Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Introducing Jamie Smith

I've finally started reading Neal DeRoo and Brian Lightbody's The Logic of Incarnation: James K.A. Smith's Critique of Postmodern Religion. Neal's introductory piece clearly presents Jamie's logic of incarnation, detailing the ways in which an emphasis on God's indwelling in the world re-affirms the value of particularity. Such a doctrine, Neal explains, means that the proclamation of specifically Christian beliefs does not entail a disservice to those who do not agree with these beliefs. Rather, it forms the basis of a belief that difference qua difference is "blessed by God" and "part of God's plan" (xviii). This is in contrast, however, to the common endeavour of seeking peace in politics and religion through emphasis on commonality and a drive towards unity. Neal writes:

"Like chefs, we should be able to stand up, as religious people, and proudly declare what makes our religion unique and special without fear of starting a fight. We should be able to add to the religious palette of the world by holding to what we believe, rather than by emphasizing how we are like others. We are not all the same… The logic of incarnation is an attempt to come up with an underlying theory of the world that makes sense of this, and enables us to see the varieties of life as a glorious spice cabinet that seasons us all differently, rather than as a battleground for war and discord." (xxi)

I'll write more about this "logic of incarnation" when I've read Jamie's chapter: "The Logic of Incarnation: Toward a Catholic Postmodernism." I'm particularly interested in this at the moment because I'm starting to think about the sections of my thesis in which I am going to address the concepts of religious pluralism and Christian uniqueness. Neal's introduction to Jamie's work will add an interesting voice to a conversation which at the moment includes John Hick (see my posts here and here) and Radical Orthodoxy (the imperialism of which troubles me, see post here).

My introduction to James K.A. Smith came through his accessible, helpful and interesting "reforming" of Radical Orthodoxy (Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology) in the first year of my PhD when I was doing a lot of work on RO. The "reformed" Radical Orthodoxy of this book is expanded and augmented in a companion edited collection (with James H. Olthuis) called Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant and Participation which I haven't yet looked into deeply - but I blogged about the former volume's "reformed" Radical Orthodoxy here. Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church is an accessible introduction to some key mantras in postmodern thought (and rejoinder to their frequent misinterpretation), although I questioned Smith's depiction of the emerging church here.

I'm particularly interested in the trajectory of Jamie Smith's work in relation to methodology in philosophy of religion. He writes on his webpage: "I am pursuing work in philosophy of religion which seeks to effect a methodological shift in the field, arguing for the importance of practices, and particularly liturgical practices, as the "site" or "topic" of philosophy of religion." This is the kind of thing that I am interested in doing in future projects. In this thesis I combine the sociology of religion with the disciplines of theology, philosophy and ethics. Though the data I am working with consists of interview transcripts, blog posts and other online texts, there are aspects of participant observation of gatherings and events which relate to ritual theory. In future projects, I hope to further explore religious practice in conversation with contemporary philosophical thought.

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