1. We, the members of the Indian Theological Association (ITA), assembled at Dhyana Ashram, Chennai, on the occasion of 37th Annual Meeting cum Seminar, from 23-25 October 2014, to reflect and to deliberate on the theme “Call for a New Theology of Culture: Revisiting the Mission Praxes and Paradigms” express our conviction that our faith in Jesus Christ, living our discipleship and witnessing to the values of the Gospel unfold and find expression in and through elements which we inherit in most part from our cultures.

2. Being the warp and woof of our way and view of life, culture influences our relationship with others, the Ultimate Other and the entire universe.

The rapid changes taking place in the personal, familial, and social relationships influenced as they are by the effects of globalization, scientific and technological progress, communication revolution, creation of an ostensibly egalitarian cyber space, migration of people, etc., increasingly become effective causes in creating a new culture of communication and communion among people of different nations, languages, races and cultures. However, they have also brought along forces of division, and new forms of oppression, exploitation and dehumanization. Pope Francis describes this situation in the following words: “In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated” (EG 62). So it is imperative at this point of time in history to theologize on cultures, especially on those dimensions that reflect the presence and action of God, as well as those that do not.


Context and Challenges

4. India, which has a confluence of many cultures and religions, does not remain unaffected by the forces of fragmentation and exploitation. In the course of its history, the presence of a diversity of cultures, the plurality of religions and ways of life are celebrated in India. The relationship among the religions and the cultures of India was not merely built on the principle of co-existence and toleration but on co-insistence and concordance. Though there were some exceptions to this due to certain unwarranted happenings such as discriminations of the subaltern people and their culture, patriarchal hegemony and gender bias, occasional political turmoil and eruption of fundamentalist movements and religious bigotry, etc. by and large, our country continues to live the ideal of unity in diversity as a model to the world. In the recent past, however, efforts are being made to interpret old symbols and myths or to create new ones to support and justify the creation of a mono-culture or at least the hegemony of one culture over others which will have disastrous consequences for those who do not share this ideology or hold on to the authentic Indian culture of celebrating plurality.

5. We express ourselves as individuals, communities and ethnicities through the medium of culture as evident in our festivals, art, music, language and other symbols, articulating diversity through a multiplicity of customs and practices. In this plurality of cultural expressions that mark India, there is something so unique about cultures that one culture cannot be compared with another. Though culture is at the substratum of relationality of humans among themselves and with the wider universe, in the face of the multiplicity of meanings attributed to the term, culture eludes every attempt for a precise definition and rigid classification. In order to orient our reflection we may consider culture as that of a complex whole which humans acquire as members of a society that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities as well as all the manifestations of social habits of a community and the responses and the activities of individuals determined and affected by them.

6. It is an undisputed fact that even within the apparent beauty and meaning attributed to the varied expressions of culture; fragmentation and social dislocation are integrally woven into it in the context of day to day experiences of life. With the scientific and technological advancements that mark human development, there is an increased disconnect between humans and nature, resulting in the blockage of energies in the web of life. The revolutionary emergence of connectivity, while offering tremendous possibilities at present, has become a major cultural problem particularly for the youth as it orients them to deviant and at times even harmful sexual behaviours and other destructive activities.

7. Globalization, migration of labour force and free trade have brought different cultures in proximity. Those participating in the process of globalization become cosmopolitan, whereby they transcend the local ties and become the leading cultural agents– receiving, transferring, transmuting and hybridizing the local and the global cultures. The spirit of neo-liberalism emergent upon a liberalized economic process and the condition of post-modernism are the important ingredients in the making of these cultural changes. However, the present reconfiguration resulting from neo-liberalism consequent of globalization presents itself with a double-edged sword. Even as it offers immense opportunities for mobilization for sections of people, it has intensified the struggle for those living at the periphery in conditions of powerlessness, being deprived of the socio-economic and political security. According to UN reports, one third of world’s extreme poor live in India and to our dismay our country tops the list of countries which have the highest number of modern day slaves. Those communities which live below poverty line are also in a socially disadvantaged position.

8. The ‘tyranny of the market’ resulting from globalization generates a consumerist culture that privileges profit over people which in turn generates false values, ideals and philosophies that serve the logic of consumerism. Culture of unbridled consumerism exists alongside a culture of deprivations, as those who consume the benefits of the global market coexist with the intense suffering of those who continue to be at the periphery. The experience of rootlessness and false securities ensuing from this experience combined with the intense struggle on the part of subalterns for survival generate new forms of violence around the ethnic, religious, and linguistic and gender divide.

9. Due to the persistence of patriarchy particularly in its mediation by religion –which is one of the strongest medium of culture – a great majority of women irrespective of class and caste continue to be at the margins. For Dalit women, who are living at the ‘wronged’ end of class, caste and gender, polarities of social life, the experiences of injustice, powerlessness, humiliation and exclusion continue to be a big part of their everyday living.

10. The unhealthy nexus between politics and capitalism, and politics and religion contributes to the widening of the socio-economic divide that sustains a culture of socio-economic inequality. Today, there are also attempts made towards the promotion of monoculturalism by those holding the reins of political power, with plans to create a “unified” India under one religiously inscribed political ideology. This would result in the violation of the constitutionally affirmed secular fabric of the Indian republic, a situation that needs to be urgently addressed by the civil society.

11. On a counter note to homogenizing moves, there is a disruption of dominant culture by popular and hybrid cultures with the emergence of post-modern thought which affirms cultural diversity and multiple identities. In this context, there is freedom from undue ties of traditions and closed-up communities which have ‘bonded’ the individuals so far. The post-modern framework gives space for assertion of rights by minorities and marginalized groups.

Since the post-modern cultural context is characterized by the movement from the periphery to the centre, contemporary cultural experience is opening up a space for the hitherto ‘subjugated knowledges.’ The indigenous cultures which preserved and transmitted their particular knowledges for centuries but were suppressed or not recognized in the past, find themselves brought to the fore more and more. They assert their right to exist amidst diversity of cultures. They resist any form of assimilation into the dominating cultural traditions.

13. The present phase of cultural reconstruction is one of emerging possibilities and alienating contradictions. In this context articulating a new theology of culture becomes urgently necessary taking into account the cultural rigidity in situations marked by a fundamentalist religious ethos that stand alongside with fluidity of culture.


Culture Interfacing Religion in Christian Scripture and Traditions

14. God’s intervention in the history of Israel is presented as a corrective and an alternative consciousness to the dominant but erroneous mentality of the times. To the arrogant and insensitive mentality of Cain in retorting to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen 4:9) after killing Abel his brother, God revealed himself as the One who demands accountability for the culture of treachery and One who will protect and safeguard the cause of the innocent blood. God also reveals as the one who listens to the cry that emanates from denial of justice, oppression and acts violence (Gen 4, 8-12). The Exodus, which is the most pivotal and decisive event of the Hebrew Bible, unveils the formation of an alternative consciousness of community living built on the values of reciprocity, solidarity and freedom.

15. Another component from the Old Testament to create a new culture is the uncompromising stand the prophets took against corruption, exploitation and injustice prevalent in the society and their struggles to establish a just society based on the principles of justice, equality and love.

16. Jesus’ model of constructing culture: When negotiating and bargaining with the new cultures, there are certain areas that cannot be bargained. Jesus came to redeem the whole world without exception to castes, creed, language, race, gender, etc. Therefore, all cultures have to be treated with openness and respect. However, it does not prevent us prophetically challenging inhuman elements in all cultures that contradict the gospel message. Jesus promoted a counter-culture of justice, equality and compassion against the oppressive and exploitive cultural construct of Jewish hierarchy.

17. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish culture was filled with cult, law and apocalyptic aspirations, without leaving any room for the freedom of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. A person with deformity was considered unworthy even to enter the Temple leave alone the desire to touch the tabernacle of God. Similarly, persons with illness were alienated from the circles of power and honour. In that context Jesus identified himself with the so called accursed. By including them in the circle of his disciples, Jesus subverted the Jewish rules of purity-pollution. He touched those who were considered by the society of his time as “the untouchables.” He had table-fellowship with the outcasts. The praxis of Jesus, transcending the repressive state of cultural conditioning set by Jewish authorities of his time, has to be the model for a theological praxis of culture today. The humanizing elements in all cultures need to be preserved, promoted and renewed and the dehumanizing ones need to be prophetically challenged and eliminated.

18. In the Christian tradition too we find the early Christian preachers of the Gospel exploring the cultures of other nations in order to communicate effectively the gospel message. At Athens, Paul refers to the wisdom of local poets and religious practices in announcing the good news to the listeners. The Cappadocian Fathers, having received the best secular education available in the Byzantine Empire, remained open to the best Hellenistic culture of the day. Cyril and Methodius, the two Greek missionaries who preached the Gospel in the ninth century to the Slavs invented the alphabet for the Slavonic tongue and translated the Christian scriptures and liturgical books into that language. In India, from the apostolic times, the Christian faith interacted with the prevailing culture of the time. Robert De Nobili in the sixteenth century and Brahmabandhab Upadhyay in the nineteenth century were champions of inculturation of the Christian faith in the Indian context.

19. To make Christianity more credible today, we must present it as a cultural alternative to the dominant culture of the present times which is insensitive to the cry of the marginalized and caters only to the interests of the middle and upper classes. In a culture where the majority are sidelined for the benefit of a few privileged, we draw light and strength from the God of the Bible who presents himself as the one who stands at the side of the oppressed majority.


Indian Christian Theological Response

20. During this ITA annual conference, we have listened with openness, dialogued from our locations and confronted with concern the diverse voices of the victims of the dominant cultures such as dalit and tribal people as well as that of women. We gave heed to those who champion the cause of protecting nature and listened to the different discourses of the experts and theologians. Thus, we have once again confirmed our cultural richness, wisdom, resourcefulness, diversity, multiple identities, “subjugated knowledges,” assertions of freedom and equality, struggles from the peripheries, new possibilities presented by the economic globalisation, growth of digital communication, creation of cyber-culture, etc.

21. We remind ourselves that our theological discourses need to resonate with the values and wisdom, claims and challenges of our cultural heritage including the secular Constitution of our Motherland. This is our inheritance along with our Christian faith-tradition. If our theologizing is not founded on the root paradigms, core-experiences, people’s resources, and collective dreams, we cannot develop credible, relevant, sustainable and life-enhancing theologies. Our endeavour on this journey with people in the pilgrimage to the Divine has still a long way to go.

22. We realize that the present context and the juncture of cultural confluences and conflicts, call for a new theology of culture. We do this by revisiting our mission praxes and paradigms and by a critical immersion of the Gospel and Faith in the local cultural process.

23. The contemporary cultural flows and globalized scenario demand that our theology become relevant to them with a response that is evocative and convincing. The new theology of culture, therefore, needs to offer a meaningful vision of life and assist to discover the presence and grace of the Divine in the present multicultural context.

24. Here we make a paradigm-shift from inculturation to inter-culturation. Inculturation process treats cultures as instruments but inter-culturation approaches the humanizing dimensions of cultures as sacraments of Divine revelation. Culture and nature are locations of the divine presence and action where we encounter God. They are also locations of liberative movements of God who leads in exodus not only the Hebrew slaves but also all those in the periphery (Cf. Amos 9:7)

25. A paradigm-shift from normativity to narrativity is the challenge of the new theology of culture. It calls for a radical move from a priori cultural absolutes to listening to the revelations of the Divine who is ever creative and innovative in the cultures today. Incarnational vulnerability and pneumatological ubiquity of the Divine in the unfolding scenarios of inter-culturation are thus recognized, respected, affirmed and accepted.

26. Jesus of Nazareth, culturally a Galilean Jew, whose disciples we are and whose movement for the Divine Reign, that we have pledged to carry forward, encountered the Divine and had the experience of Abba in his own culture. At the same time, he did interrogate and challenge the cultic, legalistic, dogmatic and other religio-cultural practices that brought about the loss of freedom and blocked the experience and encounter of the Divine. He also showed the path towards the realization of the Divine reign of justice, peace, love, fellowship, liberty and equality.

27. 27. Jesus promoted a counter-culture by touching the ‘untouchables,' by welcoming the ‘sinners’ and outcasts and by praising the faith of the Canaanite woman and the Roman centurion who belonged to ‘unholy’ religions and cultures. We recommit to carry forward this revolutionary cultural praxis of Jesus in the present Indian context to bring about a cultural transformation.

28. The new theology of culture calls for a shift from the language of essentialism, universalism and absolutism to one of pluralism, diversity, multi-culturality and inter-religiosity. Our mission praxes need to be praxes of proposing and dialoguing rather than claiming and imposing. We need to shift from advising to listening, moralizing to sharing, judging to welcoming and rejecting to accepting the differences in cultures and persons. Thus our mission to cultures becomes mission with cultures. The movement for the realization of the reign of God assumes inter-cultural and inter-religious praxes in dialogue and networking with other groups/movements which stand for Gospel values. Attempts to justify, compromise and legitimize the dehumanizing cultural traits like patriarchy, caste discrimination and propagating the “prosperity gospel” are to be contested and rejected.

29. Our conversation with other religions and engagements with cultures for fashioning a new theology of culture take us to the public sphere. We need to make our theology public by responding to the public issues and political events and the concerns of people especially the marginalized.



30. In view of moving towards the realization of a new theology of culture, some concrete steps are suggested:

  1. Creating multiple interfacing sites or spaces of interaction that will bring together people from diverse locations and situate them in connectedness with concerns of the subaltern, poor and ‘marginal’ communities.
  2. Creatively using the platform of education which the Churches and other religious groups have for inculcating in children and the youth, a critical understanding and appreciation of culture. Teaching the Indian Constitution in educational institutions could be a very secular way to achieve our purpose.
  3. Re-activating the existing youth and student movements, and creating new secular movements like “Youth for Change” for bringing together the youth irrespective of class, religion, caste and gender can be effective platforms in the formation of youth for a constructive and liberative interpretation of culture.
  4. Using various forms of art such as music, poetry, dramas, folklore, street plays, etc. to raise a new consciousness among people to be open to cultures other than their own and appreciate them and be enriched by them.
  5. The occasions provided by festivals, festive meals, processions, etc., where persons of different faiths participate, can be constructively and creatively used for promoting interreligious harmony and a liberative consciousness.
  6. Networking with other organizations and movements committed to the cause of liberation cutting across religious and cultural groups, in order to protest against social injustices, fight violence, inculcate ecological consciousness, etc. Joining Women in Black type of consciousness-raising gestures for taking a stand against gender violence is significant in this regard.
  7. The media at the national and local levels and in their multiple expressions could be proactively used for creating a transformative consciousness.
  8. More effective use of social media is important and this can be an effective platform for raising awareness on culture and for networking with other groups, committed to the cause of justice and liberation.
  9. Creating awareness in children through camps and other means like children’s parliaments and campaigns so that they grow up with a better understanding of the life promoting aspects of culture.
  10. Promoting public theology to bring the human concerns and community issues as theological issues and propose solutions to them in the public language.
  11. Using the platform of Basic Christian Communities, Basic Human Communities and the like for creating awareness of and alertness to the manipulations of culture for causing division and disunity.
  12. Fostering a critical approach among laity, priests and religious towards religions and the religious appropriation of culture.
  13. Encouraging greater participation of Christians in the public space and cultivating a more mature civic sense among people.



31. Religion is the organization of life around the Sacred and the collective experiences of a community with the divine entity within its cultural context. Culture is intertwined with religion. Religious symbols, rituals, attitudes and life-styles take on a cultural garb and vice versa. The changes in the texture of culture affect the quality of our life and inter-relationships. Therefore, it is easy for those who are bent on gaining political and economic power in order to dominate, control, exploit and dehumanize others to manipulate and instrumentalize cultural symbols and myths to evoke religious sentiments. While prophetically denouncing all that is dehumanizing in our cultures, we need to reclaim everything that is humanizing therein as they are intimations of the divine revelation for the integral growth of humans in relation to each other and the nature. If our theological discourse does not resonate with the humanizing cultural claims and challenges of our motherland, it will not mediate a faith-encounter that leads to the fullness of humanity and the possibility of human transcendence revealed in Jesus Christ. We need to challenge the forces that instrumentalize culture for creating oppressive and unjust systems and structures. The call of the hour is to revisit our mission praxes and paradigms so that we remain faithful to and live and communicate the counter-cultural liberative message of Jesus Christ for a fuller human life.

For ITA 2014-2015
Sr. Shalini Mulackal	 						 Fr. Roy Lazar A
   President 							             Secretary
                         Indian Theological Association.