In my practice of teaching courses in Catholic social thought, constructing counterpublic spaces includes deliberate and careful attention to the interwoven realities of race, class, and gender inequalities. These three forms of stratification and oppression in our current social (dis)order demand examination, analysis, and challenge in order to foster a liberating milieu that allows freedom and new possibilities for thought and action among students, the academy, and society. While Christianity, in general, and Catholicism, in particular, are forces for authentic human liberation, they have often advanced dualistic thinking and oppression of people of color.1 At the same time, theology courses are well-suited for investigating and challenging social inequalities because theology deals with fundamental beliefs about the self, God, community, and society. Students’ religious imaginations are intertwined with their sociocultural imaginations, so that the status quo is often perceived as being divinely ordered. Theological education can facilitate positive social change if faculty make a deliberate commitment and undertake great effort to teach in ways that question and dismantle oppressive systems. This essay analyzes community service-learning as one strategy for antiracist theological education.
The feminist theoretical framework that informs my approach to developing classrooms as sites of struggle consists of three key contentions. First, my focus here on race is situated within Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s notion of kyriarchy, which refers to a “socio-cultural and religious system of domination . . . constituted by intersecting multiplicative structures of oppression.”2 Religions, theologies, cultures, and other forces uphold kyriarchal relationships of domination and oppression.3 Manifested differently in various historical contexts, a central tenet of the concept of kyriarchy is that forms of domination and oppression are interrelated and amplify one another.4 In addition to sexism and patriarchy, kyriarchy includes, but is not limited to, “racism, heterosexism, [End Page 178] classism, and colonialism” that are “not parallel but multiplicative.”5 Focusing on racism and white privilege here does not claim a hierarchy of oppressions, pit forms of oppression against one another, or imply that particular forms of domination are more fundamental or significant than others.6 In fact, feminists and other liberation theologians lament that kyriarchal structures derive power by dualistically separating and making enemies of oppressed groups, so that they cannot join in solidarity against mutually dominating systems.7 Each facet of kyriarchy needs to be probed, contested, and transformed in itself and as it intersects with other facets.
Second, heeding feminist theory on the influence of social location on perception, I continually strive to uncover, along with my students, the inevitable limitations, biases, and “blind spots” about racism and other forms of domination that influence our perceptions and actions, and then correct them in both thought and deed.8 As Peggy McIntosh illustrates in her important essay “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies,” various systems of oppression cannot be reduced to one another, and a person’s commitment to dismantling a particular system does not necessarily imply a concomitant awareness of, or commitment to, resisting other forms.9 As a feminist, McIntosh recounts how she came to appreciate the significance of white privilege through her established understanding of male privilege. Central to her feminist analysis is her [End Page 179] recognition that understanding is a necessary but insufficient step to dismantling both sexism and racism; actions of resistance and solidarity are also required.10
Third, my analysis relies upon the feminist and liberationist concept of praxis, which underscores the interrelatedness of action and reflection. Liberation practices and theories in the classroom have the potential to call into question various forms of injustice, just as actions and reflection on them outside the classroom can inform classroom teaching.11 As bell hooks articulates eloquently in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, the ways in which a faculty member chooses to teach (as well as the strategies she chooses to reject) instruct students just as much as the disciplinary content of the course.12 Choosing nontraditional teaching methods may facilitate nontraditional analyses.
The primary obstacle to antiracist theological education is that most undergraduate students’ definitions of race and racism, as...