Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting Out of Being a Young Theologian Today

I posted earlier about the call for papers for a conference in Ireland on "Being a Young Theologian in the World Today." I reflected there about my reasons for submitting an abstract that was basically about not wanting to be a young theologian in the world today. I was concerned that it wouldn't get accepted. Here's what I sent in:

On the Question of (Rightly?) Passing for A/Theologian

By nature, religious studies departments nurture young students of religion. These students might draw their markers of self-identity from any of the disciplines such departments incorporate. They might be(come) sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, textual scholars, scholars of culture, politics, sexuality, or gender. Perhaps, theologians. In my interdisciplinary doctoral studies, I felt at home in such a diverse academic environment, but I balked whenever my supervisor either described my work as theology or suggested that I might even "be" a theologian.

This paper stems from an interrogation of my own reactions to such designations, as well as undergraduate students' perceptions of the nature and role of theology in western society. While a contemporary context of de-traditionalisation and individualisation might seem at odds with the public religiosity of theologians, the societal trends of pluralisation and sacralisation suggest a simultaneous post-secularism that seemingly levels the playing field for religious confession within and beyond academia.

I introduce the work of (reluctant?) deconstructive theologian John D. Caputo as an appropriately nondogmatic and "weak," even hypothetical, yet robustly confessional theology, negotiating both historical association with the Christian tradition and messianic dissociation from it. In conversation with Caputo's "a/theological" project, I reflect upon Jacques Derrida's confession that he "rightly passes for" an atheist, in the face of his reluctance to say "I am" an atheist, and suggest the aptness of these sentiments for thinking about disciplinary affiliation today. In contemplating the question of rightly passing for an "a/theologian," I re-consider my relationship to both theology and religious studies.

Although my abstract got accepted, I am having to pull out of the conference because it costs too much to get there. "Budget" airlines (naming no names) have stuck so many extras on to a ticket from Birmingham to Dublin that I can't afford to go. I'm going to write the paper anyway, as it is basically a section of my methodology chapter reflecting on interdisciplinary. At least my partner Sim won't now be jealous that I'm going to Ireland without him!

[Update: October 21 2009 - Eoin O'Mahony, a PhD student, blogger, and researcher with the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, has organised for my travel expenses to be funded, so I'm off to Ireland after all! This is really exciting... Sorry, Sim!]

Monday, October 05, 2009

Life and Love

My partner Sim and I got engaged this weekend! It was our 4th anniversay and Sim took me away for a night in the Peak District, to a place called Alstonefield, a short walk from Milldale at the north of Dovedale that his parents like a lot. We went for a lovely walk in the hilltops and down to the rocky ravine and the river. We walked in bracing lustery gales, with brilliant blue skies and rainbows, with tiny rain clouds chasing across the sky. The hilltop fields were lush and green with bright white limestone drystone walls, and the beautiful autumnal colours (Sim's favourite time of the year) were everywhere, with yellow, orange and brown leaves and red berries. We sat together under a chestnut tree in a churchyard and drank champagne while the sun set. Then we went to the pub.

As I knew we were going to get engaged - we chose our engagement ring six weeks ago - I had time to write Sim a poem. It was inspired by this clip of Derrida from "Derrida: the movie," talking about the question of "love." Annoyingly, embedding is disabled, so you'll have to follow this link to it on Youtube.
"Is 'love' the love of someone or the love of some thing?"

Is "love" the love of someone or the love of some thing? Does one love someone, or does one love something about someone?

Supposing I loved someone... Do I love someone for the absolute singularity of who they are? Do I love you because you are you? Or do I love your qualities? Do I love your beauty? Do I love your intelligence?

It is often said that love is the movement of the heart. Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is?

The difference, between the who and the what at the heart of "love," separates the heart, separates the heart of the lover.

Often, love starts with some type of seduction. One is attracted because the other is like this or like that. And love is disappointed and dies when one comes to realize the other person isn't like this or that. So at the birth of love and at the death of love, it appears that one loves another not because of who they are, their singularity, but because they are or are not this or that.

The heart of love separates the heart of the lover. That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and the what. Whoever starts to love, is in love, or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what.

So I - I who am in love, I who am caught by the heart, caught at the heart of love, I whose heart is caught by love - am caught at the heart of the question of love... of
whether "love" is the love of someone or the love of some thing.

The heart of love separates the heart of the lover.

I who am in love am broken hearted.

One wants to be true - to be true absolutely, utterly, unreservedly, unconditionally. And one wants to be true to someone - to someone in their singularity, in their uniqueness, their individuality, their irreplaceability. One wants to be true to someone. But is "love" the love of someone or the love of some thing?

This is a question for me. It is my question, the question by which I and my love are put into question. I have an empty head about love itself, about love in general, about the philosophy of love. I have no answer to those questions.

But my answer to the question of my love - my answer about my love and my answer to my love - must be given every day. Today, every day, for all my days, will I love some thing about someone? Or will I love someone? This someone. As he is. For who he is.

Yes, yes.