Are you curious to know the different expressions of popular piety, particularly in the Philippines?

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Are you interested to discover what’s behind these popular expressions?

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Did you know that these expressions can be a powerful means for evangelization? Would you like to know how?  
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About this blog

This blog documents different expressions of popular religion/religiosity, particularly those found in the Philippines, and the attempts to reflect on these expressions theologically. Moreover, it develops the Theodula, i.e., a theological dramatic approach of doing theology, and explores the possibility of applying it on theologizing on popular religion/religiosity.

Doing a Theodula of popular religion/religiosity has become my personal theological commitment and response to the FABC challenge of exploring ways of theologizing that tap and make use of local (Filipino) resources.

How do we do theology in Asia? And how do we do Filipino theology?

The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) calls the Christian churches in Asia to enter into a triple-dialogue with the cultures, religious traditions and the poor in Asia.[1] Such dialogue entails attentive listening to the peoples of Asia in their own terms.[2] It demands commitment and the capability to deal with the indigenous resources of Asia, i.e., resources which relate to the Asian peoples’ lives, cultures and histories.[3] Thus doing Filipino theology begins by listening to the Filipino people’s life, culture, history, and religious traditions. It must explore and make use of indigenous resources that pertain to the Filipino. One such resource is the Filipino popular religion and religiosity.

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What is popular religion/religiosity?

But what is popular religion? Must we take it seriously? How do we listen to popular religion in its own terms?

paete slubong research (263)Popular religion, in the past, was often taken lightly as syncretistic, exaggerated, superstitious, and naïve, if not childish. There is, however, that ever-growing realization that popular religion must be understood as authentic faith. It is not simply an aspect of Christian life that needs redemption, but a locus of faith, a place where one can start theology. Truly, popular religion is a case of genuine inculturation, i.e., a blend of faith and liturgy, feelings and art, and the recognition of our identity in local traditions. It is the “evidence of the osmosis that takes place between the innovative power of the Gospel and the deepest levels of culture,” that culture which needs constant discernment, so that its genuine spiritual values may be gradually unpacked and inauthentic exaggerations avoided.[4]

A locus of faith and inculturation, that is what popular religion is about. Alejandro Garcia-Rivera gives us a working definition of popular religion that helps us appreciate it as a locus of faith, inculturation, and theology. “Popular religion is a site, or a series of sites, in which faith is challenged, interpreted, and made one’s own.” It is a “crucible in which the faith of the Church becomes incarnated… a place where the ‘Big Story’ carried by official tradition is made possible through the ‘little stories’ of the popular.” In short, popular religion and expressions of popular religiosity are “manifestations of faith seeking understanding.”[5]

In the Philippines, the Lenten season, more than any other liturgical season, is rich with varied and variant expressions of popular religion. “Elaborate plays and playlets, a popular epic on the life of Christ, magical beliefs, taboos, ornate processions, and spectacular rituals have sprung around Lent.”[6]

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How do we approach popular religion theologically?

But how do we approach these expressions of popular religion theologically?

paete slubong research (92)Expressions of popular religion/religiosity – which more often than not take the form of a religious drama – may be seen as cultic, symbolic acts representing the people’s struggle to bring their human drama to participate in the divine drama. At stake in this study of popular religion is faith. Again, Garcia-Rivera offers us a definition of faith that is useful for understanding popular religion.[7] While I make his definition of faith my own, at the same time allow me to re-express it in terms of God’s drama. Faith, then, is our participation in the divine drama and our struggle to play our respective, unique roles in God’s drama of salvation.

No theology other than Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theo-drama provides us with categories to talk adequately about the divine drama coming into the drama of existence. This Theo-drama focuses on the dramatic inner life of the Trinity entering into the drama of human existence, through the mission of the Son and the Spirit, in order to lead the human drama from within according to God’s ordained drama of salvation. God’s stepping into the stage of human existence is an invitation to humanity not merely to contemplate but participate in the dramatic Trinitarian life. It presupposes a dynamic and dramatic interaction between two freedoms (infinite and finite). Essential to this dramatic relationship is the notion of dramatic horizon.[8] Indeed von Balthasar’s Theo-drama offers us a creative and fruitful way to approach the Salúbong.

paete slubong research (159)In addition, Garcia-Rivera, by addressing the human side of the Theo-drama and thus developing his Theodramatics, offers us further categories in order to deal with the mystery of human suffering and the human struggle to find one’s role in God’s saving drama. Garcia-Rivera’s Theodramatics is a Theo-drama “from below” grounded in the notion of the dramatic horizon. To the three dramatic horizons or fragments of dramatic meaning – i.e., death, struggle for the good and judgment – identified by von Balthasar in his Theo-drama, Garcia-Rivera adds a fourth: the struggle for the role. With this, he further brings the Theo-drama closer to us. The struggle for the role reveals something about our own struggle to find ourselves, our cultural, collective identity within the meaning of totality within God.[9]

Building on von Balthasar’s Theo-drama and Garcia-Rivera’s Theodramatics, I propose a Filipino theological dramatics, the Theo-dulâ,[10] as a theological method to approach the popular religion/religiosity.

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What then is the Theo-dulâ?

As a theological framework by which one may approach dramatic expressions of popular religion/religosity, the Theo-dulâ is the drama of salvation unfolding on the world stage (drama of existence). It is the work of the Trinity whose story revolves around the life and mission of Jesus Christ, the Theo-dulâ’s dramatic center. As Lead Actor, Jesus Christ embodies the Father-Author’s passion as well as represents human life and condition.

The heart of the Theo-dulâ is the Primal Dulâ (i.e., the dramatic inner life of the Trinity marked by self-emptying and self-giving love). It is the Trinitarian drama eternally happening in God. Christ dulâ makes present on the world stage God’s drama (which originates from the Primal Dulâ), so that our human dulâ may be led back into and play in God’s drama of salvation.

Thus, Theo-dulâ is an on-going drama of the divine and human persons, acting together in love and in freedom. Moreover, it is the drama of salvation where human dulâ can play in God’s drama and, therefore, be led into its intended conclusion: salvation.


There are two basic assumptions behind the Theo-dulâ:

  1. Thedulâ on the stage makes explicit (represents) the dulâ of existence so that it can be viewed, understood, and judged.
  2. Behind the dramatic outer life of Christ, who is the “appearing of God’s Glory,” is the dramatic inner life of the Tri-personal God.

By studying different expressions of popular religion/religiosity by way of the Theo-dulâ, I intend to explore the possibility for an encounter between the Divine drama and human dramas in every popular religious drama.


[1] Christian churches in Asia are called to “explore the interface of the Gospel’s meaning and values with the realities of Asia and its many people – its histories and cultures, religions and religious traditions, and especially its ‘poor masses’ in every country. These realities – cultures, religions, life-situations of poverty – make up the ambience and context wherein the Gospel is to be proclaimed.” This overarching commitment to inculturation, inter-religious dialogue and development/liberation must be the thematic background of the missionary, pastoral and theological activities of the local churches in Asia. See Gaudencio B. Rosales, D.D. and Catalino G. Arevalo, S.J., For all the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1970-1991, vol.1 (Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publication, 1997), xix-xx.

[2] Robert J. Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (New York: Orbis Books, 1985), 42-45.

[3] Choan-Seng Song, Third-Eye Theology: Theology in Formation in Asian Setting, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990), 8-10.

[4] Pontifical Council for Culture, Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999), 54-55.

[5] Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, St. Martin de Porres: the “Little Stories” and the Semiotics of Culture, Faith and Cultures Series (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1995), 20-21.

[6] “Lent provides an excellent opportunity to examine the Filipino’s reinterpretation of Christianity: the meaning it has for them and the extent to which this meaning both approaches and diverges from the position of the Church.” Preface to Cuaresma, ed. by Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Fernando N. Zialcita (Makati City: Bookmark, Inc.; Quezon City: Bungang Araw, 2000).

[7] Garcia-Rivera, Martin de Porres, 19-20. Working on Tillich’s definition of “religion” in terms of the “Unconditioned,” Garcia-Rivera proposes a definition of faith in terms of an individual’s appropriation of the “Big Story.”

[8] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theodrama: Theological Dramatic Theory, 5 vols, trans. Graham Harrison, 5 vols. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988-98). Hereafter it is cited as TD.

[9] Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, “Do this in memory of me,” in Living Beauty: the Art of Liturgy, Alejandro Garcia-Rivera and Thomas Scirghi (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 155-71.

[10] “Drama” or “theatrical play” is translated by the Tagalog word dulâ. It refers, first of all, to the literary work or script which consists of the lines and actions of the dramatic characters. It is written not simply to be read but to be performed by players on the stage. But dulâ also refers to the actual performance of the script, the rehearsal of the dramatic lines and actions on the stage. In short, the term dulâ refers to the script as well as to its performance. It implies the presence of different dramatic characters giving life to their respective roles on the stage. See UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, s.v. “dulâ.”

Another Tagalog word for drama or play is palabas. Pa-labas comes from the root word labas which connotes something outside or external. Thus, the term palabas refers to a presentation or a show, whether a radio, a television, or a theatrical show. It implies a public display or performance, an entertainment. But it can also suggest a false show or pretense. Ibid., s.v. “palabás.”

In coining the term Theo-dulâ, I put the stress on the dialogue of words and diapraxis of deeds of the different dramatic characters who act together, each one struggling to play his or her own role. Theo-palabas, on the other hand, highlights the idea of showing, revealing, or performing to be seen.

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