Monday, June 16, 2008

The Great Emergence

I've been lucky enough to receive corrected galleys for Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence so I can review it for my PhD. Here's Tall Skinny Kiwi's blurb for the back cover. NB: My brief review contains no spoilers that aren't already available for public consumption elsewhere in cyberspace. While I'm going to keep my analysis for my thesis (and/or until the book has been published), the main argument of TGE is that Christian history reveals that the church feels compelled to undergo a 'rummage sale' every 500 years.

Elsewhere, Phyllis says: "The Reformation was about five hundred years ago. Five hundred before that you hit the Great Schism. Five hundred more was the fall of Rome and the beginning of monasticism. Five hundred before that you hit the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and five hundred before that was the end of the age of judges and the beginning of the dynasty."

She argues that three things happen during these times of change:

i. new Christainity emerges as reaction to the dominant form of Christianity
ii. dominant Christianity is reconstituted as a response
iii. both forms lead to the spread and growth of Christianity

Her presentation and analysis of the current era of change, labelled The Great Emergence, is largely historical, reflecting on an analogous period of change (The Reformation) in order to understand the possible trajectory of the contemporary climate within Christianity. Her projections for the future are, as Tall Skinny Kiwi also notes, hopefully more predictive than prescriptive. Here, however, her thoughts on the development of Christianity within The Great Emergence fit neatly with Brian McLaren's notion of a Generous Orthodoxy.

Phyllis talks about "the gathering center" in which the old quadrillaterals of church historians and theologians (divided into Charismatic Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mainline or Social Justice Christians, and Liturgicals) are going through a transformation through the centripetal force of which: 1) a new center is forming in which old distinctions between denominations become blurred through interaction and conversation; and 2) the reconstitution of the four quadrants reacting against the pull of the center, which she refers to as the "backlash."

From the perspective of my research in the UK emerging church milieu, I'm interested that, while Phyllis explores orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct action) in relation to those that remain within the framework of the old quadrillaterals, she does not address orthodoxy and orthopraxy as they relate to the emerging center. Of course, this is good for me as I explore Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy and my own A/theistic Orthodoxy.

Also good for me is this quote, which I can leak without worrying I'll get in trouble, cos Tall Skinny Kiwi already quoted it(!):

"...emergence in the UK was clearly active, discernible and describable at least twenty years before it was nearly so visible and coherent in this country, making observation of what is happening in Britain, Ireland and Wales (sic) a very useful and sometimes predictive exercise for North American observers."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Moving South

My partner Sim got a job teaching religion at King Edward VI School in Lichfield recently, so we'll be moving towards Birmingham at the end of the summer. It will be a long-awaited move further south nearer our families.

Inner-Life Spirituality Workshop - Colin's Paper

After heading off to Ambleside for fish and chips, we returned for a paper by Colin Campbell, 'Inner-Life Spirituality: World-Affirming or World-Rejecting? Ascetic or Mystic?'

  • Colin hoped to address a possibile criticism of his recent publication The Easternization of the West, in which he advances his easternization thesis - though I have not read it yet! He began by characterizing Western civilization as having an active value orientation and Eastern civilization as having a contemplative value orientation. The West seeks to change the world through activism, whilst the East accepts the world as it is and seeks to discover the 'real' nature of the world through contemplation. Colin then posed the possible criticism of TEOFW: if easternization is taking place, then asceticism should be more prominent than is suggested by data about the religious landscape of the West.

Colin used Roy Wallis' distinction between world-affirming and world-rejecting, noting that Wallis' categorisation of the New Age Movement as world-affirming depends upon an analysis of how the movement advertises itself. Colin argued that a world-affirming orientation is used by Western new religious movements to advertise themselves because this is the way in which all religious movements recruit followers. Very few religious movements appeal to the benefits it brings in the after life (i.e. very few are world-rejecting in their self-presentation), and those that do have to simultaneously convince people that this world is about to end (e.g. various forms of millenarianism).

There is within new religious movements a strand of world-rejecting, despite their self-presentation as world-affirming, but there is also a difference here between Western and Eastern reasons for rejecting the world: Western world-rejection is based upon the world being constructed as evil; Eastern world-rejection is based upon the world being constructed as material. In the latter, there is not exactly an opposition between materiality and spirituality (the 'true' nature of existence needs to be understood). Here, experience of the world is rejected (rather than the world itself). Experience of the world is rejected because it is not what an enlightened people should be experiencing. It is illusion, maya. Only by rejecting the world as it is experienced can enlightenment be achieved through which the 'proper' experience of reality is gained.

So, back to the possible criticism of Colin's book. If the easternization thesis is correct, there should be an increase in the rejection of the world as it is experienced and a decrease in the Western value orientation of 'instrumental activism' (Talcott Parsons). An active mastery of the world, of doing, of getting things done, of what Cora du Bois calls 'effort optimism,' should be on the decrease... but is there evidence of this?

Colin notes the growing disatisfaction with the production ethic, a movement away from maximizing production capacity, a drawing back from the aggressive intervention in nature, and a greater stress upon non-intervention. He notes that an interesting linguistic movement has occured in which if you are an activist today you are more likely to be acting in the interests of non-action, of human non-intervention - for example, acting for the preservation of rainforests and other natural habitats.

Colin therefore adds to the activism and contemplation modes of action a third: being in becoming, in which there is activity coupled with the development of the self as an integrated whole. Success isn't measured by changes made to the world, but by changes made to the self. Activism is still observable in the West, and humans are understood as agents of change, but due to easternization a shift has occured through which humans are no longer agents changing an external world but agents changing themselves. It is a mentalized or psychologized activism. I thought Colin would add (but he didn't at this particular point) that it is an easternized activism.

The ascetic response to the tension between your hopes of experiencing the world and your actual experienc of the world is to change the world, but the mystic response is to change the self. A shift has occured from 1) activism > 2) having the right attitude helps achieve activist goals > 3) attitude is sufficient to effect the change sought. So the West has become easternized in this sense: there is still an activist value orientation (classic West), it is still about the self and what the self achieves (modernism), but it is an internal change rather than an external change that will achieve it (classic East).

Inner-Life Spirituality Publication Workshop - Eileen's Paper

Professors Paul Heelas (Lancaster University) and Dick Houtman (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) are editing a collection of work surrounding inner-life spirituality, and are this week holding an invitation-only publication workshop in the Lake District. As the Research Student representative at Lancaster, Paul asked me to organise a convoy of interested students who would like to attend the opening evening. So off we went to the beautiful setting of the Langdale Chase Hotel (a choice which Prof. Eileen Barker (LSE) later commented on as a 'spiritual' site for a conference, in contrast to something like a 'religious' Methodist Central Hall).

The workshop was also in honour of Ninian Smart, who established the first department of Religious Studies (at Lancaster University, of course!), and his widow Lubushka attended. Dr. Deborah F. Sawyer welcomed everyone, and handed over to Marion McClintock, who worked as Lancaster University's academic registrar (and honorary historian and archivist) from 1968 to 2006 and who reflected warmly on Ninian Smart.

The title of Eileen Barker's presentation "The God Within" was a little misleading, as we had been hoping she would shed more light on this common distinction between religion (the God without) and spirituality (the God within), but instead she gave an interesting overview of what she referred to as the 'diversification' of the religious and secular spheres. She had this diagram on a flipchart:

Apathetic secularism: where religion and/or spirituality is a matter of indifference. People just don't feel the need to think about it; they are disinterested in religion. In the discussion after the paper, a few other phrases were used: 'don't give a damn,' 'can't be arsed.' Soft secularism: where religions are turned to in times of personal or national crisis, and are used to mark rites of passage without evidence of sustained committment. Hard secularism: really a religion in itself, e.g. Richard Dawkins. Conservative fundamentalist religions and Traditional religions were not really touched upon as areas of Eileen's research interest, but there influence on other forms of religiosity and secularism are important. New Religious Movements: there are several definitions 'out there' in the sociology of religion, and Eileen didn't spend much time here either, because her focus is on Spiritualities.

Negative spiritualists: Those who are spiritual primarily because of an anti-religion (i.e. institutionalised religion) stance. Here there are a range of beliefs which Eileen characterised as primarily superstitious (in technical sense). She noted negative views not only towards members of established or traditional religions, but also of ethnic minorities and minority faiths.

Postive spiritualists: Those that are characteristically ecologically aware, liberal in their general outlook, and have a more systematic world view (according to whichever form of spirituality) rather than the particular superstitions of the negative spiritualists.

Further, a hand out charted the ideal-typical distinctions Eileen sees between Scriptural religiosity (religions [primarily of The Book]) and spirituality:

Religiosity (of The Book)
The Divine: Transcendent and Particular
Source: Without
Origins: Creation
Source of Knowledge: Scripture / Revelation
Authority: Dogma / Priest / Tradition
Theodicy: Evil / Sin / Satan
Life after death: Salvation / Resurrection / Damnation
Time: Temporal / Historical
Change: Lineal: past / present / future
Perspective: Analytical
Anthropology: Man in God’s image
Distinctions: Dichotomous: Them / Us
Sex/gender: Male / (female)
Relations: Controlling
Social Identity: Group (membership of tradition)
Control: External authority
Organisational unit: Institution / Family
Place of worship: Synagogue; church; mosque
Communication: Vertical hierarchy

The Divine: Immanent and cosmic
Source: Within
Origins: Creating
Source of Knowledge: Experience / mysticism
Authority: Personal experience
Theodicy: Lack of attunement, balance and / or awareness
Life after death: Reincarnation / Transmigration / Moksa
Time: Eternal / a-historical
Change: Cyclical: then / now / then
Perspective: Holistic / syncretistic
Anthropology: Humans as part of Nature
Distinctions: Complementarity: Us (them = them/us)
Sex/gender: Feminine-(masculine)
Relations: Relating (‘sharing’)
Social Identity: The inner ‘me’ / the ‘true self’
Control: Internal responsibility
Organisational unit: Individual (in relation)
Place of worship: Informal building; temple; shrine; open air
Communication: Horizontal networking

Eileen was clear that her ideal-types are dichotomies from which to begin, knowing that you will never find 'pure' examples of them, where a concrete example fits exactly with your model. She said that 'I don't believe what I've done... I'm denying that they exist in the pure form.'

I think that this is the problem with Paul and Linda's distinction between 'life-as' religion and 'subjective-life' spirituality. Rather than beginning with a dichotomy that is modified as you conduct fieldwork, I think that their fieldwork was made to fit a mould which doesn't exist in reality. I don't there are many (if any) concrete examples of purely 'life-as' religion - nor many concrete examples of purely 'subjective-life' spirituality... because as soon as you start talking to real people clean, neat dichotomies become blurred. I haven't blogged much about the Kendal Project and Paul and Linda's The Spiritual Revolution (here, a little), but I hope to publish my Masters thesis which uses non-heterosexual religiosity to queer their thesis, particularly their dichotomy of 'life-as' and 'subjective-life.'

I think that Eileen is right to reflect on the nature of ideal-types and their function within the sociology of religion.

Panel Review UPDATE

So the panel review (middle of May) went okay. I had my supervisor (Dr. Deborah F. Sawyer - religion and gender, biblical studies and contemporary culture), Dr. Paul Fletcher (continental philosophy, modern theology, political theology) and Professor Chris Partridge (new religions, alternative spiritualities, occulture) - so a useful mixture of points of view.

I had hoped that it would be useful for my dilemma researching truth and representing research as truth. But it was unclear the extent to which the panel agreed that this is a question which will come up in my viva or is a problem of my own creation! We'll see. At least I can say that I have thought about the potential disjuncture between the theories of truth I am reflecting on and the theory of truth I am using in that very reflection!

I was grilled by Paul (rightly) about whether or not I am approaching the emerging church milieu and the work of Jack Caputo with the same level of critical judgment as I am approaching emerging church critics, critics of postmodernism, and some of the other theologies and philosophies I am using (Radical Orthodoxy, for example). I think a lot of my critical distance is going to come out as I start writing up (at which I am WAY behind schedule - not having completed transcribing yet!), framing the UK emerging church milieu within contemporary sociological theory and theorising a bit more on it as a social phenomenon.

And Chris asked to what extent I was taking ecclesiology into consideration in my discussion of emerging church epistemology, as there is a complex interrelationship between the two (which I agree). I'm not particularly interested in ecclesiology (sorry - leave that to the majority of the other postgraduates researching the emerging church) but where I do draw connections between ecclesiology and epistemology will be in the first chapter where I introduce the reader to the UK emerging church milieu.