and constructive impact in the study of religion, philosophy of religion, and theology. The primary focus of this project will be the bodies of knowledge and practices coming from those indigenous to Turtle Island, i.e., Native Americans and First Nations of Canada.
Decoloniality as a school of thought is expansive and includes authors from the African, Latin American, and Asian contexts and global diasporas. Included in decoloniality and the decolonization of knowledge are authors, activists, artists, and/or scholars who are indigenous to the North American context. The virtual space, “Decoloniality and Interreligious Studies in the North American Context,” aims to focus on Native American and First Nations peoples of Turtle Island while not excluding the body of knowledge emanating from other contexts and diasporas. Indeed, very few articles on the theories, methods, organizing strategies, pedagogies, theologies, and case studies related to interreligious/interfaith engagement in the North American context—the primary purview of this journal—even mention indigenous scholarship and practices, much less substantially contend with the decolonial critiques proffered by those native to Turtle Island.
To put it bluntly, Native Americans and First Nations have been erased from interreligious/interfaith engagement on Turtle Island, from dialogue to theology, scholarship, education, practices, organizations, social/interfaith justice movements, and more. More broadly, the discipline of interreligious studies needs to address the critical insights made by Tink Tinker, wazhazhe udsethe (Osage Nation), in “Religious Studies – The Final Colonization Of American Indians.” Interreligious studies is still a relatively young discipline. How can it avoid the “colonization of American Indians” that the field of Religious Studies performed? (See, for e.g., Paul Hedges, “Decolonizing Interreligious Studies,” in Interreligious Studies: Dispatches from an Emerging Field, ed. by Hans Gustafson.)
In a “World Religions,” “Introduction to the Study of Religion,” “Interreligious/Interfaith Studies,” or “Interreligious Dialogue” course, it is likely that a simple poll of undergraduates regarding the last historical event they learned about concerning Native Americans would return a sad, but unsurprising, result: in my experience, an overwhelming majority mark “The Trail of Tears” (1830-1850) as the last event they learned of regarding Native American history, movements, and knowledges, with a few recalling some recent events (such as the #noDAPL movement or the Trump-Warren public conflict regarding Native American ancestry and tribal citizenship). In terms of Native American practices and epistemologies, most remain disciplined by colonial logic: Native Americans are very “spiritual, passive”, with some students perhaps unintentionally suggesting that indigenous people are “backwards, less advanced, and primitive,” or stereotypically reducing them to casino owners or an oppressed people. Most noteworthy, many students habitually use the past tense to speak of Native Americans and First Nations of Canada: “they were…they had…” This incorrectly—and violently—presumes that Native Americans and First Nations of Canada no longer exist.
But as indigenous scholars from Vine Deloria to Qwo-Li Driskill, Robin Kimmerer, Nick Estes, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Daniel Heath Justice, and more, including those in scholarly solidarity with indigenous peoples, such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Audra Simpson, Sarah Deer, and others, have taught us otherwise. Native Americans and First Nations of Canada have been practicing and teaching indigenous ways of knowing, being, living, teaching, and resisting in the context of settler colonial erasure for centuries. They still are. Native Americans and First Nations continue to cultivate indigenous ways of knowing that resist the ways in which neocolonial, racial capitalism seeks to marginalize and suppress them; and they are succeeding.
What would it mean for indigenous knowledge and practices to disrupt the field of interreligious studies?
What would it mean for the field of interreligious studies to attend directly to the indigenous, decolonial theories, methods, and pedagogies of indigenous authors? How might courses and programs in interreligious studies be decolonized not merely in theory but in practice? How might interreligious/interfaith organizing “on the ground,” viz., on these lands sacred to Native Americans and First Nations, be reimagined when indigenous decoloniality is prioritized?
There are no easy answers to these questions, precisely because attending to indigenous decoloniality in interreligious studies may require a total transformation of the field.
The JIRS has therefore dedicated a space on its website to address these questions and more. It will feature short book reviews and essays that seek to bring indigenous decoloniality into interreligious studies. The topics of these reviews and essays will prioritize Native American and First Nations writings, activism, artistry, and resistance, but it will occasionally connect to global permutations of decolonial theory from other contexts and their diasporas, such as the Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We are especially interested in sharing decolonial and indigenous pedagogies and course readings that have worked well in the classroom. We wish to share best practices for a larger reading public outside the peer-review venue of the JIRS.
If you are interested in contributing to this project, please email the Editor-in-Chief: firstname.lastname@example.org.