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Stephen Chin Ming Lim

In this essay, I explore the reader’s social location in the modern/colonial world system to evoke a possible future for biblical studies that responds to Gayatri Spivak’s call in Death of a Discipline to move towards the planet over and against the globe. Through the work of Raimon Panikkar, I argue a case for reading from elsewhere that departs from objectivist desires of reading from nowhere and nativist inclinations of reading from here so as to disrupt the privilege of biblical scholars. Together with a reading of Daniel 1, I demonstrate how my social location in Asia not only calls for the imperative to dialogue but also requires an imparative perspective that allows me to exercise reflexivity to inhabit an(-)Other’s standpoint. This is in order to challenge the social identities I inhabit so as to emphasise the need to rethink the terms of conversations on biblical hermeneutics between the West and Asia.


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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

Abstract

This chapter maps out key influences on reading the Bible in Singapore. Using Tracy’s portrayal of the theologian as situated between the publics of academy, church and society, I identify the dominant discursive powers that control biblical interpretation in each arena. Then I bring them together to situate the key issues as (un)problematic Bible, (un)problematic capitalism and (un)problematic secularism. The common signifier, (un)problematic, is meant to point to the fact that the common thread through each of them is that it is mostly hidden from plain sight. Its hiddenness is largely contributed by structuring the discursive environment to favour trends in western biblical interpretation as well as overlooking the foundational elements of class and race that grant privilege to elite, English-educated Chinese majority in the Singaporean context. As a result, the Bible, capitalist transformation of Singaporean society and entrenching of militant secularism are normally seen as unproblematic in contextual interpretation.

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

Abstract

The main aim of this chapter is to plot out what it means to read in context which keeps in mind nonspecialist readers whom I identify as the Protestant church in Singapore. It is structured as a typology of four reading postures with respect to them: reading without, reading for, reading with and reading from. Reading without is largely those who read for particular academic guilds and thus have little or no interest in reaching out to Christian communities who share the same text. Reading for would reflect majority of biblical scholars who see themselves as reading on behalf of nonspecialist readers which tends to be patriarchal in nature. Reading with follows what Gerald West (1999) has proposed in contextual bible studies in South Africa that takes into consideration the lived experiences of nonspecialist readers and the perspectives they bring to the text. However I argue in Singapore by virtue of the fact the church demographic is mainly constituted by middle to upper class congregations that largely belong to the majority Chinese race, there is a high risk that reading the Bible would serve certain class aspirations and cultural values. Therefore as a corrective I propose reading from which first recognises that the reader is located within a certain epistemic terrain and then identifies standpoints that have been submerged and silenced within that space to bring to the Bible for reading. In short, I argue in this chapter that reading the Bible in Singapore needs to move from reading without/for to reading with/from.

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

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Following from the previous chapter, I go further in depth in this chapter on how the standpoint of the Other can be appropriated. The key questions I answer in this chapter are first, can the Other be sufficiently re-presented such that it avoids using the Bible to either service possible orientalising tendencies of the West or fuel nativist dangers of identity politics? Second, how can the standpoint of the Other be accessed ethically? I argue, with the help of Kuan Hsing Chen’s book, Asia as Method: Towards Deimperialization (2010), that the issue of the Bible being domesticated into agendas of the West and the East is that the reference point is always itself. Instead, one needs to draw from as many points of reference as possible. Therefore, in the Singaporean context, the reader is situated globally between Asia and the West and locally within a certain demographic. In the light of this, we need to draw reference points from the West, Asia and local groupings of relatively marginalised epistemic agents. In order to enter into these standpoints especially those which are radically different from us, I argue using Sara Ahmed (2000) that there is need to practise generosity and hospitality. However that is insufficient as there is the danger of assimilating the Other. As a form of corrective measure, I point out through José Medina (2012) for the need to employ epistemic friction which is allowing different standpoints to confront and challenge one another without allowing them to be absorbed into the most dominant one so as to pluralise one’s consciousness.

In the light of the above frameworks, I work out what it means to read the Bible in Singapore for transformative praxis and identity formation based on an analysis of my subject position (as a Singaporean Chinese male reader) vis-a-vis different Others. To begin, it requires drawing tangible connections between the ancient context of its production and the contemporary context of its reception, Singapore which takes into account both similarities and differences. It is after mapping out these connections, I then mobilise perspectives from the West, Asia and Singapore in constant dialogue on the biblical text so as to address the issues raised in the intercontextual exercise. Finally, I evaluate the discursive effects of the readings in relation to the key (un)problematics identified, the reading communities and the significant Others in Singapore who have been called upon to read the biblical text for me.

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

Abstract

This chapter serves to set the background for the reading of the stories of Daniel in the context of Singapore. I do so by drawing key connections between the ancient and modern contexts with the help of world historian Michael Mann (1986; 2013). He proposes a heuristic theoretical framework arguing that social power is consistently contested by four interlocking networks – ideological, political, economic and military. As my primary interest is in reading the Bible and the main place of religion has constantly been in the ideological network of power, I focus mainly on how legitimacy is garnered in both modern and ancient contexts so as to set up the key points of the negotiation that the Bible enters into. However I do still factor in the other three networks looking at how economies are structured, political structures are set up and military might is used to maintain peace within the boundaries of empire.

Bringing the networks of social power both past and present together, I argue that from the perspective of praxis, the key questions are: What is the perception of empire in the stories of Daniel in the light of the networks of power illustrated above? How would standpoints from the West, Asia and Singapore help a reader such as myself identify different modes of praxis within biblical texts? More crucially, which of these modes ought to be embraced, adapted or problematised? Moving to the question of identity formation, the key questions are: How would a multicentric mode of reading texts renegotiate the interpellation of desire by dominant interpretive powers of the state and the West? More importantly, how would it seek to realign readers such as myself with submerged identities both in ancient and contemporary contexts in hope of pluralising their consciousness?

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

Abstract

In this chapter I read the story of Daniel 1 in between western biblical scholars, Confucius and Malay Muslim minorities in Singapore. The main argument is that western biblical scholarship and Confucian perspectives based on Lin Yutang’s (1938) translation of Sima Qian’s historical account of Confucius tend to use what Maria Lugones (1994) argues to be the logic of purity. This assumes that the ‘right’ is the antithesis of the ‘wrong’ and it is possible to delineate what each is. For biblical scholars, they are divided about reading Daniel and his three friends’ refusal to partake of the royal rations. On the one hand, their actions are thought of as pietistic Jews defending the purity of their religion. On the other hand, they are seen as political revolutionaries refusing to participate in economical exploitation of empire. Confucian perspectives, however, dissent from such a clear division of what is considered ‘religion’ and what is ‘politics’ but subscribe instead to an idea of personal integrity. Thus I argue that a Confucian understanding of the text would see resistance as a ‘gentlemanly’ act that has both political and religious dimensions. At the same time, it would be apprehensive of the potential compromises involved in taking on Babylonian names and accepting favours from a corrupt empire. Using Malay perspectives derived from Malay Sketches (2012), an anthology of stories about Malay Muslim living in Singapore by local author and playwright, Alfian Sa’at (2012), I show that subaltern experiences could engage the ambivalence of the actions of Daniel and his three friends better than the other two. What is brought to light is how Daniel and his three friends made effort to keep their actions hidden from the eyes of the empire. The Malays empathise with the need of the Jews to survive in an environment hostile to their ethnicity particularly being part of the education system and later on civil service. Yet at the same time, they hold in tension the courage to uphold their Jewishness with the apparent successes in the royal court since success of this kind in the Singaporean context often entails deep compromise.

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

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Daniel chapters 3 and 6 are two stories that present Daniel, Shadrach, Mishael and Abednego in direct confrontation with the empire where the option of hiding their religious affiliation is relatively less available to them. In this chapter, I read their actions of political resistance in dialogue with western biblical scholarship, Mahatma Gandhi and political prisoners in Singapore or what it is also popularly called, the Lion City. The logic of purity seen in the previous chapter is again demonstrated in the reading of western biblical scholars in these two stories of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den. Most biblical scholars would prefer to see the refusal to bow to the golden statue and abide by the edict that bans petitioning any god other than the king as purely religious in nature and that political effects are at best incidental. However, a significant minority think of their actions as intentionally opposing the empire, thus constituting political resistance. Based on a reading of Gandhi’s interpretation of Daniel 6 together with his concept of passive resistance in his iconic book, Hind Swaraj (translated as Home Rule; 1997), I argue that Gandhi would not think of the political as separate from the religious but how religion empowers one to do political action. Bringing in the experiences of political prisoners in Singapore, I find that the efficacy of the political and religious have been overdetermined in the interpretations of western biblical scholarship and even Gandhi himself. Rather by reading the stories through the experiences of political prisoners found in four Singaporean texts I have chosen, I argue the key reason why the religious cannot be divorced from the political is because one is facing an overwhelming force of empire. Yet at the same time, I also highlight how Gandhi’s perspectives would bring to light the issues of excessive violence in the text and; how the experiences of political prisoners would highlight how the triumphalist overtones of the stories can be potentially problematic in contemporary political struggles.

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Chin Ming Stephen Lim

Abstract

In the opening chapter of the book, I set out the key concepts that undergird the putting together of this contextual biblical hermeneutic. First, I recognise that the Bible in Asia is mainly mediated through colonialism. In the light of this, biblical interpretation is embedded in two networks of knowledge production. On the one hand, there is the inter-contextual arena of what decolonial thinker, Anibal Quijano (2007) calls the modern/colonial world system where western intellectual traditions are promulgated throughout the world as universal theoretical frameworks. On the other hand, there is the intra-contextual consideration of what José Medina (2006) describes to be ‘polyphonic contextualism’, that is, any geopolitically defined space comprises of networks of epistemic agents that relate to one another hierarchically which give rise to spaces of intelligibility and spaces of marginality. In order to navigate this epistemic terrain, I argue that reading the Bible has to gear towards transformative praxis and identity formation while holding in tension that the Bible should also be seen in its Otherness.

The book is structured into two parts. The first part is the theoretical formulation of a Singaporean reading frame that can be applied to the Bible. Here I outline the main contextual considerations before arguing for a hermeneutic that comprises of two concurrent frameworks – conscientisation and conversation. The second part is where I complete the hermeneutical circle by applying the theory to specific biblical texts in order to on the one hand demonstrate the fruits of the theory, and on the other hand, test its limitations. The biblical texts I have chosen are the stories found in the book of Daniel.