Wednesday, February 08, 2017

paper acceptance Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific

I was delighted to hear today that a paper proposal I submitted for the Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific conference at the University of Auckland on March 24, 2017 has been accepted. The conference will bring together scholars of Christianity in a variety of disciplines to examine the cultural dynamics of the interaction between native peoples and transplanted Christian churches in the Pacific region. It will pay particular attention to the dynamic tension between centralized and localized religious culture.

My paper will be a development of research I presented at the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea in August 2016. I’ve continued to write and research for publication in the months since and am glad of the opportunity to also present my research in a Pacific and University environment. Here is the abstract I submitted:

“Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Ashcroft (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (Modjeska 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, 1992).

This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia, 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Dr Steve Taylor
Flinders University: Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

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