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!]