Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Refuting the Allergy to Determinacy

My paper at the "Towards a Philosophy of Life" conference, "Making Good on the "Good" of Life: Emerging Logics and Poetics of the Kingdom" (see here for my abstract) was well received. A few people who hadn't been there had heard from others who were that it was good, which was really nice to hear. Jack Caputo called it 'sizzling,' but I don't really know what that means! He said he completely agreed with my analysis of James K.A. Smith's work, particularly the logic of incarnation (see blog post here about Jack's paper, "Bodies Without Flesh: The Soft Gnosticism of Incarnational Theology"), and said again that I read him very well (he had positive things to say about my Boston paper too, see here for an overview of what I said). But I guess it's easy to get those kinds of reactions when the person whose work you are reflecting on is a lovely guy and when you're saving favourable things! I'd love to get Jamie Smith's take on what I'm doing. Maybe I could email him? He's working on a trilogy (first part to be published this September, entitled Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation) on a theology of culture, but I'm particularly intrigued by his methodological work arguing for the importance of liturgical practices as the site for philosophical reflection on religion.

Anyway, this paper forms parts of my doctoral thesis, particularly chapter Six, "Truth and Fictionality." But, as slightly tangential to my main argument, it is something that could easily be turned into a journal article with some more padding out and the like. As you can see from the paper's abstract (here), my main concern is to refute the criticisms Jamie Smith levels at Jack Caputo's Derridean deconstructive theology. Jamie's criticisms can be found most accessibly in his "The Logic of Incarnation: Towards a Catholic Postmodernism" in Neal DeRoo and Brian Lightbody's The Logic of Incarnation: James K.A. Smith's Critique of Postmodern Religion, pp.3-37. Smith identifies in both Caputo and Derrida what he terms a 'logic of determination.' (See here for more details on all this). My paper argues that the operative logic at work in Caputo's theology is that of the call or the promise which, far from being allergic to particularity, as Smith contends, seeks to release the promise in particular determinate religious (and "non-religious") traditions.

My argument runs basically thus:

  • A presentation of Smith's characterization of the 'logic of determination.'

For Smith, the Derridean/Caputian logic of determination results in an interpretation of particularity that assumes, first, the finite nature of human life to be structurally (that is, necessarily) regrettable and, second, the interpretive visions of life and hopes for life of humanity’s determinate religious traditions to be exclusionary, violent and unjust. Thirdly, for Smith, the consequences of such a logic include the translation of Derrida’s undeconstructible justice into an indeterminate, not specifically Christian, kingdom of God that is similarly structurally always to-come, never present.


  • A defense of Caputo's theological project against these criticisms (in an alternative order).
Firstly, Caputo’s reflections on the name of God are associated with several particular determinate traditions, including the creation narratives and the kingdom parables of the Christian scriptures. Secondly, an exploration of these creation and kingdom themes reveals that finitude is affirmed as part of the "goodness" of creation, no matter what, by God's "good," his "yes," at the moment of creation, and that the kingdom of God is our second "yes," our affirmation of the task of "making good" on the goodness of creation, no matter what. Thirdly, then, a (mis)interpretation of the kingdom of God as a concept that corresponds to a literal reality that will either arrive (Smith) or never arrive (Smith's reading of Caputo) (mis)characterizes it as a concept that aims to be representational rather than as a concept that aims to be transformational.

  • An argument that Caputo's theology is preferable to Smith's.
In reflecting phenomenologically on the general structure of religious experience, both Caputo and Smith emphasise the undecidability of life, the contingency of our interpretations of it, and the fictive nature of all hermeneutics. However, Caputo more successfully retains these phenomenologcal insights in his particular, determinate Christian theology than Smith.


You can view my powerpoint presentation below, and email me if you'd like a copy of the paper I gave; but I'm thinking seriously about turning it into a journal article. Over the next year (once I've finally submitted my thesis) I will be attempting to get a publishing contract to turn it into a book, but this little nugget of the argument could easily be slotted out and published in article form. At the moment, I'd entitle it: "Refuting the Allergy to Determinacy: Determining the Theo-Logic of the Call in Weak Theology."


15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I heard Jack Caputo at a day conference in Belfast and he came across very well...according to P jka smith is much more cranky!

Rodney

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear about his positive comments - JKA Smith hangs out at the church and pomo site which is full of radical orthodox types.....you should offer to contribute, post your ideas and interact with them in dialogue and comments (the site certainly needs some diversity).....it tends to be way over my head!

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

I've not had any contact with Jamie Smith yet but I'm thinking seriously about getting in touch. I'm particularly interested in his "grounding" approach to the philosophy of religion (I'd be much more into the continental philosophy of religion than Jamie would be these days) in the study of Christian praxis. He writes on his website, "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." Sounds pretty interesting, no?

Katharine Moody said...

Re: P's comments... ;-)

Katharine Moody said...

And thanks for the vote of confidence regarding writing for church and pomo. It'd be something I'd love to do. Maybe I could write a post summarising my research when (if) I (ever) finish!!!

Katharine Moody said...

Oh, and this blog post on this conference paper gets to the heart of where MY argument comes into the thesis. Thematic analysis of the data leads me to posit two strands (within this particular [limited and not representative] sample within the UK [not global] emerging church milieu). The data demonstrates that these strands hold affinity towards Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology. But then I make MY argument that one is preferable to the other. I kind of introduce this argument here, so it'd be cool to hear your thoughts on it? x

Anonymous said...

Hi Katherine

I will be glad to download your extract and read it but to be honest my reading of Caputo/Smith is very rusty....

the church and pomo site ran a series of posts/interactions about caputos theology about 3 years ago which were excellent and yet not so jargonised that it went over my head

Your proposed post doctoral thesis about actual praxis sounds interesting and fascinating,,,have you any specific ideas/proposals and is it hard to get funding? Does the credit crunch bite into the academic world?

all the best

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Yeah, I've got a pretty well-honed proposal but funding has always been very competitve. I got two years' funding for my PhD, which was awesome. But as for the postdoctoral, I've got to clearly demonstrate why the project is important, why I'm the best person to do it, and why the host institution is the best place to do it. New initiatives across all the funding bodies mean that we have to also demonstrate what the social and economic impact of our research would be - and this means above and beyond just, you know, advancing academic knowledge!!! I've got my proposal pretty clear so the next step is working out where I want to be based. My partner and I have been trying to live in Manchester for about four years now, and the department there is very good. So we'll see...

Anonymous said...

Katherine

I find it difficult to follow your Caputo/Smiths dialogue -you need to be trained in the basics of continental philosphy to fully appreciate the nuances.....I must admit I think Smith is right and am not convinced by your abstract but I could be missing a whole lot as it gets lost in translation from your written word to my understanding!!

For me both deconstructive theology and radical othodoxy as resouces for a practical existentially committed life within the Christian tradition are dead ends as neither strikes a chord or resonates in the same way some of the liberal progressive theology outlined in Lynchs books does eg panentheism....I do not really recognise myself in either.

Anonymous said...

I have reread my post and it could be misleading...I am saying that I do not have the necessary level of understanding whereas you do as you have studied it in depth in an academic setting!

all the best

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Would you tell me a bit more about what in particular you find useful about the progressivism that Lynch outlines? Particularly in relation to pantheism and panentheism... do you find God "in" everything useful? Or God "is" everything? There's a lot of sacralization of the self and sacralization of the world/universe/nature. What do you think about those kinds of things?

Katharine Moody said...

And could you tell me more about why you no longer find Caputo useful? You were very interested in his work when we met for the interview. What has shifted, do you think? x

Anonymous said...

hello Katherine

I would say that my theological beliefs are a blending and overlapping of many different strands which are difficult to articulate...beliefs are multilayered, complex and contradictory as truths can be held in paradox etc. I would be drawn more to panentheism as it still retains space for the mystery of God. However the key question is what are the core truths that are of ultimate value to us that actually shape/have an influence on our being in the world practical existence amidst all the contending stories that compete for our attention/allegiance in a modern secular liberal society....to what extent do beliefs from any theology actually affect our lives?

Rodney

Anonymous said...

I have just bought weakness of God by Caputo and have glanced through it....

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Hi again Rodney,

How are you getting on with The Weakness of God? I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts on it?

Katharine xxx