Minoritized Criticism of the New Testament
- LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0277
- LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0277
Minoritized criticism of the New Testament refers generally to academic and critical interpretations of biblical texts by people of color in the United States of America, where they are often called “minorities.” The word “minoritized” signifies that the issue in question is less about number but more about power, as minoritization is a state-sanctioned and ideologically supported process—including using the Bible for justification—of racialization and marginalization against particular persons or communities because of their race/ethnicity and their migration history. With the civil rights movement and James Cone’s development of black liberation theology in the late 1960s, African American biblical scholars began to protest white supremacy by highlighting racial/ethnic relations and tensions in biblical writings and by making their biblical interpretation explicitly contextual to their communities’ histories, experiences, and concerns. Since then, with the model provided by their black colleagues and the emphasis on “social location” within biblical studies, Asian American and Latinx American scholars have also developed their respective hermeneutics to challenge racial discrimination and address issues of identity, representation, inclusion, exclusion, exploitation, oppression, and resistance, among others, both in the biblical texts that they read and in the contemporary situations that their communities face. Given this criticism’s concern with minoritized communities, practitioners often engage African American studies, Asian American studies, or Latinx American studies to inform their work. Because of minoritization’s connection with migration and its dynamics as a form of internal colonialism, there are also often overlaps between minoritized criticism and postcolonial criticism of the New Testament. While minoritized criticism started with a focus on race/ethnicity, subsequent works, upon acknowledgment that there are other identity factors besides race (such as gender, class, sexuality) and recognition that race and other identity factors are often mutually co-constitutive, have been giving greater emphasis on diversities and keener attention to intersectional realities within each minoritized community. Recently, there is a move to understand minoritized criticism as work that engages across racially/ethically minoritized communities (as opposed to scholarship that works exclusively within a critic’s own minoritized community). This understanding emphasizes the reality that minoritized groups are racialized not in isolation but in relation to one another, and the need to decenter whiteness by prioritizing critics of other minoritized communities as one’s interlocutors. Since minoritization as a result of migration may take place in various countries, minoritized criticism of the New Testament can also be practiced and developed outside of the United States.
Felder 1991 signifies in many ways the arrival of minoritized biblical criticism as it was pioneered by African American scholars. González 1996 and Liew and Yee 2002 represent, respectively, an early attempt to talk about how the Bible might be read and might function in a Latinx American and an Asian American context. These three volumes all facilitated and are, in turn, facilitated by a turn to emphasize social location in biblical studies, a turn that is clearly seen in Segovia and Tolbert 1995. Segovia 2009 provides an excellent attempt to analyze and theorize minoritized biblical criticism. Examples of minoritized biblical scholars intentionally moving across racial/ethnic communities to collaborate with one another or for engagement and/or comparison include Liew and Wimbush 2002; Bailey, et al. 2009; and Wimbush 2013. Smith and Choi 2020 shows explicitly that this kind of association across racial/ethnic lines, in ways similar to minoritized scholarship done within a particular community, can and should simultaneously attend to intersectional dynamics (in this case, the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender). Charles 2014 and Medina, et al. 2019 are examples that minoritized criticism, whether involving a singular racial/ethnic group or multiple racial/ethnic minoritized communities together, is also practiced outside of the United States of America.
Bailey, Randall C., Tat-siong Benny Liew, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds. They Were All Together in One Place? Toward Minority Biblical Criticism. Semeia Studies. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.
With fifteen essays representing three different racial/ethnic communities (African American, Asian American, and Latinx American), this anthology seeks to move minoritized biblical criticism away from the “white gaze,” and even redefine it through an emphasis on comparative racialization.
Charles, Ronald. Paul and the Politics of Diaspora. Paul in Critical Contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014.
A Canadian of Haitian origin, Charles argues that Paul’s rhetoric and practices, especially as found and reflected in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, cannot be understood well unless and until one takes seriously Paul’s diasporic identity and minoritized reality.
Felder, Cain Hope, ed. Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991.
An earlier, groundbreaking anthology that not only affirms African Americans as legitimate scholars of the Bible but also features African American experiences and resources as keys to their reading of the Bible against Eurocentric interpretations.
González, Justo. Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.
This pioneering text highlights “marginality,” “poverty,” “mestizaje and mulatez,” “exiles and aliens,” and “solidarity” as five paradigms or themes for Latinx American biblical criticism, emphasizing in the process that what “Hispanics” have to say about a particular topic in the Bible is as important as what the Bible has to say about that topic.
Liew, Tat-siong Benny, and Vincent L. Wimbush. “Contact Zones and Zoning Contexts: From the Los Angeles ‘Riot’ to a New York Symposium.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 56 (2002): 21–40.
Coauthored by two New Testament scholars—an African American and an Asian American—this essay uses Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of a “contact zone” to explore why a conversation or even a coalition between African American and Asian American biblical scholars may be desirable and even feasible, and how such a conversation or coalition may further change the premises and practices of biblical interpretation.
Liew, Tat-siong Benny, and Gale A. Yee, eds. Special Issue: Bible in America. Semeia 90–91 (2002).
This anthology seeks to encourage the engagement of Asian American studies by scholars of religion and theology in the United States who are of Asian descent. It has two main parts: one with essays that provide readings of biblical texts; another with essays that examine how biblical texts have been referenced in Asian American literature and used in Asian American churches (such as in preaching and in pastoral care).
Medina, Néstor, Alison Hari-Singh, and HyeRan Kim-Craig, eds. Reading In-Between: How Minoritized Cultural Communities Interpret the Bible in Canada. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2019.
Minoritized biblical and theological scholars from Canada present how various minoritized communities in Canada engage the Bible through people’s life stories by drawing from their respective ethnocultural locations and traditions, and argue that narrative is central to minoritized interpretation.
Segovia, Fernando F. “Poetics of Minority Biblical Criticism: Identification and Theorization.” In Prejudice and Christian Beginnings: Investigating Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies. Edited by Laura Salah Nasrallah and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, 279–311. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
This article helps clarify the “interdisciplinary confluence” of minority biblical criticism by showing how minoritized biblical scholars in the United States employ four main strategies (foregrounding present interpretive contexts without claims of universality; questioning the established borders of biblical studies; calling biblical critics to be more self-aware and self-reflective about their role and tasks; pursuing intersectional engagements against essentialization of racial/ethnic identity) to differentiate minoritized biblical criticism from dominant practices.
Segovia, Fernando F., and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. Reading from This Place. 2 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.
These two volumes (one focusing on the United States of America and one on the wider world) contain numerous essays by established biblical scholars to reflect on and show explicitly how an interpreter’s social location shapes one’s understanding of a biblical text.
Smith, Mitzi J., and Jin Young Choi, eds. Minoritized Women Reading Race and Ethnicity: Intersectional Approaches to Constructed Identity and Early Christian (Con)Texts. Feminist Studies and Sacred Texts. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2020.
Informed by their own experiences of being minoritized because of both race and gender, three African American and three Asian American female scholars scrutinize, protest, and contest how different New Testament texts construct race/ethnicity or early Christian identity, especially how these constructions often involve rhetorical practices of othering on the basis of gender/sexuality, geography, and religion.
Wimbush, Vincent L., ed., with the assistance of Lalruatkima and Melissa Renee Reid. Mis Reading America: Scriptures and Difference. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
This book is an ethnological study of people who profess scriptural authority in five communities of color: Native American, African American, Latino/a American, Asian American, and Arab American. It shows how these different communities negotiate their minoritization by making sense and making use of the Bible as well as other scriptures.
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