Revolutionary Love: Scholars Respond to the AAR’s 2016 Conference Theme: Deepak Sarma


In this new series with the Bulletin, we’ve asked a number of scholars to weigh-in on the theme of this year’s upcoming annual conference for the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio, TX, “revolutionary love.” Our aim is to provide a forum for multiple voices to weigh-in on what some consider a controversial theme in the interest of engaging not only this question, but how it relates to broader concerns and divisions within the academic study of religions. For other posts in this series, see here.

by Deepak Sarma

“Love is taking over, Like a tidal wave”

Janet Jackson, “Night” from Unbreakable (2015, Rhythm Nation/BMG Rights Management)

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is just another in a long line of Christian theologians who try to mask and masquerade their imperialistic missionary paradigms onto other, non-Christian traditions. This new, and seemingly innocent avatar is not different from an anachronistic and artificial taxonomy that sought a “sacred text,” a priest, or, for that matter, “religion” in the non-Christian other. Still worse, perhaps her “revolutionary love” is a new sort of “axis mundi“ and she is merely seeking, soon cherry picking, and eliding the data into a confirmation of colonizing Christianity. The progenitor of this patronizing paradigm has moreover shrouded her prescription in vague and vacuous definitions. Ironically, her imperialist imposition is tantamount to theological terrorism, where one knowledge system dominates and becomes a presidential proclamation, in the name of social justice. It has no place in the American Academy of Religion, which is, (purportedly) an academic, and not theological professional association.

Her “revolutionary love” theme may even be a veiled attempt at a kind of inter-religious dialogue or comparative theology that solely benefits the initiator. That is, does her curiosity serve merely to enhance her own beliefs, her own “faith”? Is the fruit of this theme merely for her own (onanistic?) theological self-gratification? Will she have a more nuanced and better understanding of Christianity in the process? Will she be closer to what she believes to be her own salvation? And is the data provided by her colonized interlocutors for her eyes only, and only for others that worship, or who have been convinced to worship (genuflect towards), “revolutionary love”?

Doesn’t this Christocentric theme force non-Christian traditions and peoples to rank themselves by the degree to which they resemble Christianity? to the degree to which they have successfully mimicked or lauded the dominant paradigm?

The theme invites failure for all alternative, non-dominant paradigms.

The theme invites mimicry (and perhaps mockery).

The theme perpetuates social injustice.

This theme is inappropriate.

“Revolutionary Love” is revolting.

Revolt against “Revolutionary love.”

“But I said “Look here brother who you jiving with that cosmik debris?

Now who you jiving with that cosmik debris?

Look here brother, don’t waste your time on me”

Frank Zappa, “Cosmik Debris” from Apostrophe (1974, DiscReet Records)

Dr. Deepak Sarmaprofessor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, is the author of “Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader” (2011), “Hinduism: A Reader” (2008), “Epistemologies and the Limitations of Philosophical Inquiry: Doctrine in Madhva Vedanta” (2005) and “An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta” (2003). He was a guest curator of Indian Kalighat Paintings, an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. After earning a BA in religion from Reed College, Sarma attended the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he received a PhD in the philosophy of religions. His current reflections concern cultural theory, racism, and post-colonialism.

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