- 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...