Wednesday, July 01, 2009

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.


Anonymous said...

writing about new spirituality functions as a kind of rorschach test where what the researcher sees is often their own values, hopes and concerns....

the clearest picture to emerge from study is often the reflection of the researcher themselves - like staring into a deep dark pool....

your fondness for weak theology a/theism ref the emerging church/milieu?

quotes from gordon lynch and the new spitituality

To what extent do questions about belief systems in questionnaire answers actually reflect a greater or lesser influence in the everday lifestyles and being in the world of the participants...?

Are people actually self aware enough to articulate accurately their belief systems which are ambivalent, often contradictory and opaque?

Anonymous said...

To what extent do ANSWERS about belief systems.....sentence is nonsensical without this amendment!


Katharine Moody said...

Hi Rodney,

Hope you're well? It's great to hear from you... Stimulating questions as always. I'll try to address your points in order.

The study of "alternative" or "new" spiritualities is one of the very many areas in which researchers' own "values, hopes, and concerns" can be discerned. This happens in all areas of study. No researcher can detach herself from these positions. Researchers, can, however, be more or less self-reflexive about the inevitable dialogue between our data and ourselves. I don't think that Gordon is saying that the relationship between what we study and who we are as researchers is a bad thing, just that it is important to be self-aware of this relationship.

In my thesis I am very clearly sculpting an argument (my argument) out of the empirical data. I do responsibly reflect the trends that emerge from the data, but then I do (unapologetically) use that data to SAY something. That's what I'm SUPPOSED to be doing in my studies. Ultimately, I argue for one of these theologies over the other, but I do so on the basis of the evidence I have gathered and the reading I have done. It is an argument that is GROUNDED in the data.

That said, another researcher, even with the same research questions and method of gathering data, would of course come up with a different argument from mine. But, what's wrong with that? All representation is, to an extent, misrepresentation! There are, however, better misrepresentations. It's my job to show why my misrepresentation is not totally off the wall. Things cannot be misrepresented infinitely, but only trans-finitely. There are some norms and measures. In particular, the data means that there are only so many "appropriate" interpretations of the data. My job in the thesis is to use the data I've gathered to show why my interpretation of it is "appropriate." Someone else will be able to argue why their interpretation is "more appropriate." But that's the nature of academic study. In my thesis, I have to show as much of the data and of myself as possible to allow another academic to question my project. But that's just the nature of the beast!

Katharine Moody said...

Secondly, I believe that my participants (including yourself) have been incredibly articulate about their beliefs. Where interviewees struggled, I hope to have helped "walk them up to" some quite demanding thinking about their understandings of the nature of truth and the implications of such understandings for a range of topics from a range of academic disciplines.

My methodology utilised several different stages of data collection. In particular, the emailed questionnaires (e-questionnaires) that I used were not intended to provide much useful data to quote in my thesis. Rather, they were used to further facilitate the formulation of the questions I would ask at the interview stage - where most of the quotable data would come from. The e-questionnaire responses helped me "tailor make" my interview questions for individual participants.

In research methodology speak, the e-questionnaires mapped the territory I was exploring, while the interviews mined it. The interview situations gave me the space to be able to ask follow-up questions that could faciltate clarifications, developments, implications and nuances of meaning. So, faced with, as you/Lynch say "ambivalent, often contradictory and opaque" responses, the interviews gave me the opportunity to help participants to dig a little deeper.

That said, I'm very aware that what I have been exploring in my doctoral studies is, essentially, discursive. Emerging church literature and emerging church interviews are linguistic representations of what participants SAY they believe and SAY they do. I was only able to perform a small amount of participant observation. In a postdoctoral research project, I'm proposing to perform much more indepth ethnographic work to look in more detail at PRAXIS, rather than just discourse.

Thanks for your questions. Hope these comments allay any fears or clarify my approach? xxx