We have been periodically highlighting new, interesting and, especially, female theological voices in the Church. Bolivian indigenous theologian Sofia Chipana's voice was heard loud and clear during the Andean region preparatory conference for this year's Continental Theology Congress to be held in October in São Leopoldo, Brazil. Ms. Chipana, who completed a degree in Biblical Studies with a thesis on women in the Old Testament, is a member of the Comunidad Religiosas Terciarias Trinitarias and is on the faculty of the Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología (ISEAT). Back on October 20, 2011, Ermanno Allegri, director of Adital, conducted an interview with her. We are pleased to bring it to you now in English. -- RG.
"I'm Aymara and I think of myself as an urban indigenous woman because my parents emigrated to the city, and it is from this identity that I begin to express my theological and Biblical thoughts." This is how Sofía Chipana, an indigenous theologian from Bolivia who is leading the workshop on indigenous theology during the 3-day Andean Theological Conference taking place in Bogota, Colombia, introduces herself.
In an interview with Adital, she talks about the quirks, riches and contributions of indigenous theology.
ADITAL: All the peoples have always done theology, but when did the more systematized indigenous theology begin? How wide is the network that indigenous theology has established with other countries and other theologies today?
Sofía Chipana: Well, indigenous theology emerged in the 1970s, perhaps not under that name but as an initiative to be able to articulate theological thought from the indigenous perspective. In the first instance, that theology began to be articulated by missionaries and priests in the Catholic environment, out of pastoral concern, with an interest in systematizing indigenous theology as such. Then from there the articulation starts to take shape in various areas of Latin America, for example, we have had the theology in part of Mesoamerica, it is also beginning in the Amazon area, but it is being developed much more strongly in the Andean region of Latin America.
There's a whole process that each region has been carrying out. I'm more part of the Andean region and the theology has been articulated and systematized there. In the first place, it was preached by priests and missionaries and then, secondly, we indigenous people began to be protagonists of indigenous theology. We start with our own reflection from our perspective, from our being and our identity.
Currently we theologians are trying to articulate and systematize indigenous theological thought. Maybe there isn't a specific expression of what would be constant reflection or a constant systematization of indigenous theology, but rather it's more a sharing of experiences, because I think that the process of indigenous theology is done in a different way, or rather, that it's not necessarily through written systematization, but that for us, the indigenous people, experience, experiences, sharing are very important because we come from cultures where oral tradition is very strong, and not just that, but also the use of other elements, the use of symbols, for example.
Through symbols we are able to express our thoughts, our experiences. Perhaps it's hard for us to fit into an academic framework because, of course, our systematization is not like that kind of theology that begins to articulate scripture and reflect and capture its thoughts in writing. We, on the other hand, since it's an experience... then often it's hard for us to systematize these kinds of experiences and really there are elements that are hard for us to put into words.
I think that now we are in the process of sharing, of continuing to bring up our experiences and what we have lived, that in some way are also framing our theological reflection in the various areas where we are.
ADITAL: Are there any points that you perceive as basic in this theology and which frame the direction of this reflection, which is always in process?
Sofía Chipana: Yes, there are various elements and I call them key nuclei, like strong knots that hold up indigenous theology. For example, the theme of narration. Narration is very important to us and it's part of our culture, so spirituality, experiences, norms and the ethical codes of the culture have been passed on through narration.
Another aspect that is also important is what we now call "feeling-thinking", that is to say that our reflection is not based only in reason but also recaptures much of the issue of subjectivism as opposed to a theology and tradition where objectivism is valued, the use of reason; but, on the other hand, not in our experience. There is a mixture of feelings, subjectivity and that has to do with the ritualism of the various spaces. It has to do with the celebrations, the festive character, what is communal. This "feeling-thinking" core is very important.
ADITAL: And how can a more lively liturgy be created, in the sense of expressing the culture and personal feelings and those of the specific groups?
Sofía Chipana: I was saying to you that for the Andean context, ritualism, festivity, the communal act are very important. Well, that isn't very accepted in Christian or Catholic liturgy. With inculturation, some of the symbols were accepted but more from a folk perspective and not from the perspective of the background content of these symbols. Hence a certain break has been created in the link between the Andean and Christian experience. As people have become accustomed to seeing a more established type of liturgy, they are shy to incorporate some elements of our own culture.
ADITAL: But some elements blend in...
Sofia Chipana: What we see here, for me, is not syncretism, because syncretism occurs when you start doing that mix of things. In contrast, in the Andean context, I wouldn't call it syncretism but rather I would say that everything has its space, everything has its place. So that's why I once dared to suggest that it would be more of a shared religion, that indigenous peoples began to formulate this -- a dialogue with Christianity. In our rituals, it's true that there are Christian elements that are valued. I think that starting from this Andean context other types of expressions are being created that do not fall within the formal framework, but that are other types of re-creation that are not syncretism but are different re-creations that are the beginning of a different kind of dialogue.
ADITAL: Within this indigenous theology, also, of course, a new face of God is appearing. What does that face look like?
Sofía Chipana: The face of God that is perceived is more than a face; it's the presence of God among the people, because for many indigenous peoples in their spirituality, God is not outside of reality. That is to say that the divinity we talk about is immersed in reality, it's immanent, present in various elements so that sometimes indigenous peoples are classified as pantheists because they believe that everything is sacred and that this is God, and it isn't taken into account that the spirituality of indigenous peoples has to do with the immanence of God, with seeing that He is present at all times, and that this makes nature itself sacred all the time and in all situations. This contrasts completely with Christianity.
And on the other hand, this God is seen who is transcendent because, for example, in Andean culture, the Pachamama is the image of the divinity that is present and materialized in nature and is in direct contact with humans and with other beings, but also has this other transcendent dimension that is the whole, that's a divinity that encompasses all other realities and that transcends the more mundane realities. From there I see that really in indigenous theology, we break the image of God as static, supreme, almighty. It's more the image of a living, warm God whom one can talk to, whom one can go to through ritual, experience, through communal life, through the ethical life of the peoples.
So I feel it's a very broad image of God. S/he is like the mother who shelters us.
ADITAL: A God who is closer to the Father of Jesus Christ than the God of the catechism...
Sofia Chipana: Yes, yes. The Gospel presents that image of God as Father, which corresponded well to its context, to the culture, to present an image of a God who is very near. I think that that's the figure of Jesus, representing the nearness of God. Obviously, the Andean or indigenous cultures have to do with this and what we are trying to find is this -- the image of a God or God's presence in the midst of it all, and it's not that God who is outside, not that God who is in the temples, not that God who requires mediators to relate to us, but it's this God who is even breaking through borders. It really is this God who is in favor of life and, well, sometimes in indigenous theology we don't show the other side of God, who is a deity who also reacts to some human ethical attitudes that aren't right -- but in the sense of guidance rather than punishment.
Desafíos y tareas de la teología en la región andina. Desafíos y tareas desde la Teología India -- Sofia Chipana Quispe's presentation at the Jornadas Teológicas Andinas in Bogotá, Colombia, October 21, 2011 (in Spanish)
Bolivian shares indigenous theology of “sacredness with the earth”, World Council of Churches, 5/20/2011 (article is also available en español)
Manual de la Lectura Intercultural de la Biblia, Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología (ISEAT), Bolivia (in Spanish)
"El Renacer de Un Nuevo Tiempo", by Sofia Chipana, Aire de Dios, Servicio Bíblico Permanente, Bolivia, No. 1, 2007 (in Spanish)
"¿Qué está permitido hacer en sábado: el bien o el mal? Marcos 3:4", by Sofia Chipana, Aire de Dios, Servicio Bíblico Permanente, Bolivia, Año 2, No. 5, 2008 (in Spanish)
"Voces y cuerpos que emergen de la memoria clandestina", by Sofia Chipana Quispe, Revista Clar: revista trimestral de vida religiosa, Vol. 48, No. 2, 2010 (full text not online)
Sofia Chipana also contributed to Teologia Andina, el tejido diverso de la fe indígena, edited by Josef Estermann, ISEAT, Bolivia, 2006 (summary of the 2 volume book's contents in Spanish from EATWOT)