Friday, September 19, 2008

Blair and Volf on Religion and Reconciliation

I turned in to the end of the Today Programme to hear a brief interview with Yale President, Richard Leven, about a course on "Faith and Globalization" being run by the Yale Divinity and Management Schools in conjunction with the Tony Blair Foundation, which begins today. The course will be taught by Tony Blair and Miroslav Volf. As Leven explained it, the course will address questions regarding the role of religion in politics and the impact of politics, particularly globalization, on religion. Using historical and contemporary case studies (Leven mentioned Northern Ireland and Kosovo), students will consider whether and how religion can be "a force for reconciliation in the world as opposed to a force for division."

The website for Yale's three year Faith and Globalzation Initiative provides introductory videos from Volf concerning the course content, and points to other useful resources and reading lists for each section of the course.

Of particular interest to me are the sessions on "Faith and Violence," and "Faith and Reconciliation." The website observes that,

"The destructive potential of faiths and their capacity to divide communities is more acutely felt in our closely interconnected world."

But also that,

"Faiths can provide rich resources for promoting reconciliation between persons and cultures."

The course enables students to both "[a]nalyze in detail the conditions under which faiths contribute to conflict, and explore the possibilities for preventing these negative outcomes... [e]xamine the specific contributions that faith can play in healing divides and nurturing the common good."

The Today programme already flagged up the obvious tensions involved in exploring the ways in which religion can be used to good with an ex-Prime Minister who acknowledges that his decisions, including those concerning the Iraq war, are driven by prayer, so I won't dwell on this further here.

I am interested, however, in this piece of news because I've been thinking about the implications of my thesis - I need to have a section in the Introduction which spells out to readers the ways in which my thesis contributes to the (academic) field. As part of this I've been thinking in particular about my last chapter, "Justice," and some aspects of my conclusion, in relation to what my thesis might contribute to the Church. Here's a couple of paragraphs from something I wrote mapping out the structure of my thesis.

A second “Interlude: Convergence” argues that the two discernable philosophical and theological strands within the milieu converge in practice through an emphasis upon justice which overrides any divergences with regard to truth.

Chapter Eight, “Justice,” reflects upon the ethical and political implications of participants’ notions of truth. I argue that a Lévinasian primacy of ethical action over the settling of theoretical differences is an appropriate framework in which to understand the ethical and political implications of the status and function participants give to truth. I demonstrate in particular that participants believe that the goal of the pragmatic translation of truth into action is to participate in the missio Dei of the holistic redemption of the world, the present-future actualization of the Kingdom of God. For some participants, however, to use the language of Derrida, the ‘to-come’ of the Kingdom is more important than its articulation or actualization as the Kingdom (as it has been understood by Christians).

I think participants' translation of truth into justice, and particularly the prioritizing of ethical action over the settlement of disputes about truth, might help to close remaining barriers between activists of different philosophical and theological hues. In relation to the Church, it might enable freer collaboration in social and politicla activism - ecumenically, but also beyond the boundaries of conventionally understood "religions" to other groups working with other fundamental assumptions about truth. Notions of truth which can act, as Blair and Volf's course will show, divisively might be replaced with some of the notions of truth which my participants employ; namley, truth as an event of transformation (which is then given many names) which calls individuals and groups to respond in acts of justice, hospitality, love, and forgiveness.


Anonymous said...

''progressive milieu is constituted “by individuals, groups and networks who tend to be either liberal or radical in theological terms or green and left-of-centre in political terms”

As a moderate tory I do not thing that I would fit into the ethical/political activism of the ECM!!


Katharine Moody said...

I guess you're out of Gordon Lynch's progressives, then!!!

On whether Emergent is the new Christian Left, see Tony Jones here:

There's hope for you in the emerging church yet!!!

Love Katharine x