Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Discipline Proper to the Study of the Truth Proper to Religion

You know there are times when you just wish you'd come across or been told about a book earlier on in your studies? Well, I've recently stumbled upon two, each of which relate to the question of what discipline is best for the study of religious truth.

The first is a monograph by Donald Wiebe (1981) entitled Religion and Truth: Towards an Alternative Paradigm for the Study of Religion and argues that, since religious truth is primarily propositional (he does consider non-propositional truth but finds it problematic) then religious studies is able to ask questions regarding the truth of religion. He spends less time exploring whether the correspondence theory of truth is the theory of truth proper to religious propositions, than he does arguing that religious truth is primarily propositional. So it's a good one to get your teeth into and really problematise.

Secondly, I found an edited collection called Phenomenology of the Truth Proper to Religion, edited by Ganiel Guerriere (with contributions from Louis Dupre, Edward Farley, Merold Westphal, Richard Kearney, Jack Caputo and Walter Lowe) that explores the question of the type of truth proper to religion from the spectrum of phenomenological subdisciplines: existential, hermeneutic, ethical, deconstructive, and transcendental.

Oh to have located these studies earlier! They are both very useful for the sections of my thesis in which I consider the interdisciplinary nature of my project, particularly the relationships between religious studies, theology, and philosophy (incl. phenomenology). It's also been useful in mounting an argument against the routine exclusion of the religious elements of life and, therefore, of truth by theorists of truth. So a very useful find.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion

I thought I'd post a few things about the ACPR, the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion that was launched at its inaugural conference, "Towards a Philosophy of Life," at the end of June 2009 (see my blog post here for some reflections on this event). The ACPR has a website (here) and facebook group (here). Here's some blurb:

The Association seeks to promote renewed critical thinking on religion, drawing upon the continental tradition of philosophy. This tradition draws much of its impetus from Kant's transcendental project of exploring what makes knowledge and faith possible. Kant inspired reflection upon the active, constructive role played by the subject of knowledge as well as the creative transgression of the limits of reason in articulating religious ideas.

Subsequent to Kant, the continental tradition encompasses such figures as Hegel, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Weil, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Derrida, Levinas, Irigaray, Deleuze, Agamben, Kristeva, Zizek, Ricoeur, Henry, Le Doeuff and Badiou. Despite the radical differences between these thinkers, key issues emerge about the attempt of philosophy to think its 'other', acknowledging the role played by history, culture and embodiment in our being in the world.

Reflecting on the wake of Nietzsche's proclamation of the'death of God’', continental philosophy of religion seeks creative ways of articulating the nature of faith, without presupposing any confessional stance. Which God has died? What future is there for the divine and the religious? What new possibilities are there for thinking philosophy's others in the light of 'postmodernism' and its after effects?

The Association is based at Liverpool Hope University in the UK. Its facilitators are Hope's lecturers in philosophy, Dr Patrice Haynes and Dr Steven Shakespeare, together with our colleague Dr Charlie Blake of the Media department. The Association is supported by a board of advisors, consisting of internationally recognised scholars in the field (incl. Jack Caputo, Pamela Sue Anderson and George Pattison).

The Association promotes research and reflection on continental philosophy of religion by:

  • Holding regular seminars with invited speakers
  • Running annual themed day conferences
  • Organising occasional major international conferences
  • Sponsoring colloquia on particular subjects
  • Running a regular philosophical reading group
  • Sharing information with other relevant networks and groups, particularly with regard to conferences, publications and sharing good practice in teaching continental philosophy of religion
  • Encouraging research and publication
  • Utilising online resources to promote wider discussion and dissemination of ideas
  • Exploring the promotion of adult community learning initiatives through short courses on topics such as postmodernism and religion

In an embryonic form, the Association has already been involved (jointly with Liverpool John Moores University) in running a successful colloquium on Ethics and Animality, with a view to preparing a publication for 2010. Seminars, a day conference on the work of philosopher Mark C Taylor and other initiatives are being planned for 2009-10.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Book on Evangelicalism and the Emerging Church

At the end of August, a new book in Ashgate's Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology series will be published in hardback: Evangelicalism and the Emerging Church, by Cory Labanow. Cory's very kindly emailed me a PDF copy to review as soon as I'm able. I've had a very quick read through it and it looks very interesting.

Focusing on an ethnographic study of a Vineyard Church connected to the global emerging church milieu, Cory explores the congregational life and culture of a community working through issues of religious identity. Here's a bit of blurb from Ashgate to get you interested. I'll post a review as soon as I can.

"With the Christian church in the west in decline, some churches are undergoing difficult transitions as they seek to become relevant, to both themselves and their surrounding cultures. Evangelicalism and the Emerging Church details an ethnographic study of a Vineyard congregation making sense of their Vineyard roots and their growing relationship with the self-proclaimed "emerging church" network. Through a rich account of congregational life and tensions, universal issues are raised such as relating to religious parentage, creating safe places for spirituality, Christian growth and maturity, communication with contemporary culture, and the challenges of identity reconstruction. This book is the first to conduct an academic study of a Vineyard congregation in the United Kingdom."

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Changing Face of Christianity

Although I got a very kind "heads up" from Gordon Lynch, we've just had the announcement for the British Sociological Association's Sociology of Religion Study Group's 2010 conference on the email list (no website as yet). The conference title is "The Changing Face of Christianity in the 21st Century," and, Gordon was right, I think it'll be a great opportunity to present some more of my thesis. Right now it's just the call for papers, with more details to follow, but the conference will be at Edinburgh University (co-hosted by the Institute of Geography and the School of Divinity) from 6th - 8th Apri 2010. Here's the conference blurb and call for papers:

"Christianity in the 21st century is characterised by rapid change, by both steep decline in membership in some areas, but resurgence in other contexts. At the same time, contemporary Christianity incorporates (sometimes uncomfortably) new forms and hybridisations. The lived experience and performance of Christianity in the West appears to be shifting according to influences from late-modern consumer and media cultures. World Christianities are increasingly influential and migration and diaspora Christianities are (re) shaping Christianity in the West. Meanwhile, far from disappearing from the agendas and language of the public arena, Christianity continues to excite debates around the place and importance of religion in the public arena, as well as discourses of citizenship, equality and well-being.

"We invite proposals for papers which explore issues surrounding the broad theme of the conference. We particularly welcome papers which fall into three sub-themes we have identified:

  • Contemporary Christian Performance and Belief;
  • World Christianities and migration or diaspora Christianities;
  • Christianity in the Public Arena.

Individual paper proposals (max. 200 words) or proposals for panels of three or four related papers (max. 300 words) should be submitted by October 31st, 2009 to Giselle Vincett (at

Topics may include: World Christianities; post-Christianity; decline of Christianity, as well as Christian growth or resurgence; mission and reverse mission; Christianity and young people; the influence of alternative spiritualities on Christianity; hyphenated Christian identities (Buddhist-Christians, Pagan-Christians, etc.); new Christian movements; contemporary pilgrimage or (youth) festivals; Christianity in areas of social deprivation; social movements and Christianity; Christianity and the (new) media; Christianity and popular culture; Christianity and gender; Christianity and sexuality; Christianity and other religions, including indigenous religions; contemporary Christian ritual; Christianity and economics; Christianity and politics; Christianity and education; Christianity and the law; migration and diaspora Christianities; Christianity and healthcare; Christianity and public life.

Plenty for me to get stuck into. I'm thinking of presenting a piece that takes a broad look at my thesis and draws implications for the future of Christianity. So, it'll reflect on my general thesis argument but mostly be taken from my (as yet unwritten) conclusions, and be entitled something like "The UK Emerging Church Milieu: A/theism and the Future of Christian Spirituality."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Culture of "Giving a Paper"

Further to my experiences of philosophical/theological conferences ("Postmodernism, Truth and Religious Pluralism," and "Towards a Philosophy of Life"), in contrast to more sociological conferences ("Gender and Religion," and "Religion, Media and Culture"), I found a copy of an article on academic presentations that we were given at a recent event for aspiring academics that I went to. It's called "How to Give an Academic Talk: Changing the Culture of Public Speaking in the Humanities," by Paul Edwards, and you can download it here.

I was reflecting (here) that the unfortunate norm at philosophical/theological conferences seems to be to read out pieces that have been written to be read, rather than written to be heard. This means that, even if you are familiar with the subject matter, it can be very hard to follow what is being said. Although there were some very well presented papers at the most recent conference I went to (Philip Goodchild, Jack Caputo, Don Cupitt, Neil Turnbull, John Milbank, Todd Mei, etc.), many others would have benefited from reading Edwards' short article.

Edwards notes two reasons academics resort to the literal meaning of "giving a paper," i.e. reading out an article rather than giving a presentation: fear - "it's easier to hide behind the armor of a written paper, which you've had plenty of time to work through, than simply to talk" and it's part of academic culture, which is "something we can deliberately change." Edwards continues by pointing his readers to what effective talks must do, by providing rules of thumb for how to make a presentation "usually better" and "usually worse", and by suggesting important principles for success.

I usually don't actually write a "paper" in the conventional sense until after I've done the presentation, so that's my tip: write a presentation, as a presentation (not as a paper) and then write the paper. Good pointers that Edwards gives and that I've found helpful include:
  • talk, rather than read;
  • stand up;
  • vary the pitch of your voice;
  • emphasise key words in your sentences;
  • make eye contact with the audience;
  • use visual aids (to highlight key points and main arguments, so your audience know where you are going and how you are going to get there)

Something else that I was taught was that you've only really ever got time to make three central points in twenty minutes. Try to do more than that and you'll lose people in details or move too fast.

Edwards makes another good point, too: emulate excellent speakers. I will always remember that Linda Woodhead gave the first academic paper (rather than lecture) I ever heard, in a small informal seminar series at Lancaster University. Her presentation style was friendly but focused and formal, with useful visual aids (okay, so it was Over Head Projector rather than PowerPoint, I'm not going to moan too much about that!). She had a slow but caring speed, and a clear structure. It was on the gender puzzle of the Kendal Project (why are 80% of people involved in the holistic milieu women?) and I was fascinated and enraptured. I wanted to be like her and I still do. I love the way she presents.

Pete Rollins on US TV show

Explaining Emergent Churches - Inner Compass from Calvin College on Vimeo.

Thesis Abstract - June 2009

My supervisor has asked for my most recent abstract to "sound out" potential external examiners with. It's all starting to feel a bit too real, now. Anyway, here's the latest version of my thesis abstract.

"On Truth/Justice: Post-Secular Theology and the UK Emerging Church Milieu."

The cultural and philosophical contexts of the global emerging church, a diverse network interested in Christianity and the postmodern turn, have shaped the ways in which the nature, as well as the content, of religious truth is being conceived. Building upon qualitative data from the UK emerging church milieu, this thesis takes the notion of truth to be an exemplary site for the exploration of what I term “ordinary” phenomenology and theology. Phenomenologically, religious truth involves an event of the radical transformation of subjectivity and behaviour, the substantive evaluations of which are undecidable, contingent and fictive. Reflecting theologically on their determinate interpretations of truth, however, the two divergent strands within the data exhibit different levels of fictionality. The first strand operates with a determinately religious hermeneutic, stressing the possibility of nearing theological alethic realism through dialogue, while the second is more thoroughly a/theistic in relation to both religious and tragic hermeneutics, emphasising the auto-deconstructability of all interpretations.

These strands mirror two post-secular theological sensibilities that have been suggested as apt for the emerging church, James K.A. Smith’s Radically Orthodox ‘catholic postmodernism’ and John D. Caputo’s deconstructive ‘weak theology.’ The preceding discussions of truth raise and answer questions of Radical Orthodoxy’s out-narration of other religions and deconstructive theology’s practical viability. It is suggested that Caputo’s theology, embodied by the second strand in the data, is more fully fictionalist than Smith’s Milbankian post-secularism, and therefore preferable for the emerging church milieu, given the nature of participants’ common phenomenology of religious truth. This thesis contests the suggestion that such a thoroughgoing fictionalism entails alethic relativism, however, through emphasising participants’ exemplarism, following which it is uncertain whether truth is an example of justice, or justice an example of truth.

Key words:

  • continental philosophy of religion;
  • deconstructive theology;
  • emerging church;
  • event;
  • exemplarism;
  • fictionalism;
  • justice;
  • Radical Orthodoxy;
  • truth;
  • undecidability.