Raj Bharat Patta
Raj Bharat Patta is a minister of the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC) in India and currently serves as Recognised and Regarded minister of the Methodist Church in the UK at the United Stockport Circuit. He completed his PhD with a thesis on “Towards a Subaltern Public Theology for India” at the University of Manchester, UK. Prior to this, he served the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) as its national general secretary and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) as one of its executive secretaries for the Commission on Dalits and Adivasis. He also worked as an Honorary Chaplain at St. Peter’s Church and Chaplaincy ministering the higher education University communities in Manchester.
His publications include: Listening to Living Stones – Towards Theology of Kairos Pilgrimage (ATG: Bet Shahour, 2014) Commissioned by the Alternative Tourism Group in Palestine to write a theology of pilgrimage, and which was later published as this book. A Violent Sight on a Silent Night – Missiological Discourses on Violence against Dalit Christians, (ISPCK/NCCI: New Delhi, 2009) He is married to Shiny and they have two sons Jubi and Jaiho.
Raj Bharat Patta, “Towards a Systematic Public Theology”
Ambiguity of the term ‘Public’: The term ‘public’ has been problematic. What is public, whose public and which public comes to the fore. It was observed, “In the twenty-first century, it seems, ‘the public’ is a site where matter is perpetually out of place. In such a context, public culture as a ‘zone of debate’ becomes fixated on policing the borders of public, even as those borders remain in perpetual flux.” The notion of ‘public’ therefore has had various forms and meanings across the globe in the spheres of socio-political-cultural-anthropological and historical studies. When trying to define what is public, lots of ambiguity and fluidity comes forth, which is inherent in its definitions. Most times, public has been defined in its associational terms or in its binary contrasts, like that of public-private, public-personal, public-particular, public-counter public so on and so forth. Does public then mean people, society, context, state, government, space, concept or ideology? Or none of these or all of these? To answer this will again leave us with the ambiguity of the term, and with only further ambiguity of the term. In such a context of ‘public’ ambiguity, how do we understand theology, or to say it differently, what is theological about such an ambiguous ‘public’?
(Un)Limited Publics: Public theology is understood on the one hand as a God-talk where faith seeks its relevance in the public, and on the other hand is conceived as a public discourse where the public is interrogated by faith, and as such holds both these poles together in a creative tension. The ambiguity in defining ‘public’ makes this theological discourse even more critical, creative and challenging, for public is understood and defined in varied perspectives across the world. Jurgen Habermas’ understanding of public sphere as ‘a place where critical-rational opinion in society is constructed’ provides a direction in unraveling ‘public’ in this project (Habermas 1989). In surveying, public theology, one can explore that there are diverse publics, which serve as sites of doing theology and to which theology seeks its accountability. David Tracy distinguishes three distinct publics, the Church, the academy and the society as locations of theologizing (Tracy 1981), and Max Stackhouse brings in culture as another public into theological purview. Sebastian Kim’s hexagonal definition of public as state, media, market, religious communities, civil society and academies constitute another different constellation in defining public. In the journey of public theological discourses, the category ‘public’ have always been revisited and rearticulated as demanded by the context of those doing public theology.
De-Systematization of Public Theology: All the projects of public theology thus far either have been faith reflections on public issues like secularization, globalization, religious fundamentalism etc. or have been specific faith interventions on particular contemporary issues like climate change talks, inter-faith issues, elections, controversies on Danish cartoons etc. There has not been a systematic public theology or a systematic theologizing of public theology and there is a great need of doing it in terms of construing a method and epistemology of such a theology.
Public theology over the years has been de-systematized, by which I say that public theology has been everybody’s theology and nobody’s theology. By everybody’s theology I mean to say that there are more people who say, ‘all theology is public,’ leaving the questions of which public and whose public unattended to. On the other hand, when I say it is nobody’s theology, today we have a difficulty to define public, and the list on what is public has grown by leaps and bounds from church to academy to society to context to civil society to media to culture to economics to so on and so forth, for publics are unlimited. Therefore, to address the (un)limitedness of public calls for a sufficient theorizing and theologizing of public, which paves way towards a systematic public theology.
Public theology in the US as McLemore suggests has grown out of pastoral theology, and in the UK as Elaine Graham articulates public theology extends from practical theology, and hardly there are any attempts to locate it in the genre of systematic theology. Because of the de-systematized public theology, the contamination of it by the colonial episteme, mostly locating it in sites of coloniality, privileging ‘euro-centric’ epistemologies, has not been recognised and addressed. There is also a suspicion today on public theology, because most scholars think that public theology subsumes political and liberation theologies, discounting the political reading of the gospels, all in the name of making theology public. This suspicion is also because of the de-systematization of public theology.
Towards Systematizing Public Theology: In light of the discussions above, it is high time that the theological enterprise of public theology moves towards systematization of its theology. As a starting point, Paul Tillich’s observations on systematic theology are helpful in this our project, for he says, “the object of theology is what concerns us ultimately. Only those propositions are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of ultimate concern for us. Our ultimate concern is that which determines our being or non-being. Only these statements are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of being or non-being for us.” In our pursuit towards systematic public theology, the object of public theology is Ultimate Concern in the public sphere, which determines our being or non-being.
In his famous The Analogical Imagination, David Tracy explains, “Theology, in fact, is a generic name not for a single discipline but for three: fundamental, systematic and practical theologies. Each of these disciplines needs explicit criteria of adequacy. Each is concerned with all three publics. Each is irrevocably involved in claims to meaning and truth. Each is in fact, determined by a relentless drive to genuine publicness to and for all three publics.” Tracy was more particular in evolving a theological method in making theology an enterprise of public discourse, and therefore calls on the accountability of theology to all the three publics, interpreting and interspersing the three publics as the ground for doing theology.
The book Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives is instructive for us in this project of systematic public theology, for it has explored some key Christian doctrine and engage with important issues of climate change. This article engages in articulating a systematic public theology discussing various systematic theological themes and specially engages with the theme of creation. Ecology as the public theological nuance of creation will be discussed in this proposal.
 Arjun Appadurai and Carol Breckenrindge, ‘Why Public Culture?, in Public Culture, Vol. 1, no.1 (1998) pp.5-11 as cited by J. Barton Scott & Brannon D. Ingram (2015) ‘What is a Public? Notes from South Asia,’ South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 38:3, 357-370, DOI: 10.1080/00856401.2015.1052896. P.358
 P. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (London 1953) P.15-18
 David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981) P.31
 Martin Northcott & Peter Scott (2014). Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives, (London: Routledge)