by Katharine Robinson
I studied theology when training for ordination in the Church of England and had enjoyed exploring the connection between the church and culture. Later I decided to embark on the MA in Theology, Imagination and Culture at Sarum College. I thought it would provide the opportunity to research the relationship between God and the world we live in today. I believe this is key for the Christian faith and for a church looking for its place in society. My initial thoughts were that I might look at a film or a book (I’m a particular fan of The Lord of the Rings), and see how it could be interpreted through a theological lens. I expected the interdisciplinary nature of the MA to be interesting if challenging. It certainly was, but not only in the way I expected!
I never did do a theological exploration of JRR Tolkien’s great work. Instead I got lost in the world of biblical studies which I had loved as an undergraduate. I embraced the opportunity the MA provided and explored the Bible through the lens of Black Theology, postcolonial biblical interpretation and Feminist Theology. Through this I discovered the way in which the Bible has been misused to disempower the marginalised. I gradually became more aware of the characters who were presented, sometimes without names and without an identity, who were disempowered. I became aware of the voices which were allowed to speak and those who remained unheard. I discovered how powerful biblical interpretation can be, and how much damage it can do if it is not used wisely. On the flip side I also discovered the ways in which Jesus challenged the status quo, called out injustice, and how he stood with the marginalised and those cast out by their own society.
When I started to think about my dissertation I knew I wanted to take this learning further. I decided to combine it with a contemporary topic; the case of Stacey Dooley’s visit to Uganda in 2019 to raise awareness for Comic Relief. In response to Ms Dooley’s visit MP David Lammy had said, “the world does not need any more White Saviours!” This provided the perfect starting point to explore this subject. I focussed on the concept of White Saviourism and studied it through a theological and postcolonial lens. I asked whether White Saviours truly think they can “save” others or whether there was cultural ignorance involved in relation to the impact of their actions?
My dissertation was a journey in itself and I mostly focussed on the fields of Black Theology and postcolonial biblical interpretation. I explored the damage that colonialism and slavery have done over many centuries and how its legacy still harms people today. That legacy is systemic racism which is simply not compatible with the just world that God intended, as shown through the example of Jesus.
The most uncomfortable part of my research was the role played by European missionaries who travelled to continents such as Africa with their brand of Christianity. My research also highlighted the way the Bible was misused to justify slavery and colonialism. The impact of these actions is still felt in the church today, partly through the way it views mission, but also through the system of whiteness which remains a dominant force. I had to acknowledge that, as a White Western woman, I play a part in that system, however unconsciously, which I benefit from too. My dissertation concluded that White Saviourism is a form of cultural ignorance. Westerners who travel to countries in Africa may do so with the very best of intentions and a desire to help others. They can, however, be ignorant of the history of colonialism and oppression and the way in which their actions could perpetuate that image.
The MA has challenged me on many levels and it has changed the way I view God’s presence in our society and culture. It has been a journey of exploration and one which still makes me want to travel further. How can we be the Christian communities God intended? How can we follow the example of Jesus who stood with the marginalised and not the powerful? How can we fight for a just world where everyone is equal and everyone is accepted? After all, we are God’s children, created and loved by him.
If you are interested in exploring the connections between God and the world around us, then this is the MA for you. It is challenging and thought-provoking, but provides the tools for some really exciting exploration.
Katharine Robinson is a graduate of the MA in Theology, Imagination and Culture. She is Governance Support Officer with the Diocese of Salisbury.