What is public theology? Allow me to respond by introducing you Pax Lumina. Most importantly, allow me to introduce Binoy Jacob, SJ, its editor.
In Luke 4, Jesus quotes Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he anointed me
bring good news to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim liberation to the captives
and sight recovery for the blind,
liberate the oppressed,
proclaim the Lord’s year of grace.
Bringing the good news to the poor is the task of Isaiah, Jesus and now Binoy Jacob.
What is public theology? I tried to answer this question in this Pathéos series entitled, Public Theology. I introduced you to the Americans Robert Benne and Katie Day, the South Korean Paul Chung, the Kenyan Mwaambi Gideon Mbûûi, the Chinese Kang Phee Seng and others who work in the vineyard of Christ. The World Society of Jesus engages in public theology on an admirable scale, publishing America in America. Now is the time to visit India and meet Binoy Jacob in his own words.
Meet Binoy Jacob
Binoy Jacob is a Jesuit from the province of Kerala, India. He is currently Director of the Loyola Institute of Peace and International Relations (LIPI), Kochi, and Editor-in-Chief of Pax Lumina (bimonthly in English: www.paxlumina.com) and EZHUTHU Magazine (monthly in vernacular: www.ezhuthu.org), published by LIPI. He is the Coordinator of the Jesuit Higher Education Commission of Kerala and also the Coordinator of the Peace and Reconciliation Network of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia.
Dr Jacob holds doctorates in mathematical sciences (India) and systematic theology (United States). He is a member of the Clavius group for mathematicians, United States. He has published books and articles in national and international journals, and presented articles on topics related to science, philosophy and religion. He can be contacted ([email protected])
Defining public theology
What is the definition of Public theology who do you work with? How do you think about the Pax Lumina mission to India?
Christian theology seen as a process of reflection-action confined to the Christian community has little meaning in the Indian context where it is a negligible minority. I find that most Christian publications are directed to their own loyal adherents, neglecting the world beyond. To have an impact on society at large, theology must engage with the multi-religious and secular fabric of society. Pax Lumina with its multi-pronged approach attempts to fill this gap. To me, that defines public theology.
Pax Lumina is an electronic magazine. It is published by Loyola Institute of Peace and International Relations (LIPI), Kochi, India. The mandate given to LIPI by the Conference of Jesuits of South Asia is to promote peace and reconciliation. It is a central aspect of preaching the gospel in a wounded world.
As part of its peacebuilding activities, LIPI has organized academic programs and workshops for people from all walks of life. Pax Lumina is an attempt to expand the scope of these activities beyond geographic boundaries.
The three audiences: church, academy and culture in the broad sense
Do you have a favorite way to promote perichoresis between church, academy, and culture at large?
We find the Indian Church very reluctant to engage in adult-level conversation on matters of public importance. Sadly, this is the case even when the church is committed to serving the nation through its educational institutions, hospitals, and charities. Pax Lumina draws its inspiration from the four apostolic preferences defined by the Jesuits. These are spiritual improvement, walking with the marginalized, accompanying young people and taking charge of the common home. Pax Lumina is an Indian response to these preferences and keeps the culture in the broad sense as its universe of discourse. It brings the academy, activists and cultural leaders together on a common platform of conversation for mutual challenge as well as nourishment. The articles we publish are mostly experience-based and action-oriented.
Spell the PaxLumina editorial vision
Our editorial vision revolves around a dual objective. First, it is aimed primarily at the educated sector of the general public. Second, its primary concern is with people on the periphery, an area largely ignored by the mainstream media. We aim to bring this concern to the center of public discourse. The topics we choose for the issues Pax Lumina are indicative of this option. Justice for migrants (July 2020), Covid 19, Women and Peace (September 2020), The fate of manual scavengers (November 2020), The plight of sex workers (January 2021), Children without childhood (March 2021), Excluded youth (May 2021), Pandemic and peace (July 2021), Religion and peace (September 2021), Life without limits (November 2021), reflect this option. These are also concerns of the contemporary world.
The first issue (May 2020) focused on Covid 19 and its impact on various segments of the population. Emphasizing the importance of hope in the midst of melancholy, we presented some classic stories of hope. An article by Harsh Mander (July 2021) titled “Circles of Kindness” highlighted Father Stan Swamy SJ’s relentless fight for the rights of the tribes of northern India. Other articles dealing with crucial issues of daily life were “Giving Visibility to Migrants” by Denzil Fernandes, “Women Are the Worst Victims” by Syeda Hameed (September 2021) and “How to End Manual Cleansing” by Beswada Wilson (November 2021). .2020). The lessons of these discussions have significance far beyond national borders and can help evolve models of workable solutions to many distressing problems. This liberating mission, in our view, is inspired by a Christian vision and is therefore an integral part of public theology.
What about science in public theology?
Do you believe that the public theologian should be concerned with the intersection of science and society? Why? Or why not?
Science and religion are the two major pillars that shape the culture of world humanity today. Both are engaged in the pursuit of truth, but their approaches are different. I see science and theology not as contradictions but as complementary disciplines. A public theologian must dialogue with science in order to provide a rational basis for faith. The rational basis makes faith more intelligible in contemporary culture. The possibilities of interpreting the theological mysteries from a scientific point of view can be further explored.
Science can also act as a corrective force in theological thought. This becomes all the more important in the Indian context where superstitions and pseudo-sciences continue to spread.
Yet science also has its limits. Science raises some questions that science itself cannot answer. Is science able to speak of the “how” of material reality, not the “why” of it? Science must draw meaning and ideas from other branches of knowledge, including theology, for a better understanding of reality. Science and theology should recognize each other’s strengths and limitations. And the two should be humble enough to engage with each other in creating a better world.
Engage in confusion and chaos
Social media has overloaded our world with a cacophony of trivia, silliness, misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, hostility and even terrorist recruiting. What opportunities or responsibilities does this present for the conscientious public theologian?
Theologians must be vigilant in the face of the confusing situation created by social media. It’s a post-truth world, without a doubt. But like one who always stands up for the truth and acts according to his beliefs, the theologian has a responsibility to provide ethical guidance and clarify values. Social media itself can become an effective tool for us in this task. The best models and practices of community harmony and peacebuilding can be shared through social media.
A public theologian does not need to feel intimidated by the chaos created by an irresponsible social network. What is needed is proactive engagement with her. No withdrawal, but engagement. LIPI’s proactive peace education and peacebuilding efforts are an illustration of this. As I write it, missions and educational institutions in parts of India are threatened or ransacked on the false accusation of Christian proselytism. Large-scale disinformation campaign, although social media often acts as the villain behind community riots, the lynching of religious minorities and Dalits, and the discrediting of human rights activists. Public theology has a responsibility to introduce a contrary narrative into public discourse.
Public Christian theology is alive and well in India.
What is public theology? I put forward the idea that we should think of public theology as it is conceived in the church, matured in the academy, and professed in the culture at large for the common good. Tacitly, this is the model of public theology with which Binoy Jacob and Pax Lumina job.
Thank you, Binoy, for carrying out your mission.
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor emeritus. His systematic theology in one volume is now in its 3e editing, God — The Future of the World (Fortress 2015). He undertook an in-depth examination of the dialectic of sin and grace in two works, Sin: radical evil in the soul and in society (Eerdmans 1994) and Boldly sin! (Fortress 2015). Watch out for his neighbor, The voice of public Christian theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.