6. Subaltern voices

'Subaltern' denotes a person of inferior rank and is a term used in post-colonial studies to refer to the colonised, those who lack agency in society and access to social power. Under this heading are included the perspectives of the marginalised and excluded from different societies. Two projects in particular are contributing to this topic representing Dalits in India and ingenous peoples in Australia. This page also includes some articles contributed on this topic and further links.


Mission at and from the Margins: Research on Dalit Christian Experience

Previously notoriously known as the 'untouchables' the Dalit communities are those who have over the years suffered the worst exploitation and oppression under the Hindu caste system, the world's longest surviving hierarchy. In spite of the ongoing atrocities against them, Dalit communities today are increasingly asserting themselves. The church in India today is predominantly comprised of Dalit communities. This can be attributed, to a great extent, to the positive influence of the Christian missions on Dalit communities in their struggle for identity and emancipation. However, although the establishment of the missions provided the condition for social change, the native evangelists, catechists and the masses were the protagonists of the stiry of the mission of the church among the Dalits. Dalit communities actively participated in the proclamation and practice of the gospel, imaging creative modes of carrying the mission through, and set the agenda of the mission. In this process the missionaries, the native evangelists and the masses had to come to terms with the position of power of the missionary and their own position of powerlessness. In the interaction of these two positions, the Dalit communities creatively navigated their quest for the reclamation of identity, self-worth and rights.

The project 'Mission at and from the margins: patterns, protagonists and perspectives' offers an ethnographic, historical and theological study of the features of mission of churches on the margins as a critical and constructive contribution to the Edinburgh 2010 conference. The endeavour is primarily based on empirical studies with and among Dalit churches in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. The rationale behind the empirical studies is that perspectives and understandings of mission emerging from Dalit communities offer radically enriching and challenging paradigms of mission, which have the potential to re-shape the identity and vocation of the church. The study seeks to understand the patterns, perspectives and protagonists of mission, both present and past, from a Dalit perspective as an attempt to recover the Dalit agency and agenda in Christian missions in Andhra Pradesh, and draw out the implications of this agency for the ecumenical imagination of the church's mission in the world today.   

The research work will culminate with a colloquium at the Henry Martyn Institute in Hyderabad, India, on 23-27 September 2009. The event brings together about 20 scholars who have been working on issues related to Dalit Christian experience in Andhra Pradesh. The conveners of this study are: Rev. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, Rev. I. P. Asheervadam and Rev. Dr. Peniel Jesudas Rufus Rajkumar. Further details are available as an MSWord file here.

Download an illustrated report of the conference here.


Indigenous peoples: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders 

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) is the peak ecumenical Indigenous body in Australia. It is part of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA). With NATSIEC’s guidance, the churches are working together for a fair deal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and for the healing of our nation. Currently, all but one of the Commission members of NATSIEC are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the first peoples of this land and sea. They represent a cross-section of church-related Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups from the Anglican Church of Australia, the Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Salvation Army and the Uniting Church in Australia.

NATSIEC is contributing to the Edinburgh 2010 study process through Theme 4 Mission and Power. For further details see the NATSIEC website.



Articles submitted on this theme can be viewed or downloaded below. The articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors of Edinburgh 2010.


Listening to the marginalised voices: a postmodern reading of texts on the world mission conferences of the International Missionary Council (IMC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC)
Nico Botha, University of South Africa

Most readings of the mission conferences under discussion here show a tendency to interpret the conferences in terms of an 'imperial hermeneutic'. In this article the post-modern interpretive strategy of foregrounding marginal voices is pressed into service in reading texts on the mission conferences. A survey of such marginal voices is offered on the basis of the following underlying assumption: that the voices an sich are important in opening up new avenues for reading and interpreting texts on the mission conferences. The multiversity of voices suggest that any attempt at reducing the conferences to an essential core will of necessity come down to an impoverishment.

View or download the paper (MS Word file) here.

'Can we now bypass that truth?' Interogating the methodology of Dalit theology
J. Jayakiran Sebastian

Dalit studies are making a come back. This is also reflected in the field of Indian Christian theology where Dalit theology has emerged as a separate discipline and not simply as a branch of theology. Dominant forms of discourse have the disconcerting habit of raising questions like ‘relevance’ and ‘viability’ which forces people to enter into the ‘bypass mode’. Questions raising issues like ‘reality’ and ‘representation’, often lead to internecine conflicts that help no one but the dominant discourses. Although much has been achieved, including major interventions in the field of Biblical studies and hermeneutics and the rediscovery of Dalit literature, there is much that still needs to be done in the field of Dalit theology.

View or download the article (pdf file) here.


'The Lazarus Demand. Overcoming Indigenous Poverty: A Biblical Reflection on John Chapter 11'
Graeme Mundine and Jonathan Inkpin

The raising of Lazarus is one of the most important stories in the Christian Faith. It is the greatest of the ‘signs’ and the turning point of the Gospel of John. It proclaims the power of God in Jesus Christ as the way to resurrection and life. Such resurrection and new life is not comfortable however. It makes demands upon us. It is to be shared with others… The following reflection explores this Lazarus demand in the context of the pressing challenge of Indigenous poverty in Australia. For, understood in Aboriginal terms, the raising of Lazarus is a powerful challenge to all Australians to share fresh possibilities of new life with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.

View or download the article (pdf file) here.


'Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in the Australian Context'
Gabrielle Russell-Mundine and Graeme Mundine

Preparatory Bible Studies for the 13th General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia

View or download the article (pdf file) here.



The following links are listed for further research on this topic. Edinburgh 2010 is not responsible for their content.

  • Edinburgh 2010 Study Theme 4 Mission and Power. Click here.
  • World Council of Churches project on 'Just and inclusive communities', which brings together work on racism, indigenous peoples, Dalits and people with disabilities, click here.


    If you wish to participate by sharing what you or your group is doing, please send information, documents, papers and suggested links to the Edinburgh 2010 Research Coordinator, Dr. Kirsteen Kim,