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  • Naming Our World through Freirean Lenses
  • Jaisy A. Joseph (bio)

As the introduction to the fiftieth anniversary edition of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed suggests,

leading intellectuals … have wisely and incessantly alerted people around the world of the dire consequence (i.e., denial of climate change, obscene economic inequality, potential nuclear catastrophe) of the far-right power hegemony that, if left unchecked, may potentially result in the end of humanity as we know it. Thus, not only must an alternative political course be taken, but central to its agenda must also be the development of people's critical awareness of how they are in the world and with the world—a posture that Freire insisted upon and which informed his brilliant and insightful ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.1

How we are in the world and with the world. As a group of early-career scholars in theology and religious studies, we have discovered that this posture is the critical starting point of Freirean pedagogy precisely because it calls on us to do the work of "naming our world." While many of the contributors will present how various teaching moments have contributed to this process, I want to reflect first on why our group of Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellows believed that a study of Pedagogy of the Oppressed could provide insight for us as we navigated the early stages of our careers in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign season. In particular, we have discovered that Freire's desire to heal wounded relationality through an emphasis on the vocation to humanization, the relationship between conscientization and solidarity, and dialogical action are particularly effective in helping us to name our world today. [End Page 161]

Vocation to Humanization

Freire understood his entire project as contributing toward the vocation of humanization. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is not about methodology alone. It is not about the simple formulaic replacement of the so-called banking model of education with a problem-posing model. To reduce Freire's vision to simple pedagogical methods is to miss his whole argument that "while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people's vocation."2 As a vocation, the capacity to become more fully human is the task and goal of each person, not apart from their sociohistorical condition—but within and through the relationships that constitute it. This desire for fuller humanity is readily recognizable within the cries of the oppressed that yearn for freedom and justice. This same vocation, however, is less obvious for those who benefit from the status quo. Injustice, exploitation, and violence are elements of historical dehumanization that steal not only the humanity of the oppressed but also that of the oppressors who refuse to hear the cries of their neighbors. In the oppressor's need to live over against others for a sense of stability and security, they ultimately contribute to a wounded relationality that has left both sides less human. Both are now submerged in a false reality that has normalized this violence as the only means of relating to one another.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is fundamentally concerned with the restored humanity of both the oppressed and their oppressors through redeemed relationality. Freire made this explicit when he stated: "This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both."3

These prophetic words are not only paradoxical but also disturbing. They seem to place the entire burden of humanization on the backs of the already oppressed. Yet, as Irwin Leopando notes in his work Pedagogy of Faith, a study of the theology undergirding Freire's vision, these words refer to the biblical trope that God's reign will entail radical reversals in the meaning of power and status.4 It is the liberating weakness of conscientious love that interrupts the lovelessness of the oppressor's violence. In response...


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pp. 161-166
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