Book Review

cosmopolitan theology: reconstituting planetary hospitality, neighbor-love, and solidarity in an uneven world (book review)

Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love, and Solidarity in an Uneven World

Namsoon Kang’s Cosmopolitan Theology represents a great feat for post-identity politics and theologies. It is a book of impossibilities, dreaming of new ways to theologize and work for justice for the entire world. For this project, Kang takes up cosmopolitan theory. Yet, like with any theory comes a set of responsibilities. Kang, channeling Deleuze, believes that theory must be constructed for new times, rather than the usual rehashing of past theories that perpetuate inequality. In the first chapter, Kang lists the major aspects and misconceptions of cosmopolitanism including: it is not liberal multiculturalism that uncritically celebrates cultural/ethnic difference but without commitments to making changes in sociopolitical power-disparities between differences; it is about unconditional hospitality, planetary solidarity and responsibility, welcoming the other, and cosmic neighbor-love (18). Cosmopolitan Theology constructs a theology unafraid of the Other, promoting neighbor-enemy-love, and diligent for a justice without borders.

The project can be split in three sections. The first defines the several meanings of cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitanism has been theorized by the ancient Stoic philosophers and more recently by postcolonial and cultural theorist Homi Bahbah and Gayatri Spivak. Among such diverse definitions, Kang further explains their uses in political and philosophical discourses. She demonstrates a vast understanding of their implications. For instance, Kantian cosmopolitanism categorizes persons according to their geographical and climate location, which according to him indicates their intellect and social standing in the world. As well, Taoism reversed the assumed divine hierarchical structures found in Confucianism for an equal divine utopia, where all are welcome. Henceforth, Kang constructs her cosmopolitanism as planetary-we-ness and solidarity-in-alterity (91). All humans must be responsible for one another because all are part of the same human family.

The next section focuses on the theories of trans-religious solidarity and the feminist theory of natality. For trans-religious solidarity, Kang proposes a way of radical inclusion and understanding of other religions. Currently, even with the more assumed tolerant ways of approaching religions seem artificial since there is little to no interaction between any religion. Rather, minority religions are treated as tokens and that they do not have anything to offer to the world. In addition, a view of tolerating other religions is always based on the terms of the tolerator (104). Kang aims for a trans-religious solidarity that allows for disagreement, encourages dialogue, and values an understanding that all religions do not have an absolute hold on truth. Natality opposes Western thought, which understands everything from the vantage point that all will eventually die. One has the possibility of having a few natal experiences, which were originally formulated by Hannah Arendt, with factual, political, and theoretical implications, which all open us to freedom. In this way, everyone is growing, changing, progressing, and processing. With respect to cosmopolitanism, natality grants us the opportunity to see the world-community beyond differences of ethnicity, ideology, and gender to viewing all as neighbor.

The final section proposes a cosmopolitan theological praxis. Threading through this section is a political-prophetic call for loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Furthermore, Kang’s ideal theologians are ones who cross boundaries, which is the same call Derrida put forth for philosophers. For Kang, the reader will discover, that theory must always interact and perform an action. Thus, when she is questioned as whether men can use feminist theory or if straight persons can write a queer theology, she claims an energetic yes (82)! This comes for the sake of the betterment of the human and Earth community. We must always push beyond the limits of our own identity to grant dignity for all persons. Cosmopolitanism is an ethic of responsibility in the face of an ever-growing uneven world. Thus, humans must dream the impossible vision of God’s kin-dom for the sake of neighbor-love and compassion.

Kang’s Cosmopolitan Theology challenges the status quo of contemporary theology. This opens a new field of theology that does rest on one’s identity marker, i.e. LGBTQ, Latin@, Black; instead, sorts them in the same category, cosmopolitan. In a certain sense, this has the possibility to create new theologies, ones more intersectional, yet at the same time, it could allow theology to remain as it is. In other words, the fields would open for anyone to participate in any theology, i.e. a white female writing mujerista theology, and this could dislocate once again those on the margins to continue without a voice.

The discussion on trans-religious solidarity was lacking in some respects. For example, I agree that tolerance is not enough in respecting other religions and not making them tokens. On the other hand, Kang does not give us the tools to deconstruct passages Christians use to exclude other religions (John 14:6), rather she states the verse, gives a vague hermeneutical approach (to de-Christianize the verse and to put it into a first-century context), and moves on (100). In the closing of the chapter, Kang promotes a softening of values for any given religion to emphasize the mutuality in the human family through cosmopolitanism. Agreed; religions must change their exclusivist notions, especially in the age of globalization and the Internet. However questions still remain towards the denunciation of religions for cosmopolitanism. Is then cosmopolitanism taking the place of religion? Is this not a kind of colonization, exactly what Kang fights against? Isn’t exclusivity the harbor in which religions stay afloat?

Overall the text creates new horizons for theology. Kang helps us to deconstruct identity theologies and envision them as “provisional, temporal, and partial and move toward a larger community of radical equality and boundary-less inclusion” (29). Cosmopolitanism embraces boundaries only to transcend them for a wider community. This text dreams big, and like Kang’s suggestion for other religions, this book is not the final truth on cosmopolitanism, but the very beginning of a wonderful new field of theology.

Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Queer Theology

the necessity of inclusive religious language and new metaphors

Seminaries, unless on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, require students to use gender neutral language concerning God in papers and sermons. Although, not having a pronoun for God makes for extremely awkward sentences in English. For example, “God in God’s self,” or “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten child,” etc. Most churches, of course, do not follow inclusive language guidelines. Doxologies are riddled with masculine language and you cross yourself “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Working at a church this summer, I am slowing de-gendering the language in the service. You see, for me, inclusive language is a must. I believe the use of inclusive language for divinity challenges religious institutions, theology, and our concept of justice.

Using masculine language binds God in a theological box.
When the pronoun “He” or “His” is used to describe God we are bound to certain metaphors and analogies. God can only be the “Father” and we are “His” children. The “Father” takes care of us, knows what’s good for us, and unconditionally loves “His” children. Yet, these metaphors start to dissolve with one’s experience of fathers or other male parental figures.* People usually shoot back that God’s a different kind of father, but this still holds up patriarchal values. If “Father” always knows what is good for us, this makes for bad theology and allows for continuing cycles of sexual and physical abuse. There must be other imaginative ways to think of God!

Before the Christian Testament was canonized (4th century) or even finished (early 2nd century) other writers were forming theological ideas.
The apocryphal* texts and other early Christian writings, including 1st Clement, the Acts of Thecla and Paul, and the Secret Apocalypse of John, demonstrate that there were many theological ideas present in the first four centuries. Some of these texts inspired the theologies of Augustine and Origen. For example, Justin Martyr believed that the followers of Christ were fulfilling prophecy by resisting to join the Roman military. Theology was open to the imagination and it still can be.

God was experienced before anything was ever written and will be after.
Through the evolution of Scripture, we understand that the divine has been experienced through various venues. In the early texts of the Hebrew Bible, God was experienced through nature, victory in (non)violent battles, and communal myths. Today, the divine is experienced through different technologies including yoga mats, music, reading Scripture(s) or nature. Experiencing the divine ever changes, so should the way we preach, the way we conduct our services, and the metaphors we use! 

God does not write theology.
Dr. James Cone taught us that God is not a theologian; rather, it is humans, who are the meaning-makers and theology-creators. It is lazy to proof-text and decide that there is only one theology! God is not only creator because we read it in Scripture. God creates continually. 

Scripture is inspired, interpretation is not. 
Clearly Scripture believes itself to be God-breathed, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). This does not grant authority to interpretations though! Until the Enlightenment and afterward, the concept of a plain-reading of Scripture has been the norm. Up until the Enlightenment, there was a range of interpretations and one was not always over another. Until churches, ministers, and laypersons read the history of Christian theology, they will be caught in a modernist trap of plain-reading!

“Mankind,” “kingdom,” and “Lord” neglects entire social groups
Linguistically and historically, many social groups have been left out of the conversation in regards to theology. With the use of draconian language, we continue to disregard others. Language shapes who we are. It shapes how we think about the world. A great resource for how this works is Lera Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes Thought.” Using gender-neutral language will not be easy at first, but it will be better in the long run for our churches and society. It will set up avenues for other voices and constantly remind us of others.

I am not interested in inclusive language because the liberal agenda has caught hold of me. It should be used because white men are not the only ones in the world (1/4 of the world’s population is made up of Asian women!). White men may have most of the power in the world, but they are not the end all be all. God is certainly not a white man or, I believe, even wants white men to have the power! Instead, God is the disrupter. Inclusive language is necessary for the global church and for all religions in that matter. Thankfully, many theologians have taken up the call for more inclusive theologies.

The list includes Jea Sophia Oh, Marcella Althaus-ReidWonhee Ann JohEmilie Townes, Laurel Schneider, Namsoon Kang, Andrea C. White, J Kameron Carter and Catherine Keller.

To a more inclusive language and theology!




*I am not ridiculing fathers as much as showing that it is not necessary for God to be a parent.

**This antiquated term has become as meaningless as gnostic and no longer helpful in common biblical discourse. How can something be hidden anymore, when we know that ancient communities were using these texts as Scripture? Or how can we label texts as gnostic when many of them are as different from one another just like the Christian Testament texts?