Theologian explains Transpacific cultures

Kwok Pui-Lan, a renowned feminist theologian and professor at Emory University, spoke to Detroit Mercy students earlier this month and challenged them to better study the history of Transpacific cultures, specifically the intersection of their theology and politics.

She argued that history requires a re-examination, as Transpacific states have been transformed due to the continual colonization they face from countries on the Pacific Rim. Over time, this has led to a blending of cultures and religions, creating a mixed identity for Transpacific people. The Pacific Rim is a vast and diverse region that stretches from North America to East Asia, and includes the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China. It is home to some of the world’s largest ecosystems and economies, as well as some of the most diverse societies.

Kwok divided her lecture into four parts by establishing what Transpacific political theology is, its development, themes and methods, as well as how the ongoing compe- tition between China and the United States has affected the world.

Although Transpacific political theology is a complex and inter- disciplinary field, Kwok provided a thoughtful structural analysis on gender, race, sexuality, religion and classism in Transpacific states.

Politics and religion are often looked at separately, yet both are inherently intertwined as imperial countries have historically justified the colonization of Transpacific people through religion, she said. This has resulted in an overlapping of cultural, religious, and political identities that shape attitudes and behaviors towards globalism and localism.

Kwok identified that political theory in Asia Pacific should reflect on the formation of the political subject, citizenship, and the relation between the individual and society.

One of the most important issues to political theologians is the grow- ing tension between Xi Jinping’s “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

Kwok argued that the neo-liberal economic system we know today could not have been created, if it were not for the “symbiotic relationship” China and the United States have. Both nations’ desire for dominance is leading to a rise in nationalism, and with it, a decline in civil liberties and political freedoms for marginalized people.

Kwok advocates Christian theologians to challenge empires, as empowerment and justice are possible due to grass-roots movements that happen globally. In recent years, mass protests in Hong Kong, India, Thailand and the United States have displayed a solidarity amongst marginalized people.

“The pandemic and these protests show that, we cannot go back to the normal anymore,” Kwok said. “Because for many, normal is not a dream, but a nightmare.”

For Kwok, hope is an action that must be embodied and practiced within communities. “As the empire seeks to instill fear and helplessness and fatalism, defiant communities must stand in solidarity with one another,” Kwok said. “Hope means action, resistance, and commitment to making a better world.”

Born in Hong Kong, Kwok converted to Anglian Christianity as a teenager. She is currently the Dean’s Professor of Theology at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, and is an author of over 20 books on Asian and Asian-American feminist theology, biblical interpretation and post-colonial criticism.

In 2011, she served as president of the American Academy of Religion. In 2021, she received a Lambeth Award for her leadership and contribution to Asian Feminist and Post-Colonial Theology.

Kwok was invited to speak for the 15th annual Dr. Ralph and Barbara Cushing Distinguished Lecture in religious studies.

The lectures occur in a rotational pattern and focus on areas of interest within the field.