By Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn, an excerpt from his article “Blessed are those Who Mourn: Depression as Political Resistance” (2013). You can find more of Bruce’s work here.
What can it mean to proclaim “those who mourn,” the gathering of the depressed, to be “blessed” (Matt. 5:4)? In normative New Testament scholarship, and certainly within Christian popular piety, this text is usually employed to address the private sufferings of individuals. According to Carter (2005), such an emphasis “says much about . . . contemporary individualism that conceives of religion as a private matter isolated from sociopolitical matters” (p. 150). Postcolonial readings, however, take a different turn. This approach focuses on “retrieving silenced voices” and “foregrounding the political” in biblical texts. Particular attention is given to “challenging dominant scholarship by foregrounding empire and related issues in texts and interpretations” (Segovia 2009, p. 207). In this spirit, Carter contends that Roman imperialism provides the context for interpreting the gospel of Matthew. According to Carter (2005), Matthew’s audience suffered under the conditions of imperial Rome, a world marked by: (a) “vast societal inequalities, economic exploitation, and political oppression,” (b) “tensions between the rich . . . and poor,” (c) “pervasive displays of Roman power and control, including military presence,” (d) “no separation of religious institutions and personnel from socioeconomic and political commitments,” (e) “imperial theology or propaganda,” and (f) “obvious signs, sounds and smells of the destructive impact of the imperial sociopolitical order structured for the elite’s benefit: poverty, poor sanitation, disease, malnutrition, overwork . . . and social instability” (pp. 150–151).Continue reading “Depression as Political Resistance”