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Carib-being and Theo-logy these days

The Unwitting Theological Enterprise of the Music of Tanya Stephens

February 16, 2011

Join us for the annual Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Lecture beginning at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

This lecture will present that the agenda for the theological enterprise within the Caribbean region is being articulated in a singular fashion in the region’s popular music.  Taking a Jamaican-Caribbean slant, it explores theological issues arising from the music of often-times controversial Jamaican reggae artiste Tanya Stephens.  Hers is an unwitting theological enterprise as the belief that theology properly resides within church and seminary is still very prevalent (even as the relevance of the Church is being questioned).  Neither the dancehall nor the soca party are seen as approved spaces for theologising.  It revisits concern, as articulated by Caribbean theologians such as Ashley Smith, with the nature and meaning of theology in the region.  The Caribbean theological enterprise is rooted in a sense of Caribbeaness, “Carib-being” (Caribbean personhood and identity), which is continually in need of re-articulation and reaffirmation, especially in times such as these where Caribbean unity is under siege.  Pulling select lyrics from Stephens’ long discography, it examines her treatment of questions such as the nature of God, the human-divine relationship, the role of church, individual moral responsibility and the human call to change the world in the face of discrimination, economic exploitation and human frailty.  At the same time, it questions the absence of explicit concern with the sense of Caribbean identity within Stephens’ repertoire.  In so doing, it plots a trajectory that refuses to limit the tools of the Caribbean theological enterprise or circumscribe the voices to be heard.

Dr. Anna Kasafi Perkins is the former Dean of Studies at St Michael's Theological College, an institute of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica (and an affiliated institution of the University of the West Indies, Mona).  She is currently the Senior Programme Officer in the Quality Assurance Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and adjunct faculty at St Michael's; she also edits the St Michael’s journal, Groundings.  Her research interests include faith and political life, sex and sexuality, religion and popular culture, gender and the scriptures, business and professional ethics.  She has a particular interest in the dancehall space and the peculiar contribution of artiste Tanya Stephens.  Her reflections on Stephens’ music include: “Love the Long Ding Dong: Tanya Transgresses Christian Sensibilities” (2010) and “Tasting Tears and (Not) Admitting Defeat: Promoting Values and Attitudes through the Music of Tanya Stephens?”(Inaugural Lecture, Social Ethics Centre, 2008).  Her most recent publication is a book entitled: Justice as Equality: Michael Manley's Caribbean Vision of Justice (Peter Lang, 2010).  She is a member of the Black Catholics Theological Symposium, Catholic Theological Society of America, and Catholic Theology in the Caribbean Today; she is also a Board Member of Caribbean Catholics in North America.  More recently she was a member of the Second Drafting Group of the World Council of Churches Statement on Just Peace (2010).  Dr. Perkins holds degrees from The University of the West Indies, Mona/St Michael’s Seminary, Cambridge University and Boston College.