Monday, October 26, 2020


        Postcolonial theory is not an established set of method, governed by programmatic procedures, nor does it have a solid theoretical foundation accompanied by standard principles and assumptions.[1]
It is an examination of the history, culture, and especially literature of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean islands, and South America as they are produced by people from these areas during the colonial era of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Specifically, postcolonial criticism[2] is an analysis of the power and political structures that pervaded the relationship between colonial powers and colonized.   According to Homi Bhabha "postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of third world countries and the discourse of minorities within the geopolitical division of east and west and north and south..."[3] The prefix “post” of “postcolonial theory” has been rigorously debated, but it has never implied that colonialism has ended. Indeed, much of postcolonial theory is concerned with the lingering forms of colonial authority after the formal end of Empire.[4]

 Postcolonial identity

        Although the colonizers left the lands they had invaded but what has been left behind is a deeply embedded ‘cultural colonization.’ The ex-colonials often were left with a psychological “inheritance” of a negative self-image and alienation from their own indigenous cultures, which had been forbidden or devalued for so long that much pre-colonial culture, has been lost. Colonialist ideology, often referred to as colonialist discourse to mark its relationship to the language in which colonialist thinking was expressed, was based on the colonizers’ assumption of their own superiority, which they contrasted with the alleged inferiority of native (indigenous) peoples, the original inhabitants of the lands they invaded. The colonizers believed that only their own Anglo-European culture was civilized, sophisticated, or, as postcolonial critics put it, metropolitan. Therefore, native peoples were defined as savage, backward, and undeveloped.  So the colonizers saw themselves at the center of the world; the colonized were at the margins. The colonizers saw themselves as the embodiment of what a human being should be, the proper “self”; native peoples were considered “other,” different, and therefore inferior to the point of being less than fully human. This practice of judging all who are different as less than fully human is called othering, and it divides the world between “us” (the “civilized”) and “them” (the “others” or “savages”). The “savage” is usually considered evil as well as inferior (the demonic other).[5] This attitude is called Euro-centrism.[6] The neo-colonization takes place, as R. S. Sugirtharajah pinpoints, in the form of “the hegemonic systems of thought, textual codes, and symbolic practices which the West constructed in its domination of colonial subject.”[7] Therefor   postcolonial criticism addresses a good deal the problem of cultural identity as it is represented in postcolonial literature.

Main Contributors and Key Concepts of Postcolonial Criticism

        As a reaction to colonial hegemony, some proposed the postcolonial discourse as one of the disciplines in the intellectual field. It is a critical discourse that is resistant “to any subsequent related projects of dominance.” It is “a reading strategy” or “a condition of being” in cultural and, most of all, literary studies, especially for investigating and exposing the link between knowledge and power in the production of the texts from the West.[8] Three of the best known names[9] in Postcolonial theory are those of Edward Said, Gayatri C. Spivak, and Homi K Bhabha. It is generally recognized that Said’s influential work, ‘Orientalism’ is considered as a foundational work in postcolonial studies. In his, The Location of Culture a collection of his most important essays, Bhabha has coined several concepts about culture that have had a great impact on postcolonial discourse. Following are a list of some of the key concepts of Postcolonial studies: 

Ambivalence: this term first developed in psychoanalysis to describe a continual fluctuation between wanting one thing and wanting its opposite. It also refers to a simultaneous attraction toward and repulsion from an object, person or action.[10] H. K. Bhabha adapted it into postcolonial studies. The term ambivalence basically refers to a mental, social, cultural or behavioral state of people. Bhabha clarifies that the hybridization of any culture creates the ambivalent condition.[11] It describes the complex mix of attraction and repulsion that characterizes the relationship between colonizer and colonized. The relationship is ambivalent because the colonized subject is never simply and completely opposed to the colonizer.

Binarism: The word ‘binary,’ means a combination of two things, a pair, and duality. This is a widely used term with distinctive meanings in several fields and one that has had particular sets of meanings in post-colonial theory.[12] The binary logic of imperialism is a development of that tendency of Western thought in general to see the world in terms of binary oppositions that establish a relation of dominance. A simple distinction between center/margin; colonizer/colonized; metropolis/empire; civilized/primitive represents very efficiently the violent hierarchy on which imperialism is based and which it actively perpetuates. The binary constructs a scandalous category between the two terms that will be the domain of taboo, but, equally importantly, the structure can be read downwards as well as across, so that colonizer, white, human and beautiful are collectively opposed to colonized, black, bestial and ugly. Clearly, the binary is very important in constructing ideological meanings in general, and extremely useful in imperial ideology.[13]      

Cannibal: This term for an eater of human flesh is of particular interest to postcolonial studies for its demonstration of the process by which an imperial Europe distinguishes itself from the subjects of its colonial expansion, while providing a moral justification for that expansion. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘cannibal’ reads: ‘A man (esp. a savage) that eats human flesh; a man-eater, an anthropophagite. This definition is itself a very good demonstration of two related features of colonial discourse: the separation of the ‘civilized’ and the ‘savage’, and the importance of the concept of cannibalism in cementing this distinction. To this day, cannibalism has remained the West’s key representation of primitivism, even though its first recording, and indeed most subsequent examples, have been evidence of a rhetorical strategy of imperialism rather than evidence of an objective ‘fact.’[14]

Center/Margin (Periphery): This has been one of the most contentious ideas in post-colonial discourse, and yet it is at the heart of any attempt at defining what occurred in the representation and relationship of peoples as a result of the colonial period. Imperial Europe became defined as the ‘center’ in a geography at least as metaphysical as physical. Everything that lay outside that centre was by definition at the margin or the periphery of culture, power and civilization. The post-colonial theorists have usually used the model to suggest that dismantling the binaries does more than merely assert the independence of the marginal, it also radically undermines the very idea of such a centre, deconstructing the claims of the European colonizers to a unity and a fixity of a different order from that of others. In this sense the dismantling of centre/margin (periphery) models of culture calls into question the claims of any culture to possess a fixed, pure and homogenous body of values, and exposes them all as historically constructed, and thus corrigible formations.[15]

Double Consciousness:  Postcolonial theorists often describe the colonial subject as having a double consciousness or double vision, in other words, a consciousness or a way of perceiving the world that is divided between two antagonistic cultures: that of the colonizer and that of the indigenous community. Double consciousness often produced an unstable sense of self, which was heightened by the forced migration colonialism frequently caused. H.K. Bhabha and others used the term  unhomeliness instead. According to Bhabha, “to be unhomed is not to be homeless, nor can the unhomely be easily accommodated in that familiar division of social life into private and public spheres.”[16]For Lois Tyson, “to be unhomed is to feel not at home even in your own home because you are not at home in yourself: your cultural identity crisis has made you a psychological refugee.”[17]

Hybridity: usually hybridity[18] refers to the formation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone fashioned by the establishment of colonization. Homi K Bhabha argues that all cultural announcements, speeches, statements, dialogues, and systems are created in a space that he terms the ‘Third Space of enunciation’. Cultural identity always develops in ‘this contradictory and ambivalent space’, which for Bhabha is a hierarchical inherent ‘originality’ or 'purity' of cultures which are ‘untenable.’[19]

Mimicry: is an increasingly important term in post-colonial theory. The term mimicry has been crucial in H K Bhabha's view of the ambivalence of colonial discourse. The copying of the colonizing culture, behavior, manners and values by the colonized contains both mockery and a certain ‘menace’, ‘so that mimicry is at once resemblance and menace.’[20]   It reflects both the desire of colonized individuals to be accepted by the colonizing culture and the shame experienced by colonized individuals concerning their own culture, which they were programmed to see as inferior.[21]

Orientalism: This is the term popularized by Edward Said’s Orientalism, in which he examines the processes by which the ‘Orient’ was, and continues to be, constructed in European thinking. Professional Orientalists included scholars in various disciplines such as languages, history and philology, but for Said the discourse of Orientalism was much more widespread and endemic in European thought. As well as a form of academic discourse it was a style of thought based on ‘the ontological and epistemological distinction between the “Orient” and the “Occident.”[22] But, most broadly, Said discusses Orientalism as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient ‘dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.’[23]  

 Subaltern: The term Subaltern means ‘of inferior rank’, is adopted by Antonio Gramsci to refer to those groups in society who are subject to the hegemony of the ruling classes.[24] The term has been adapted to post-colonial studies from the work of the Subaltern Studies group of historians, who aimed to promote a systematic discussion of subaltern themes in South Asian Studies.[25] The notion of the subaltern became an issue in post-colonial theory when Gayatri Spivak critiqued the assumptions of the Subaltern Studies group in the essay ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ Spivak goes on to elaborate the problems of the category of the subaltern by looking at the situation of gendered subjects and of Indian women in particular, for ‘both as an object of  colonialist historiography and as a subject of insurgency, the ideological construction of gender keeps the male dominant.’ For if ‘in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow.’[26]

Postcolonial Criticism and the Bible

        Since 1990s scholars in the Third World and those among racial minorities in the US began to raise questions about the role of the Bible in the imperial cause.[27] Postcolonial Criticism examines the extent to which the Bible has been implicated in colonial rule, and it will consider how it was appropriated both by the colonizer to justify oppression and by the colonized to articulate their identity and self-worth. Imperialism is, of course, an ancient concept, and so its pervasive presence in the Bible is hardly surprising.   Since both the Old Testament and the New emerged within a landscape of imperial domination and control, it will be necessary to examine the impact that successive empires – Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman – had upon the people of ancient Israel and the nascent Christian movement.

        At the beginning of the British Empire’s colonizing program, the Bible itself played a relatively insignificant part in the process of establishing political domination over the natives; its circulation and availability were fairly limited and its impact was therefore quite minimal. It was not until much later that the Bible began to be used to undergird the imperial designs of the colonizer.[28] That development came about, at least in part, as a result of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s concerted effort to make the Bible more easily readable and affordable to ordinary people, irrespective of their social condition or economic status. But once the Bible was given to the colonized, it soon became an instrument of domination,[29] which could be used to promote social structures that perpetuated an unjust and oppressive system.[30] 

        The colonized came to the Bible from a context of oppression and disenfranchisement, and they realized that the very book which had been used to legitimate social and economic injustice could equally well be used to liberate them from oppressive and cruel regimes. Texts that had been cited to promote an attitude of resignation and apathy in the face of exploitation could just as well be used to foment rebellion and to revitalize the life and culture of the indigenous people. The colonized had discovered the revolutionary potential of the Bible and realized that, instead of being an instrument of oppression, it could become a vehicle of emancipation, and that they themselves could become empowered, rather than subjugated, by the words of Scripture. For the colonized, the purpose of Bible study was not to glean information about the past but to illuminate and inform the present, and by reading the text in this way they were able to discover a new self-identity and self-worth.[31] In short, in the colonial context, the Bible functioned as something of a two-edged sword: for the colonizer it was a convenient instrument of oppression and subjugation, while for the colonized it became a means to reassert their own identity and culture.

Why Postcolonial Biblical Criticism

      With regard to the discipline of biblical studies, postcolonialism matters for three particular reasons:  

a) The use of the Bible during the colonial enterprise in the 1800s and 1900s throughout the world to colonize the non-Western world is well documented.[32] In the history of Asia (particularly India), R. S. Sugirtharajah has shown how Indians were taught and trained to read as British Christians in order to conform them to a British truth and justice perspective.[33] For these reasons, postcolonialism matters because it is concerned with contesting the previously dominant imperial and colonial ways of using the biblical text. Postcolonial criticism challenges not only the use of the Bible, but also its reception and history of interpretation and aims to provide a different, non-Western and non-imperial interpretation—it is a reading from a different perspective. Also, it challenges those from the Western world, both within and outside the academy, to take these interpretations or perspectives as seriously as those of the West.[34]

b) The New Testament was composed during the Roman colonial period and consequently shows many imperial-colonial markers or features in the text. These markers pertain to the economic, political, and cultural Roman system and thinking.[35] Postcolonial criticism calls attention to these markers and borrows them to begin to nuance and challenge particular readings of the text. Postcolonial criticism disrupts the Western gaze of the text—the world behind, in, and in front of the text. It disrupts this gaze by moving away from any “Orientalizing” of the text as if it were something to be subjugated and colonized and exploited. For this reason postcolonialism contests previous ways of seeing things in the biblical text.  

c) Postcolonial Criticism challenges the way we read and the methods we use to construct ancient texts.         For many years, it was assumed that the colonized were less intelligent and did not merit the same degree of education as the dominant classes. The colonized were regarded as non-serious, superstitious, and lacking relevant knowledge. Their stories and experiences did not serve as a mode of entry into the reconstruction or interpretation of a text, and their questions were not central in relationship to the Western world. Postcolonial criticism, therefore, matters because it involves a reorientation toward knowledge, openness to questions developed outside the West. It is committed to transforming the conditions of oppression and giving a voice to the subaltern.[36]

What is Postcolonial Biblical Criticism?

        Postcolonial biblical criticism takes its roots in postcolonial theory. J. Punt asserts that postcolonial biblical interpretation may be “a form of ideology criticism, which considers the socio-political context and one’s stand within it of primary importance.”[37] In the same vein, M.J. Gorman affirms that postcolonial (biblical) criticism is a type of ideological criticism used by those who have been affected by or sensitized to the effects of, colonization, for analyzing the biblical texts.[38] As an academic discipline, it questions and critiques structures of power, dominant systems, and embedded ideologies to suggest social transformations that recognize and validate the perspectives of marginalized peoples, cultures, and identities. Meanwhile, it also questions biblical involvement in supporting expansionism, militarism, discrimination, and exclusion. Postcolonial biblical hermeneutics, then, may become a tool for criticism toward both the biblical texts and their interpretations containing western colonial motifs and agenda disseminated so far.[39] In this sense, it possible to categorize postcolonial biblical readings as a hermeneutics of suspicion for it assumes that the interpretive and (usually) the text itself is subject to criticism and even potentially dangerous.[40] Punt uses the terms “rereading the text” by proficiently discovering the marginalized or suppressed voices in, behind and below the text and subversively rereading the traditional reading and understanding of the biblical texts.[41] R.S. Sugirtharajah explains postcolonial biblical interpretation as a reading strategy to interrogate colonial influences on a biblical text and its interpretation. According to him, the primary concern of postcolonial biblical criticism is “to situate empire and imperial concerns at the center of the Bible and biblical studies.”[42]

Models of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism

        The entry of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism, as a critical theory, into the arena of biblical studies is comparatively late. Since 1990s many Biblical scholars lined up in the postcolonial queue and developed models for Postcolonial Biblical Criticism as shown in numerous and various publications.[43] Following are some of the models of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism 

 i) The Essentialist/ Nativist Model. This model treats the Bible as a colonial, axiomatic European discourse which is anti-Canaanite at the core. The leading advocate of this model is Laura Donaldson. Viewing from a Native American perspective, argues that at the hands of the first European Puritan conquerors and settlers, the biblical conversation becomes an ideological means for the annihilation of native American peoples and their cultures.[45] As a response, this postcolonial reading aims to reclaim the indigenous voices and the essence of their culture by reaching back to the Canaanite voice subsumed within the biblical discourse. With decolonization in mind, such an essentialist reading strategy aims to cater to the nativist, nationalistic agenda which in turn may facilitate the reclamation and renegotiation of native pre-colonial experience. By this reading strategy, the indigenous peoples’ subjectivity asserted, and their personhood affirmed. Their valuable and rich native heritage such as myths, religions, culture, and history, additionally, can play an essential counter-discursive role in this postcolonial reading of the Bible.

ii) The Resistance/Recuperative Model. This model assumes that colonialism dominates and determines the interest of the biblical texts, but the biblical interpretations from the western colonial frame of references are unconcerned with decolonization. Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah is the chief proponent of this model, according to him, the postcolonial reading strategy should bring overlapping postcolonial issues of empire, nation, ethnicity, migration, and language by scrutinizing and exposing the colonial domination embedded in biblical texts.[46] In solidarity with and universal liberation of the poor and oppressed, the postcolonial resistant/recuperative reading strategy intends to investigate the biblical narratives in order to identify the embedded colonial ideology and practice in them, and, at the same time, to engage the central question of the Bible’s promotion of xenophobic, expansionist, militaristic, and ethnic tendencies. This model is a search for an alternative hermeneutics that, on the one hand, overturns “colonial assumptions” inherent in western interpretation and, on the other hand, interprets the text in “our own” terms and reads them specifically from “our own” specific locations.

iii) The Diasporic Intercultural Model. The intercultural approach looks for the reading of ancient texts—products of socio-religious, cultural and political (imperial and colonial) reality—as historically and socially conditioned individuals, and, consequently, the ancient readers and authors of those texts engaged in the process of “self-”construction. Since this creates a destination (otherness), modern (diasporic) readers of ancient texts may exercise a similar intercultural critical engagement by recognizing the plurality of “texts,” readers, and experiences. The main proponent of this model is Fernando Segovia who argues that this is a way to deconstruct the axiomatic western colonial reading of the Bible through emphasizing heterogeneity and polyphony of the margins (the politics of difference) to accomplish postcolonial universal goals: liberation and decolonization.[47]  

iv)The Strategic Essentialism (Transcultural Hybrid) ModelInfluenced by Homi Bhabha and Mikhail Bakhtin, scholars like Roland Boer and Jon L. Berquist take the postcolonial ideas of hybridity and ambivalence seriously in their reading strategies. Boer advocates the concept of “nominalist, or nominalism” as a conceptual tool for searching self-identity among the subalterns, the Australian Aboriginal communities. It is done through an act of self-nominating and self-altering to disturb, challenge as well as to survive from the oppression of the colonial settlers.[48] Berquist argues that the canonization of the Hebrew Bible is complicated because it contains the syncretistic and hybrid nature of colonization, particularly during the reign of Persians in colonial Yehud (Judah). The complex nature of the Hebrew canon relates to the idea that it is both colonial and postcolonial documents. The former refers to the intentions of the empire to control Judah and the latter points to the social location of the texts’ production that describes a tight relation between empire and colony. From a deconstructive perspective, the Hebrew canon is not a complete, coherent or consistent document. Instead, it includes a multiplicity of viewpoints, languages, geographies, classes, and ideologies.[49] To escape oppositional duplex and fragmental models used in postcolonial studies, this model looks for an approach that goes beyond the center and margin dichotomy.

Merits and Demerits

        Like any other method, the postcolonial approach in biblical reading is not without its pitfalls. It is argued that postcolonial reading can easily fall into ethnocentrism. Through deconstructing biblical texts in its interpretive process, the postcolonial approach may produce the range of possible meaning of the texts.[50]  Inflicting group’s ideology uniformly on the text (and its other reader) and calling this ideological lens as a method may be dangerous, for it can establish the new dominant norm, namely returning to ethnocentrism, nationalism, racism, sexism and the like. Since every people, culture, and even system of thought have their blind spots and weaknesses; postcolonial biblical criticism may be vulnerable to the hermeneutical fallacy of ethnocentrism.

        Since postcolonial biblical reading puts much emphasis on the socio-political context of the reader, some postcolonial biblical scholars, consequently, do not value studying texts in their ancient historical context.[51] There is a problem with keeping in balance priority of the perspectives in making a careful biblical interpretation, namely, the interplay between world “behind the text,” “of the text” and “in front of the text.” Neglecting the importance of another world of the text, the “of” one, and only paying attention only on the other two—but most postcolonial scholars only focus on “in front of the text”—will imply on placing “the real readers,” with their needs and concerns, as the final arbiter of meaning.[52]

        A more critical problem with postcolonial biblical criticism is that this interpretation has a “low-view” toward the Bible. In a postcolonial approach, the Bible is predominantly a literary document produced by human beings that inherently has its implication in hegemonic practices. Postcolonial Hermeneutics tries to search for the meaning of the text by reading against the narrator’s explicit statements, and therefore, it is against the grain of the text.[53] Moreover, as this biblical criticism focuses primarily on contemporary readers with their socio-political/cultural concerns, the role of the biblical readers here becomes more important and dominant than the biblical texts and their authors. In this sense, postcolonial biblical reading, unfortunately, may “fall into the same pit they intended to avoid” by marginalizing the biblical text and, at the same time, undermining the authority of the Scripture. According to Lau, the postcolonial approach can be applied in two ways, firstly, by using postcolonial sensibilities to illuminate and fill out the meaning of the text. This implies that one should ascertain the central message of the text that rail against injustice or bondage, find the protest or resistance by reading with the grain of the text, and apply the meaning of the text to contemporary readers; and, secondly, through common and overlapped themes between postcolonial and biblical ones, such as identity, hybridity, mimicry and stereotyping.[54]

        One of the advantages of Postcolonial reading of the Bible is that it provides a new and critical way of reading the Scripture. C. Keller explains that postcolonial criticism facilitates new readings of scripture and the history of the understanding of the scripture, helping to uncover their complex ties to the empire.”[55] Postcolonial biblical reading is bold enough to question the authority and meaning of biblical texts and be suspicious toward hegemonic (imperialistic) intentions of them. By doing so, a biblical reader may be aware of the ambiguity or ambivalence of and within the biblical texts, for they carry out both problem and solution, weakening and strengthening. As R.S. Sugirtharajah points out postcolonialism helps a reader to do “active interrogations of the hegemonic systems of thought, textual codes, and symbolic practices which the West constructed in its domination of colonial subjects.”[56]

        Reading from the “margins,” especially from the perspective of the colonized and oppressed, can illuminate previously hidden aspects of the biblical texts, the “other voices” that have been neglected and silenced for a long time.[57] As a new way of reading the scripture, a postcolonial lens does no longer concern with finding “the truth of the text.” It rather concerns with the central issue of the text’s promotion of colonial ideology,[58] how such an issue is deconstructed to promote social transformations which are helping a biblical reader realizing his or her own identity, interdependence, inclusiveness and conviction, and liberation from elements of colonial or power dominance.


        Postcolonial Biblical Criticism is a foregrounding of those colonial features that are discernable in the material matrix of the text as well as those recognizable in the cultural production of the text. Although comparatively few Biblical scholars have engaged seriously with postcolonial theory, its practitioners have generally found it to be a useful tool to further scholarly inquiry. Postcolonial Biblical criticism helps us to examine the imperial impulses not only within the biblical text but also within biblical interpretation. It enables the readers to read the Bible from the perspective of the socially excluded and oppressed, and to expose and oppose texts that appear to condone various forms of tyranny, domination and abuse. Regardless of some pitfalls Postcolonial Biblical criticism can encourage as well as a guide New Testament scholars to seek emancipation and authenticity for all marginalized or oppressed identities.


[1] See an excellent delineation of postcolonial criticism and theory by Fernando F. Segovia, “Mapping the Postcolonial Optic in Biblical Criticism: Meaning and Scope,” in Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: Interdisciplinary Intersections, ed. Stephen D. Moore and Fernando F. Segovia (New York: T&T Clark, 2005).

[2] As a method of inquiry postcolonial theory occurs in a variety of academic subjects, including anthropology, sociology, history, English literature and cultural studies, and although its application varies from one discipline to another its basic aim is the same, namely, to uncover colonial domination in all its forms and oppose imperial assumptions and ideologies. Postcolonial criticism is part of a larger field called cultural studies, or race and ethnicity studies.

[3] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Rutledge, 1994), 63.

[4] Bill Ashcroft, G. Griffiths and H. Tiffin, Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2007), 169.

[5] Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today, 2nd Edition, (New York: Routledge, 2006), 419-20.

[6] An example of Eurocentric language can be seen in the terms First World, Second World, Third World, and Fourth World to refer to, respectively, (1) Britain, Europe, and the United States; (2) the white populations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and southern Africa (and, for some theorists, the former Soviet bloc); (3) the technologically developing nations, such as India and those of Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia; and (4) the indigenous populations subjugated by white settlers and governed today by the majority culture that surrounds them, such as Native Americans and aboriginal Australians (and, for some theorists, nonwhite populations who have minority status in “First World” countries, such as African Americans). 

[7]R.S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Reconfiguration: An Alternative Way of Reading the Bible and Doing Theology (St. Lois: Chalice, 2003), 15.

[8] Catherine Keller, Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire (St. Lois: Chalice, 2004), 7.

[9] Edward Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Penguin, 1978); Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994); Gayatri C. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and The Interpretation of Culture, ed. by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271-313; The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (London and New York: Routledge, 1990); A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward the History of Vanishing Present (London: Harvard University Press, 1999); and Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999).

[10] R. J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), 161.

[11] Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 140.

[12] The concern with binarism was first established by the French structural linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, who held that signs have meaning not by a simple reference to real objects, but by their opposition to other signs. Each sign is itself the function of a binary between the signifier, the ‘signal’ or sound image of the word, and the signified, the significance of the signal, the concept or mental image that it evokes.

[13] Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Studies, 19.

[14] Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Studies, 26.

[15] Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Studies, 32.

[16] Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 107.

[17] Tyson, Critical Theory Today, 421.

[18] The term hybridity is used in ‘horticulture’ to refer to the cross-breeding of two species by attaching or cross- fertilizing to fashion a third ‘hybrid’ one. Hybridization occurs in linguistic, cultural, political and racial forms.

[19] According to Bhabha, the conscious recognition of this ambivalent space of cultural identity may aid the colonized to overcome the exoticism of cultural ambiguity to recognize an empowering hybridity within which cultural difference may function: It is significant that the productive capacities of this Third Space have a colonial or postcolonial provenance. For a willingness to descend into that alien territory - where I have led you - may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 37-38.

[20] Bhabha, The Location of Culture86.

[21] Tyson, Critical Theory Today, 421.

[22] Said, Orientalism, 1.

[23] Said, Orientalism, 3.

[24] Subaltern classes may include peasants, workers and other groups denied access to ‘hegemonic’ power. Since the history of the ruling classes is realized in the state, history being the history of states and dominant groups, Gramsci was interested in the historiography of the subaltern classes. [Antonio Gramsci 1934, 5, cited by Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Studies, 198].

[25] It is used in Subaltern Studies ‘as a name for the general attribute of subordination in South Asian society whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way’ [R. Guha, and G. C. Spivak (eds), Selected Subaltern studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), vii].

[26] Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” 28.

[27] Nobody has written more extensively or more eloquently on postcolonial theory as it relates to biblical studies than R. S. Sugitharajah, who was, by all accounts, the first to introduce postcolonial criticism to biblical studies in an article published in the Asia Journal of Theology in 1996. [R. S. Sugirtharajah, ‘Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation’, in Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World  (New York: Orbis Books), 72].

[28] See Sugirtharajah 2001: 45–73.

[29] Three Biblical texts from the book of Genesis and some other from book of Joshua proved particularly amenable to the early colonizers. First, the divine command in Gen. 1.28 to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ was often cited, from the sixteenth century onwards, as a biblical justification for colonial expansion. The second text, Gen. 28.14 (‘you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south’) was believed to contain a prophecy which saw its fulfillment in the expansion of British colonial rule to the four corners of the earth during the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The third text is the so-called curse of Ham in Gen. 9.18–27. All the descendants of Ham/Canaan were regarded as having been implicated in the curse and the early colonizers regarded the curse of Ham as sanctioning the enslavement of Africans and as a sign that their subordinate status had been preordained by God. Of all the biblical texts that were appealed to by the early colonizers, however, the most potent was undoubtedly the story of the conquest of Canaan as recorded in the book of Joshua.

        In addition to such passages from the Old Testament, there was much material in the New Testament which could be used to defend imperial ideology and sustain the colonial mission. The passages concerning the payment of taxes to Caesar (Mk 12.13–7) and the Great Commission in Mt. 28.19–20 similarly played into the hands of the colonial rulers, for it was interpreted to provide biblical legitimacy for imperial expansion into Asia, Africa and Latin America. Paul’s missionary journeys as depicted in such passages as Acts 13–14; 15.40–18.23; 18.24–21.14 were also regarded as important texts during territorial expansion by European nations, for they provided further Scriptural sanction for the colonial enterprise[29].  Further, Paul’s own attitude to the state in such passages as Rom. 13.1–7 and his attitude towards slavery in Philemon 8-20 are the texts favored by the colonizer to legitimate their ideological interests. (See Sugirtharajah, The Postcolonial Bible (Sheffield: Academic, 1998), 91–116.

[30]Michael Prior has provided a very useful discussion of ‘the use of the Bible as a legitimization for the implementation of an ideological, political program, the consequences of which have been, and continue to be, the irreversible suffering of entire communities and, in some cases, their virtual annihilation as a people’ (1997: 14). 

[31] Eryl W. Davies, Biblical Criticism:  A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 86.


[32] In the course of European colonization of Latin America the indigenous populations were portrayed as “pagans” for resisting conversion to Christianity and even enslaved because they did not represent the image of God. In the history of Africa, the use of the Christian Bible to subjugate and enslave many Africans and deport them to other parts of the worlds is also well attested. See Michael Prior, The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).

[33] See Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[34] F. Lozada, Jr,  “New Testament Studies and Postcolonialism: Placing Johannine Studies within the Discourse,” in Method and meaning: essays on New Testament Interpretation in Honor of H. W. Attridge, ed. by A. B. McGowan and K. H. Richards (Atlanta: SBL, 2011),535.

[35] See Warren Carter, John and Empire: Initial Explorations (New York: T&T Clark, 2008).

[36] Lozada,  “New Testament Studies and Postcolonialism…” 536.

[37]Jeremy Punt, “Postcolonial Biblical Criticism in South Africa: Some Mind and Road Mapping,” Neotestamentica 37 (2003), 62.  

[38] Michael J. Gorman, Elements in Biblical Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 22.

[39] H. Moxnes, for example, has shown how factors such as colonialism and ethnicity influenced German scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for they tended to inject their own cultural and racist biases into their interpretation of the biblical text. Cited by Eryl W. Davies, Biblical Criticism:  A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 101.

[40] Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis, 142.

[41]Punt, “Postcolonial Biblical Criticism in South Africa,” 74.

[42] R. S. Sugirtharajah, Exploring Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: History, Method, Practice (West Sussex: Blackwell, 2012), 46.

[43] For e.g. R. S. Sugirtharajah, ed., Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World (London: SPCK, 1995); The Postcolonial Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998); Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999); Laura E. Donaldson, ed., Postcolonialism and Biblical Reading (Semeia 75; Atlanta: The Society of Biblical Literature, 1996);  Fernando F. Segovia, Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margin (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000);   Stephen D. Moore and Fernando F. Segovia, eds., Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: Interdisciplinary Intersections (London: T&T Clark, 2006). 

[44] Simon Samuel, A Postcolonial Reading s of Mark’s Story of Jesus (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 22-43.

[45] Laura E. Donaldson, “Postcolonialism and Biblical Reading: An Introduction,” in Postcolonialism and Scriptural Reading, ed. Laura E. Donaldson  (Semeia 75; Atlanta: Scholars, 1998), 1-14.

[46] R. S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations (Sheffield: Sheffield

   Academic Press, 1999), ix-x.

[47] Fernando Segovia, “Interpreting beyond Borders: Postcolonial Studies in Biblical Criticism,” in The Postcolonial Bible, ed.

    R. S. Sugirtharajah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998), 11-34.

[48] See Roland Boer, Last Stop before Antarctica: The Bible and Postcolonialism in Australia (Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 109-34.

[49] Jon. L. Berquist, “Postcolonialism and Imperial Motives for Canonization,” in Postcolonialism and Scriptural Reading, ed. Laura E. Donaldson (Semeia 75; Atlanta: Scholars, 1998), 15-35.

[50] C. S. Keener, “Scripture and Context: An Evangelical Response,” The Asbury Journal 70/1 (2015), 33-34.

[51] Keener, “Scripture and Context,” 32.

[52] Peter Lau, “Back under Authority: Evangelical Postcolonial Hermeneutics,” Tyndale Bulletin 63/1 (2012). 137.

[53]Lau, “Back under Authority,” 137-8.

[54] Lau, “Back under Authority,” 140.

[55] Catherine Keller, Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire (St. Lois: Chalice, 2004), 10.

[56] Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Reconfiguration, 15.

[57] Lau, “Back under Authority,” 134. 

[58] Punt, “Postcolonial Biblical Criticism,” 72.


Berquist, Jon. L. “Postcolonialism and Imperial Motives for Canonization.” In Postcolonialism and Scriptural Reading. Edited by Laura E. Donaldson. Semeia 75; Atlanta: Scholars, 1998. 15-35.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Rutledge, 1994.

Bill, Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, and H. Tiffin.  Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Boer, Roland.  Last Stop before Antarctica: The Bible and Postcolonialism in Australia. Atlanta: SBL, 2008.

Davies, Eryl W. Biblical Criticism:  A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Donaldson, Laura E. “Postcolonialism and Biblical Reading: An Introduction.” In Postcolonialism and Scriptural Reading. Edited by Laura E. Donaldson.  Semeia 75; Atlanta: Scholars, 1998. 1-14.

Gorman, Michael J. Elements in Biblical Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Guha, R. and G. C. Spivak, eds. Selected Subaltern studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Keener, C. S. “Scripture and Context: An Evangelical Respons.” The Asbury Journal 70/1 (2015): 17-62.

Keller, Catherine. Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. St. Lois: Chalice, 2004.

Lau, Peter. “Back under Authority: Evangelical Postcolonial Hermeneutics,” Tyndale Bulletin 63/1 (2012): 131-44.

Lozada, F. Jr.  “New Testament Studies and Postcolonialism: Placing Johannine Studies within the Discourse,” In Method and meaning: essays on New Testament Interpretation in Honor of H. W. Attridge. Edited by A. B. McGowan and K. H. Richards. Atlanta: SBL, 2011. 531-552.

Prior, Michael. The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique. Sheffield: Academic Press, 1997.

Punt, Jeremy. “Postcolonial Biblical Criticism in South Africa: Some Mind and Road Mapping” Neotestamentica 37 (2003): 58-84.

Said, E. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. London: Penguin, 1978.

Samuel, Simon. A Postcolonial Reading s of Mark’s Story of Jesus. London: T&T Clark, 2007.

Segovia, Fernando. “Interpreting beyond Borders: Postcolonial Studies in Biblical Criticism.” In The Postcolonial Bible. Edited by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998. 11-34.

Spivak, Gayatri C. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and The Interpretation of Culture. Edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Chicago: University Press, 1988. 271-313.

Sugirtharajah, R. S. “Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation,” In Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. Edited by R. S. Sugirtharajah. New York: Orbis Books, 2006. 64–84.

Sugirtharajah, R. S. Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation. Oxford: University Press, 2002.

Sugirtharajah, R. S. Postcolonial Reconfiguration: An Alternative Way of Reading the Bible and Doing Theology. St. Lois: Chalice, 2003.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Young, R. J. C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.


Featured Post


  Form Criticism       Form Criticism  is a method of analysis focused on the individual, self-contained units of material into which gospel...