Dr. Andrew Irvine, associate professor of philosophy and religion, views philosophy as the study of questions. However, he said, “turn one [question] over and five more scurry away.” Irvine spends his time scurrying after those new questions, particularly in relation to theology. Recently, his scholarly pursuits have lead to him having the honor of having an article of his published in the “Australian Religious Studies Review.”
The title of the 124-page article is “Liberation Theology as a Postcolonial Critique of Theological Reason: An Examination of Early Writings of Gustavo Gutierrez.” Gutierrez, whose work forms the basis of Irvine’s article, is a Peruvian priest in the Catholic Church. During the 50s and 60s, Gutierrez looked at the message that the church was presenting to a public suffering from “stark inequality, mass poverty and political oppression,” and realized that the only comfort the clergy was sharing with the people was “life will be better when you die.” Gutierrez felt he should be able to do better. He offered up in his writing a new interpretation of Christianity, where “salvation involved political and social and economic freedom.” Irvine draws on the writing of Gutierrez from the later violent times in Peru during the 70s and 80s to explore a new way of looking at Christianity, termed “Liberation Theology.”
Theology in the past has assumed one is stuck in the place after birth, and that if one is not part of the powerful class, then too bad. The old theology is a sort of coping mechanism for the downtrodden. However, Gutierrez and Irvine explore in their individual how theological truth is not just something to understand or believe, but instead it is a way of “struggling for freedom, for liberation.” According to their work, “Salvation starts with trying to overcome oppression now.” Christianity goes from a way of putting up with life’s hardships to a way of directly overcoming them.
The prompting for the article came from a friend of Irvine’s, Purushottama Bilimoria, with whom he had recently co-edited a book on post-colonialism and religion. Bilimoria then wanted Irvine to contribute a piece to the Australian journal. Along with the encouragement from his friend, Irvine, who is originally from Australia, said he liked that the article was published there because of “hometown royalties.” Irvine said that the publishing process was surprisingly easy. “The editorial people were really efficient, communicative and patient,” he said. Irvine also said that the criticisms of the text he received helped him to both improve and clarify the article. The article is part of a big project of Irvine’s that explores what it means to be divine from both a philosophical and theological point of view.
The overarching question that he wants to answer is what divinity means in an age of science and religious diversity. As part of his exploration of in what sense, if any, that it is that humans become divine, Irvine has been approved to teach a course during the next academic year, entitled “Souls.” The class will take an interdisciplinary look at the issue of divinity in humans through philosophy and neuroscience. He hopes to be able to write more articles on the topic as he explores the topic more, as well as potentially write a book. In the meantime, Irvine is excited by the possibilities to be discovered and shared with others. He said that he is glad to be at a place like Maryville College that fosters his interdisciplinary research, allowing him to always follow the questions, no matter where they might lead.