Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy ed. by Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta
Epistemology often is dominated by established perspectives deeply rooted in Western European philosophies—and we may even dare to say, white male heterosexual philosophies. In the academy, alternate ways of knowing are subjugated under established paradigms, trivialized, marginalized, silenced, or excluded. Even under the best of circumstances, alternative and minority epistemologies often are exoticized or expunged of their power, diminishing their role in mainstream discussions. Thus, this book offers a refreshing and needed corrective to current privileged epistemological models that not only dominate the academy, but that also are entrenched in our culture. While the book focuses on Latina/o ways of knowing, its critiques of the epistemic hegemony of the dominant group provides an opening for freeing other subjugated ways of knowing. Thus, the book not only challenges established epistemological models, but also forces us to examine our epistemological assumptions and reconsider our own ways of knowing.
The product of a transdiciplinary theological colloquium, the book weaves together various themes into a coherent whole. Unlike many edited works that lack a unifying motif, the editors provide an excellent introductory overview of the various chapters mapping the trajectory of the book for the reader. This trajectory takes the reader from the epistemic present, to the past, and finally to future directions. As a result, the reader can navigate the course of the book and understand how Latina/o epistemologies, grounded in liberation theologies and philosophies, intersect attempts at decolonizing [End Page 409] epistemology from the influence of privilege white, male, Western and Eurocentric ways of knowing. Beginning with current attempts to liberate epistemology, the book goes on to unmask the forces of colonialism that shaped epistemology, including how Latina/o identity was formed by a history of epistemic violence, impositions, and subjugation. The last part of the book charts strategies for proposing alternate epistemologies from marginalized communities.
As with most anthologies, it is impossible to summarize all of the chapters. However, there are some motifs and themes that emerge as common threads throughout the book that are worth noting. In the first part of the book, Walter Mignolo argues that to decolonize epistemology, we must question the basic epistemic premises and assumptions and begin to recognize our own particular standpoint. To support his assertion, Mignolo provides an excellent critique of established philosophies, including those of Marx and Kant. These philosophies, as well as others that influence our epistemic models, are products of a Western worldview and hold assumed epistemic pre-conceptions that infect them from the onset. For example, Mignolo argues, that although critical theory questions the separation of the knower and the known, it fails to question the epistemic presupposition that the knowing subject is the European modern subject. Thus, challenging the fundamental assumptions and premises that underlie epistemology is essential to decolonizing it, a theme echoed by other contributors.
Challenging the basic epistemological premises is a salient theme in many of the ensuing chapters. For instance, Ada María Isasi-Díaz and María Lugones contributions both move us away from the detached knower and Western models that dominate epistemology and subjugate alternate ways of knowing. In turn, they invite us to shift our epistemic locus and connect with the world and communities where knowledge is produced—such as the everyday experience of poor Latinas who struggle to survive or the complex dynamics of power that affect women of color. In both instances there is a shift from the detached individual subject to a communal subject—a subject located in a subjugated or marginalized community existing at the intersection of multiple and complex social, ethnic, and power structures. This point is driven home by Otto Maduro’s critique of the detached knower by positing that knowledge is indeed collective and communal, a fundamentally obvious yet ignored reality. We always know in relation—to others, to the world—and knowledge is both transmitted and constructed in a collective and communal setting.
The unacknowledged influence of modernity, colonialism, and Eurocentricism, is not easily escaped. Not only are these premises embedded in our philosophical presuppositions, but also in the construction of our identities and worldviews. Knowledge can be a product of violence and violation. As the second part of the book argues, Latinos/as have been primarily objects of history and knowledge, as dominant culture imposes its paradigms as normative. Thus, Latinos/as are subsumed into imposed [End Page 410] categories, minoritized and marginalized. Different dimensions of Latino/a identity and experience are obscured or ignored. As Matín Alcoff argues, even in racial discrimination, Latinos/as are excluded by the binary of black-white racial paradigm or subsumed in broad categories that hide aspects of our identities and practices, as both Martínez-Vázquez and González’s argue in the essays that follow.
The final section of the book focuses on new directions for epistemological discourse, including challenging the “established geography of reason,” as Maldonado Torres argues, and exploring the way bodies “bear the memory of knowledge and power,” as Rivera Rivera does. Other strategies include appropriating established philosophies, such as American pragmatism, to uncover new epistemic tools, such as the aesthetic qualities of experience, which can assist in the decolonizing of religion as Tirres argues. However, Tirres’ argument, while useful, runs the risk of becoming too dependent on dominant philosophies and their inherent premises, thus privileging them to legitimize Latino/a approaches. On the other hand, Mendieta’s use of Morrison’s “culpable ignorance,” does have some merit as a critique of what is obscured or ignored in the production of knowledge.
The book is certainly an important step in the development of alternate epistemologies that critique established dominant models. However, many of the essays appropriate the vocabulary of dominant epistemic models. In a sense, by seeking legitimacy and academic weight, it privileges the dominant nomenclature. Rather than moving away from the established norms and positing new paradigms, most engage the dominant models. An important next step might be to shift the geography of reason and, to paraphrase Mignolo, do epistemology as a Latino/a.