Incommensurable Paradigms: The Competing Theological Claims of Black Pietism and Black Liberationism
Howard, Aaron Joshua
Since its inception in the publication of James Cone’s Black Theology and Black Power in 1969, academic black theology has viewed itself as the contemporary embodiment of the liberationist impulse that gave rise to black churches in the antebellum era. Both black liberation theology and womanism situate themselves firmly within the black church tradition and understand their critiques to be corrective measures calling the church to embrace those beliefs and perspectives that can more faithfully inform a mission of liberation and wholeness for black communities. This dissertation contests this self-understanding of black theology and womanism by arguing that the core theological claims of black churches, being pietist in nature, are incommensurable with the central beliefs of black theology/womanism, which are undergirded by theological liberalism. By applying heuristically Thomas Kuhn’s theories of paradigm shift and incommensurability, this dissertation shows that the emergence of black liberation theology constitutes the creation of the black Liberationist paradigm which represents a radical departure from the Pietist paradigm that has defined the basic theological perspective of black churches throughout their existence.
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