Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Updates After Andalucia

So I didn't get all my holiday reading done. Mainly because it's quite hard to read when its 40 degrees. I did get through Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter and Reading Derrida / Thinking Paul: On Justice, though. So I've got a few more texts to go (especially Realist Christian Theology in a Postmodern Age, which I got half way through about two years ago) before I feel more comfortable in moving ahead with my remaining chapters (mainly Chapters Four, Five and Seven).

While we were away, I did some good thinking on how I'm going to characterise the relationship between my different sources of empirical and theoretical data. I have both empirical texts (interview transcripts, e-questionnaires, and a variety of emerging church media) and theoretical texts (mainly by Jack Caputo and Jamie Smith, but including secondary literature by people like Gavin Hyman, Theodore Jennings, Bruce Ellis Benson, Richard Kearney, Robyn Horner, Merold Westphal, Kevin Hart, and Mark C Taylor).

My starting point is, of course, my empirical data. But because of the very nature of this starting point, my own reading of theology and philosophy has to follow the trajectories of my participants. Therefore, the theoretical texts augment the empirical ones, making in particular two strands clearer within the data. In the process, then, there is a massive amount of literature that I've only been able to dip into, including work by St. Augustine, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martin Heidegger, John Hick, Gerard Loughlin, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, John Milbank, Friedrich Nietzsche, St. Paul, and Graham Ward, etc.

My thesis is not "on" the work of any of these people. To an extent, it could be said to be "on" deconstructive theology, or Radical Orthodoxy, or, of course, the emerging church milieu. It might even be said to be "on" Jack Caputo and/or Jamie Smith. But I have to be clear that mine is not, for example, a thesis "on Derrida." Instead, I've been thinking about using the word "fragments" to refer to the other reading practices that I have had to engage in. This form of reading does not, for example, "do justice" to "Derrida." On the contrary, it probably does a lot of violence. This is similar to the way that Jennings frames his use of both Derrida and Paul in his Reading Derrida / Thinking Paul: On Justice. He writes,

"the procedure here adopted entails a certain violence to the texts both of Derrida and of Paul, for it requires extracting bits and pieces of their respective arguments in order to show points of convergence and illumination... I hope, however, that the violence of this reading is to a certain degree mitigated by its attempt to undo the greater violence that has come from the supposition that neither author is really concerned with the question of justice" (p.xii)

In the hope of "doing justice" to my empirical texts, I have done violence to the theoretical texts of several philosophers and theologians. As (a "fragment" of!!!) "Derrida" says, "in order to be just, I am unjust and I betray... it is unjust to be just. I always betray someone to be just; I always betray one for the other" ("To Forgive" in Questioning God, p.49).

Also whilst we were away, I also realised that a guiding structural question of my thesis is "how do non-propositional understandings of truth affect participants' relationships to religious propositions?" I had already worked out that Chapter Three, "Thinking Truth(s) Otherwise," moves from participants' considerations of religious propositions to ask whether this is even where religious truth is located and, further, to explore whether religious truth is (also) non-propositional. I had even created a three-fold structure for the closing section ("Non-Propositional Religious Truth"): Truth is God, Truth-Event, and Living in Truth. But, on a train (dictating to Sim, as I don't travel very well), I worked out that part of what my thesis is actually asking is how participants relate non-propositional understandings of religious truth to religious propositions.

In turn, this means that I've been able to much better articulate (should that be, "articulate much better"?!?!?) what I'm up to in some of my thesis chapters. So, the "Interlude" makes clear that a structuring question is, "what does non-propositional religious truth mean for religious propositions?" Then, chapters four, five and seven detail the implications of the non-propositional understandings of truth I enumerated in Chapter Three (Truth is God, Truth-Event, and Living in Truth) for religious propositions. So, Chapter Four presents the implications of "Truth is God" for religious propositions, Chapter Five details what "Truth-Event" means for religious propositions, and (part of) Chapter Seven demonstrates how "Living in Truth" relates to religious propositions. That means that I can clarify that, for the two strands in my data, "dialogue" and "deconstruction" become the respective guiding principles for non-propositional notions of truth to religious propositions. Well, I think that's clearer, at least!

No comments: