Karl James Villarmea
Is an Associate Professor of Silliman University – a faculty of the Religion and Peace Studies Department and in the ThD (Doctor of Theology) program of Silliman University Divinity School. He chairs the University Research Ethics Committee of Silliman University while he also serves as a theological consultant of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP); and a theological-biblical lecturer of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
“Touch in the Time of Pandemic and in the Reign of DU30: A Political Theology Reflection of the Present”
In this infectious time, or to be more precise, viral moment, when not touching (personal), and thus by extension distancing (social), are the operative socio-juridical mandate for the collective and common life, when we are enforcing strict physical boundaries of social existence and policing public spaces and even human relationships by way of touch and prohibition of such, what does it mean to think of touch, as touch from others and from touching others, theologically? And importantly, how do we make touch as praxis for holiness and liberation?
Compelled to the call of this time, I wish to reconsider the spatial and relational assumption of touch that is so pervasive in theology yet remains largely interrogated and investigated upon. Utilizing the trailblazing works of Marcella Althaus-Reid and Mayra Rivera to think of touch as theological imperative of our time in conjunction/thinking with the Samaritan woman and Jesus (noli me tangere) in the gospel of John, I wish to specifically reflect on the kind of spatiality and relationality of touch/touching that will not only allow us to survive but also brings about flourishing of our lives in a time of crisis; indeed, one that can instantiate a praxis of holiness and liberation in the margins.
When touch becomes infectious and transmits deadly(covid19) virus from one body to another, how do we think of touch as one that binds one body to another (Ahmed) and one that therefore makes solidarity and praxis of liberation possible? Indeed, when bodies and touching bodies become the primary source of violent intrusion into another body, how do we think of touch as theological imperative (Althaus-Reid and Rivera)? In this pandemic, the theological necessity to think of touch beyond the “human condition” (Arendt) and into the “planetary situation” indeed becomes even more imperative.
In this paper, I reflect on the politics and theology of touch as a site of resistance and struggle toward liberation of the colonized life-world. As such his is an initial constructive response to the works of Althaus-Reid and Rivera. Mapping the spatial and relational sites of touch, this paper proceeds to read the tradition of queer intimacies and solidarity of liberation theology to highlight vulnerable bodies and marginalized communities in the common and shared life particularly in this time of pandemic and, for Filipinos, in the reign of DU30. Here, “touch” is social and political, expressed and demonstrated in material forces and procedures of the State. Historically, “touch” too plays a significant role in the national consciousness of the Filipino. Hence, this paper utilizes “touch me not” (J. Rizal) to dramatize further Western colonialism and colonial-matrix of power (CMP) that remains operational at present; and in so doing, offers theological reflection of touch in the tradition of Filipino socio-psychology of “kalooban” to think about, perhaps differently, a kind of relationality and a form of sociality (feminism) based on the experience exploitation and struggle in Philippine context, of what we must become as a polity.