PhD Dissertation: “Faith, Hope, and the Poor: Theological Ideas and Moral Vision of Jean-Betrand Aristide” by Celucien L. Joseph

Here’s the dissertation abstract on Jean-Betrand Aristide I promised to share with you:
“Faith, Hope, and the Poor: Theological Ideas and Moral Vision of Jean-Betrand Aristide” by Celucien L. Joseph
Supervisor: Prof Vuyani Vellem
Department:Faculty of Theology
University: University of Pretoria
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Program: Systematic Theology & Christian Ethics
PhD Defense: February 16, 2017
Degree Conferred: February 16, 2017
Keywords: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Theological Ethics, Theological Anthropology, Political Theology,The Poor, Liberation Theology, Violence, Ubuntu

The objective of this research is to examine the theological ideas and moral vision of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and to explore how his theology (and theological hermeneutics and ethics) has influenced his politics of solidarity and social activism on behalf of the oppressed and the poor in Haiti in particular, and the wretched of the earth, in general.  Through the use of the postcolonial, decolonial, and Liberation Theology paradigms as hermeneutical and theoretical methods of investigation, the project seeks to answer a threefold question: what is the relationship between theology and social activism and transformation in the thought and writings of Jean-Bertrand Aristide?   What is the place and function of the community of faith, the poor, the oppressed, hope, and human liberation in the political theology of Jean-Bertrand Aristide?  What is the place of (defensive) violence in Aristide’s theology? Our goal in this scholarly investigation is an attempt to provide an answer to these daunting questions above and to explore more fully and intelligently the theology of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.This present study considers Aristide’s democratic and social justice projects and theological reflections and theological intersections in the disciplines of theological anthropology, theological ethics, and political theology, as he himself engages all four simultaneously. The doctoral thesis locates Aristide’s thought and writings within Black intellectual tradition both in continental Africa and the African Diaspora. It establishes shared intellectual ideas and parallelisms, and strong ideological connections between Aristide and Black theologians and thinkers in both continental Africa and the African Diaspora. On one hand, Aristide’s intellectual ideas and political activism should be understood in the context of the struggle for democracy in Haiti; on the other hand, it is suggested the intellectual articulations and propositions of these Black and African thinkers aim at a common vision: the project to make our world new toward the common good.

While we do not undermine the problem of violence in Aristide’s theology and political program in the context of Haitian history, the  doctoral thesis argues that Aristide’s theological anthropology is a theology of reciprocity and mutuality, and correspondingly, his theological ethics is grounded in the theory of radical interactionality, interconnectedness, and interdependence, and the South African humanism of Ubuntu. It also contends that Aristide’s promotion of a theology of popular violence and aggression in the Haitian society should be understood as a cathartic mechanism and defensive violence aimed at defending the Haitian masses against the Duvalier regime and their oppressors.


Finding God in the Wasteland: God is the God of life and the God of hope:

Finding God in the Wasteland: God is the God of life and the God of hope
“Thus would God have us walk through the valley of death and find ourselves, our voyage at an end, at the sunlit crossroads of life; so would God have us travel nightmarish highways of rain and gloom and murder only to pull into a carefree village at sunrise in our exhausted car with its four flat tires; so would God have us fight for life in battlefields of blood and entrails, and harvest life from fields of bone and ashes. There in the wasteland where you had not thought to find life, you will suddenly find the signs of God’s renewal, blooming and flowering and bursting forth from the dry earth with great energy, God’s energy. In the driest month, you will find on the branches’ tips new shoots of life. Under the rock in the desert will sprout a flower, a delicate bud of the new life.”–Jean-Bertrand Aristide, “In The Parish of the Poor,” p. 64.
* I make a sharp distinction between what I phrase the three existential Aristides–one single person who embodies a divided and troubling soul–who perform as a politician, literary genius or a rhetorician, and Aristide the theologian. I’m more interested in the “Theological Aristide” and the “Literary Aristide” for the sake of the current research’s emphasis I’m conducting on Jean-Bertrand Aristide the Theologian-President. I suppose there are/will be possible consequences –such as scholarly misapprehension and intellectual misjudgment-about my preferential option for the two Aristides, which may betray my scholarship as an intellectual historian, and a confessional christian theologian.
On the other hand, it does not mean I have overlooked/will overlook the shortcomings of Aristide the politician and the pitfalls of Aristide the theologian who has fallen from grace. While the practical life of a theologian may sometimes betray his theology, his theology should never be divorced  from his personal life. This is exactly the problem with American evangelicalism today: the betrayal of a transformed christian life, which could be construed as the very predicament of doing genuine theological praxis and relational theology in both spheres: public and private.
To get a good understanding of my ideological choice, I direct your attention to an essay I published on Aristide two years ago: “Toward a Politico-Theology of Relationality: Justice as Solidarity and the Poor in Aristide’s Theological Imagination,” Toronto School of Theology 30: 2 (December 2014): 269-300.