Dwight N. Hopkins and Theological Anthropology

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In the Preface to Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (2005), Dwight N. Hopkins proposes “how religious reflection and discussions about the nature of an individual person –what we call theological anthropology –already assumes definite ideas about the self, culture, and race.”[1] Not only is this proposition based on the presumption that notions of self, culture, and race[2] are significant determining factors towards understanding what it means to be human, but, when defining “who we are,” there becomes an ideological need to do so with the construction of a theological-anthropological self.[3] This form of selfhood specifically confronts being[4] in terms of how that “being” is tied to “some concern or force greater than the limited self [in light of] considerations of transcendence and materiality.”[5]

In other words, a theological-anthropological self, when furthering Hopkins’s argument, allows for “theology and anthropology [to] merge into conversation about normative claims and cultural location”[6] to the extent that they jointly promote human being –or the parameters of being as it is ontologically[7] defined in humanity –by way of how it is embodied communally[8] through the sociological paradigms of race, culture, and religion. In doing so, rather than utilizing the theological-anthropological self in its traditional sense,[9] Hopkins proceeds to focus explicitly on epistemology.[10] To that end, by Hopkins supposing that “humans, not God, systematize and construct theories about divine dimensions of their [lives],”[11] the underlining epistemological purposes of “being human” comes from the usage of a theology that is limited to direct or indirect human experiences or “presuppositional lenses that rationally interpret the divine revelations in human collective and individual experiences and in nature.”[12]

Here, what Hopkins presents, rather poignantly in his Introduction, is how the theological-anthropological self can be constructed from black theology[13] as perceived within the U.S. context. It is in this context where Hopkins explores what he calls four representative stances from which the theological-anthropological self catalogues, creates, and does a necessary theology: progressive liberal,[14] postliberal,[15] feminist,[16] and liberation perspectives in the U.S.[17] To Hopkins, then, these four representative stances are “disparate voices advocating their own particular lenses [with] unique contexts [that] share at least one common theme: the use of culture, self, and race.”[18] In light of this, culture, self, and race, subsequently, become personified “as subject matter in the spiritual connection to humanity, the elaborate explication of what people have been created to be and called to do.”[19] With that in mind, Hopkins believes that culture, self, and race become the framework upon which progressive liberal, postliberal, feminist, and liberation theological anthropologies are built.[20]


[1] Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), ix.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This term is an adaptation of Hopkins’s contention that theological anthropology grows out of culture, and culture arises from particular selves and the self, and, in turn, selves or the self automatically involve race of the selves/self who create cultures out of which we construct contemporary theological anthropology. Ibid., 4.

[4] The concept of being should be explored through the use of ontology, which addressing the relationship between being and existing where the notion of being is linked to a living or existing self’s connection to reality. Peter Coffey, Ontology or the Theory of Being (London, UK: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1914), 32.

[5] Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Being or existence is often held as the most general property of all reality. Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 243-244.

[8] Through the appropriation of all human communities, “communally” refers to the summation of human interaction and social hierarchy, which Hopkins defines in terms of issues of compassion and empowerment as it occurs in social strata, oppression, and victimization. Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 7.

[9] Hopkins defines the traditional concept of theological anthropology as placing a focus on the mental representation of human nature or the intangible question of what it is to be a person. Ibid., 14.

[10] The theory of knowledge

[11] Ibid., 14.

[12] Ibid., 15.

[13] Also known as Black Theology of Liberation, Black Theology, as a kind of Christian Theology, is centered on Jesus Christ and, to that end, utilizes Christology to affirm the black condition as being the primary datum of reality to the reckoned with. James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986), 5.

[14] This is based on the assertion of David Tracy that the purpose of human beings is to pursue a common good through an understanding of common interests, which is demonstrated by a dedication to the highest form of critical inquiry, as well as a commitment to conversation with the other, the one different from the self. Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 16-17.

[15] George A. Lindbeck uses this term to describe an existential self-understanding that results from being taught and exposed to a religious dynamic introduced from outside the individual. Ibid., 24.

[16] Here, what Hopkins points to is how feminist scholars construe an understanding of the human person that intentionally features the particularity of woman’s experiences while embracing the authenticity of man’s reality. Ibid., 31.

[17] This comes from diverse movements of liberation theologies among people of color in the United States, such as Black perspectives, Womanist perspectives, Hispanic/Latino perspectives, Mujerista perspectives, Asian-American perspectives, and Native-American perspectives . Ibid., 35-50.

[18] Ibid., 51.

[19] Ibid.


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