Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Expository Times article on the Emerging Church

Way back during the last few months of 2009, I was asked to write a piece for The Expository Times on religion and the Internet for a volume they are producing on the future of Christianity. I was pleased about being asked but felt a little bit that it would be revisiting tangential interests rather than moving me forward, so when the person they had lined up to write a piece on the emerging church was unable to, I was really pleased to write that instead! It will feature in vol.121, no.10 (July) and is entitled, " 'I Hate Your Church, What I Want is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu." It's basically an overview of what I describe as the emerging church "milieu" and the two spiritualities (they are characterised as two hermeneutics in my thesis) that I see arising from such a milieu. The basic argument of the piece (relating to where the missional focus of the emerging church should be located - church or kingdom) should, however, ignite a few sparks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Re-Writing the Bible Symposium

On June 14-15th 2010, the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Literature, Theology and the Arts will be hosting a symposium on "Re-Writing the Bible: Devotion, Diatribe and Dialogue." Keynote panellists include Michael Schmidt, Michael Symmons-Roberts, Kei Miller, Sara Maitland and Michele Wandor. Here's some blurb:

“…there is no reading of a work which is not also a ‘re-writing’.”- Terry Eagleton

A recent exhibition at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art consisted of a bible, laid open alongside a supply of pens, with the invitation, “If you feel you’ve been excluded from the Bible, please feel free to find a way to write yourself back in.” The comments scribbled in the margins—and the very notion of ‘writing in the Bible’—became the subject of a widespread controversy, resulting in the gallery’s decision to place this bible inside a perspex cube, effectively sealing it off and protecting it from what might be deemed ‘undesirable’ commentary. Visitors were still invited to write comments, but now they were written on sheets of paper that were then selected by gallery staff and inserted between the bible’s pages.

In light of this very present debate, Re-Writing the Bible: Devotion, Diatribe and Dialogue invites poets, writers, and scholars to engage with interdisciplinary questions surrounding the phenomena of retellings or revisions of Bible in creative writing. These retellings have a heritage that, arguably, starts within the books of the Bible itself and stretches across many literatures and traditions; poets and writers in every age filter biblical themes and images through thefocus of their own period and practice. Dante, Milton, Bunyan, Blake, Yeats, Owen, H.D, Plath, Kinsella, Hill; the list is long, diverse, and continues to grow.

This symposium asks why contemporary writers have chosen to rework this particular source text, and what stances they have taken towards it: faithful, using creative writing as a means of prayerful reflection or theological exegesis? Or furious, a railing against the Bible’s injustices and absences? Or a mixture of both, a sometimes difficult, sometimes delightful kind of dialogue? If every reading is also a re-writing, then it follows that every re-writing is also a reading, and for this reason many biblical scholars are fascinated by the literary ‘afterlives’ of the scriptures, the ways in which the Bible is sustained by creative imaginations in cultural settings and times very distant from its own writing and compilation.

We are seeking 20-minute papers from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, including but not limited to: literature, theology, biblical studies, critical and cultural theory, history, politics, and so on. We will consider papers on all forms of ‘creative writing’: poetry, novel, short story, sermon, liturgy, prayers, songs, political writing, theatre, and so on. Our emphasis is on twentieth and twenty-first century works, but we will also consider abstracts on rewritings from other periods. We would be particularly interested in papers looking at spaces that often go unexplored by research in retelling and revisioning, such as biblical romance novels, evangelical speculative fiction, biblical archetypes in autobiography, contemporary liturgy, or popular music. There is the possibility that proceedings will be published.

Please send abstracts (approx. 200 words) to, by no later than 19th April 2010.

My fellow doctoral candidate at Lancaster, Dawn Llewellyn, whose thesis explores women's (religious) uses of (religious) text, and I have been searching for a while for a topic of possible collaboration and this could be it! I'm very keen to write something on the ways in which creative writing (particularly the [re-]writing of biblical parables) functions within the emerging church milieu. So I'll have the data and Dawn'll have the theory and we shall make a lovely baby together!!! Although, I haven't actually run any of this by her yet!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Theology and the Arts Conference

I spied this conference a while ago but it took ages for more details to be forthcoming. In April (12-14th) the Society for the Study of Theology's annual conference will be hosted at Manchester University on the theme of "Theology and the Arts." The conference calls for short papers on the conference theme and seminar sessions on other topics (both 20 mins, 20 mins Q&A). The only details I can find online is this small amount of blurb:

"What is the relationship between different art forms and other modes of theological interpretation? Is art true, or subjecive, or both? What are the limitations of artistic representation? How may art be employed in teaching, whether in church or academy? What are the places of art in prayer and liturgy?"

Abstracts of about 200 words should be emailed to Oliver Crisp, who I met in Ireland last Nov, by Feb 18. There is a bursary fund, which you should also apply to via Oliver.

The cost of registration is £90, and then there are several accommodation and meal options to choose from when you log-on to the site here. Full residential is £170, with one night B&B £30. Early registration ends March 4 and the registration deadline is March 23.

I'm thinking that if I submit an abstract it will be on the "a/theology of the event" and the notion of "transformance art" in the UK emerging church milieu.

Young Theologians publication

Just a quick post to say that some of the proceedings from the "Interface: Being a Young Theologian in the World" conference (see my blog posts here, here, here, here, and here) are going to be published. We've been asked to submit our papers for consideration, so fingers crossed for another book chapter. It was a great conference and from my perspective many of the papers linked really neatly, particularly in relation to asking important questions about who we are and where we're going as young theologians. My paper was about not knowing who we are and whether we are theologians, so everything sparked off a lot of interesting thoughts. So we'll see what happens with that.

Departmental Merger

As with most things in most places of work, we had rather a lot more rumours than hard facts about the departmental merger being "suggested" by university management. I find Lancaster to be a very interdisciplinary university anyway, but I think there was a little friction that this merger wasn't allowed to evolve organically but was a rather top-down affair. Some people see this as a good move, others are pissed off. Hopefully, a really good "super department" will come out of all of this. So, the first Religious Studies department (as opposed to Theology departments which focused on the Christian tradition) in the UK, founded by Ninian Smart, pioneer of the discipline since the 1960s, is merging with the departments of Philosophy, and Politics and International Relations to form the Department of Philosophy, Politics and Religion or PPR.

Following a meeting with the students on Jan 14 (which I couldn't get to), a recent email states that this merger is the most viable way to:

  • "maintain the best student experience";
  • protect the existing disciplines of philosophy, politics and international relations, and religious studies;
  • take advantage of interdisciplinary crossovers and opportunities both for new courses and for research staff; and
  • create a department that "can prosper in the coming period of UK-wide financial constraints."

The email tells us that the staff who will fulfil the main departmental roles are as follows:

  • Head of Department: Robert Geyer (P&IR)
  • Research Director and Deputy Head: Chris Partridge (RS)
  • Undergraduate Director: Graham Smith (P&IR)
  • Postgraduate Director: Andrew Dawson (RS)
  • Human Resources Director: Mairi Levitt (Phil)
  • External Relations Director: Neil Manson (Phil)

Support staff haven't yet been finalised, and I'm concerned for both our departmental support staff (Wendy Francis, Departmental Officer, who has been with the department since 1983!, and Gillian Taylor, Departmental Assistant, who has been there for nearly 12 years now). I've no idea what is going to happen concerning all three departments' support staff and I'm too scared of asking either Wendy or Gillian in case it upsets them. It must be so hard at the moment. Decisions about support staff are going to be sorted out in February.

In relation to the identities of the existing departments, the email states that "Although the former departments will be housed in one over-arching unit, the identities of the disciplines will be maintained. All three departments have clear strengths and the merger is a move to reinforce and preserve these. These approaches and traditions will be further strengthened by the prestige that a larger unit can bring. In addition, research councils are increasingly looking for proposals which cross disciplines; and employers are increasingly looking for employees who have a broader and more comprehensive grasp on the world around us. All departments evolve over time - and this can be viewed as a part of the evolution of the three departments in response to the new challenges of the 21st century."

This means in practice that single discipline degrees will be maintained (the RS and Phil departments already recently introduced a cross-discipline degree, "Ethics, Philosophy and Religion," but I know that the balance of responsibility for that programme was an issue). Also, all three departments are moving (by the end of 2010, if not before) to a common location. As RS only moved relatively recently, I imagine another move will cause some (minor?) annoyances.

But, hopefully, there will be more advantages than disadvantages. There are a number of possible new crossover modules or degree programmes that would benefit new students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (e.g. Religion and Conflict MA). I'm sure this will also increase the vibrancy of the research community as well, for both staff and PhD students. It is the kind of department that would be really great for my postdoc ideas (I'm currently looking at Manchester's Centre for Religion and Political Culture). So, all in all, I think this is good. But I'm worried about Wendy and Gillian.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Research Methods Residential

In September, the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College (where I did a workshop on studying religion and the internet last year, see here and here), and the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme (where I failed to get a job, see here) are running a residential training event for UK PhD students involved in the empirical study of contemporary religion. The residential will run from 6-10 September at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, and students who are accepted onto it will have their residential and travel costs paid (nice!). Places are strictly limited and application forms can be downloaded from here and must be received before Feb 19.

Sessions will include:

  • theorising religion and the role of the researcher of religion
  • choosing/combining research methods
  • the research agenda for religion and contemporary society
  • sampling
  • using quantitative data-sets
  • rigour and validity
  • ethical and political contexts of researching religion
  • ethnography
  • visual methods
  • researching religion and media, and
  • studying spaces and objects

Confirmed speakers include:

Here's some blurb: "Funded by the AHRC’s Collaborative Research Training scheme, the aim of this event is to provide PhD students in this field with advanced methods training in the study of religion not normally available at any single university and represents a major investment in training a significant cohort of PhD students currently working in this field. The event is open to students working across a wide range of disciplines including theology and religious studies, sociology, anthropology, C20th religious history, social policy and geography."

I'm not sure whether I'll be allowed to go on this, as I will have already submitted by thesis, but I'm going to check with Gordon Lynch.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Thesis in Parables

I'm toying with the idea of including an explicit supplement in my thesis which would be a sort of other to the thesis. For Derrida, argumentation always involves implicit supplementation: in order to argue X, that which is other-than-X is required in an 'infinite chain' that is yet concealed in order to give the 'mirage' that the argument is self-sufficient (OG 157). The supplement both adds to and substitutes the argument: it 'adds only to replace' (OG 145). It is both essential and threatening. Threatening since it reveals that, without it, the argument cannot appear self-sufficient, cannot appear as "a work itself;" without the supplement, there is no "itself" of the work. Therefore essential since the "work itself" is less than whole, less than pure, lacking in and of itself, and in need of supplementation.

This is why I've been thinking about the possibility of including a (there is an infinite chain of supplements such that there is never just one supplement, never just the supplement) supplement that might work as an other of the thesis. While there will be implicit supplements in my thesis (some I may be aware of, others I definitely won't be), I've been thinking/worrying/obsessing about the nature of the doctoral thesis in general, about writing and representation in general before (see here, for example, where I was thinking about alternative presentations, like the work of a number of poststructuralist thinkers, including Derrida's Glas and Circumfession) and think that a supplement that augments the philosophical, theological, ethical and ecclesiological argumentation with literature might be an apt way to explore how argumentation can also be replaced by the supplement.

So I'm thinking about a supplement of creative writing, in which I attempt to write the thesis as parables, "the thesis in parables," one for each chapter, positioned after the thesis, as a supplement. These pieces of writing might say in poetic form what the logic of the argument is trying to say. The parables can (will?) say more than the argument will (can?) and can (will?) replace the argument.

I'm going to post a few of them to the Facebook discussion board of the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion at the beginning of March, along with a brief introduction to the background to their creation. I'll also post them in a "thesis in parables" series here at some point.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Re-emergence conference

From March 16-18 2010, the Irish School of Ecumenics, Belfast, will host "Re-emergence: Christianity and the Event of God." This is something that Pete Rollins has been involved in organising and will (very sadly) be the only UK date for his Insurrection tour.

The keynotes include Phyllis Tickle (The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why), which I blogged about here, and Dave Tomlinson (The Post-Evangelical, Re-enchanting Christianity), vicar at my partner's Sim's brother's church, St. Luke's. Those involved in the Insurrection tour with Pete are Padraig O Tauma (Hymns to Swear By, not yet released, but also on Dubh) and Jonny McEwen (Fractured, broken, and Beautiful). Other participants includ Beki Bateson (executive director of London International Festival of Theatre, chair of Amos Trust, and co-founder of Vaux), Ian Mitchell, Kerry Anthony (Depaul Ireland), Kester Brewin (Vaux, Apple, The Complex Christ, Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures), and Alistair Duncan (the garden, the Whitehawk Inn). There'll also be music from a "mystery musician, who we have to keep under wraps for now." Duke Special or Bono?!?

Here's some more info:

"Each new epoch in the life of the Church is born from the white-hot fires of a fundamental question, a question with the power to scorch the very ground that has previously sustained us.

"When they arise, these fundamental questions invite us to rethink what it means to be part of the body of Christ. They have nothing to do with the myriad of disagreements that exist within the shared theological horizon, but rather challenge the very horizon itself. They do not revolve around differences within and between established Christian groups but rather place into question what these groups all take for granted. They cut across what is assumed, short-circuit what is hallowed and, in doing so, appear to threaten the very essence of Christianity itself.

"Is it possible that we stand once more at the threshold of such a question; a question that holds the power to spark a rupturing and re-imagining of the present configuration of Christianity? Are there signs that some of the assumptions we have taken for granted concerning faith need to be interrogated once again?

"We hope that you can join us as we wrestle with these difficult ideas together."

Sadly, the timing of this event isn't great for me. I'm hoping to submit my thesis before the end of February and I need to have my viva before April 1 for some other reasons, so right about mid March I think I'll be biting my nails. I also can't justify the expense of getting over there what with the two of us living on my partner's teaching salary. Ho hum. I'll have to wait for an industrious American to make a dvd of the Insurrection tour... please?!?!?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Attending to the Other

The Faculty of Theology at Oxford University are hosting the 2010 biennial International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture from 23rd - 26th September, at St. Catherine's College (where I went in 2007), on the topic of "Attending to the Other: Critical Theory and Spiritual Practice."

The full registration fee is a hefty £385 (+ compulsory ISRLC membership, £10)! But the keynote speakers are Amy Hollywood (Harvard University) - check out her Sensible Ecstacy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History, which I used in my medieval lesbian studies period - Toril Moi (Duke University) - Sexual/Textual Politics - Paul Fiddes (University of Oxford), and Graham Ward (University of Manchester), which explains it! The good news is that there are bursaries to contribute towards these costs for postgrad students and (what I may well be by then, as I'm for sure not going to still be doing my thesis) unemployed academics!!! Who knows, I may even be an employed academic and not need the help!!! Yeah, right.

Anyway, there are several panels being convened for this conference, including one by the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion. The conference organisers invite short papers for these panels (20 mins paper, 10 mins Q&A), and ask for proposals (title and 500 word abstracts) to be sent to the convenor of the panel for which it seems most appropriate. The deadline is March 30 2010. The call for papers includes the information about panels, as well as details of who to submit proposals to. There are quite a few panels, so I'm only going to post details about the ones I'm most interested in. For details about the others download a Word doc from here.

Modern Theology (panel leader: Trevor Hart; abstracts to "Reponsible handling of Christianity's doctrinal commitments today demands that they be revisited in the light of critical theory and its particular insights and claims, an engagement in which we might reasonably anticipate insights and questions flowing in both directions. This panel will concentrate on such encounters, welcoming papers that will seek to relate concrete doctrinal loci constructively to the central concerns and claims of critical theory. Topics might fall within areas such as the following:
  • Christology (e.g. history, particularity, universality; the body, crucifixion and resurrection; kenosis and the other; the divine image, imaging and incarnation)
  • Trinity (e.g. otherness, mystery and apophasis; perichoresis and the boundaries of personhood)
  • Creation (e.g. gift, givens, openness, and the place of human poiesis; ‘reality’ as divine donation and human construct)
  • Revelation (e.g. language, analogy, metaphor, imagination; re-enchantment, experience, nature and culture; scripture, inspiration and authority)
  • Redemption (e.g. sin, evil, guilt, notions of atonement, reconciliation and forgiveness)
  • Worship (e.g. liturgy, sacraments, ritual, embodied performance, meaning and presence)
  • Church (e.g. tradition, continuity and interruption; community, truth and meaning; encountering Christ in the body; the church as ‘habitus’)
  • Eschatology (e.g. hope, promise and the shape of the self; hope as imagination; apocalypse and deconstruction)

Proposals on any relevant topic are welcomed."

Continental Philosophy of Religion (panel leaders: Steven Shakespare and Patrice Haynes; abstracts to and "This panel invites submissions which consider the turn to religion in recent continental philosophy and the implications this has for understandings of religion, reason and spiritual practice. If philosophy is called, driven or solicited to think its other, does this mean that philosophy itself is compelled by a religious dynamic? A particular focus will be on the debate around theological and dialectical accounts of materialism. What kind of thinking does justice to the passion of reason, the integrity of matter and the injunctions of ethical and political commitment? Relevant thinkers and themes might include:

  • Jean-Luc Nancy,
  • Radical Orthodoxy,
  • Slavoj Žižek,
  • Grace Jantzen,
  • phenomenology (Henry, Chrétien, Lacoste, Marion),
  • speculative realism/materialism.
However, other relevant submissions will be considered.
The panel is being convened by the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion."

I might submit an abstract to the Modern Theology panel that focuses on the ways in which UK emerging church milieu participants (particularly collectives) are "attending to the other" in the creation of ecclesial spaces (the church and worship streams of this panel). I'm working at the moment on the concluding sections of chapter six of my thesis, which use Derrida (particularly Of Hospitality and "Eating Well" in Points) and Badiou (Saint Paul) to argue for a Pauline ecclesiology of literally "attending to the other." As I complete my thesis, then, I'll be playing with the idea of presenting something at this conference.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year Write-up Round Up

So as you can probably tell from the paucity of blog posts in December, I spent the month trying to get as much as possible of my thesis written before the Christmas holidays. During that time, I managed to make a significant dent in chapters four (3 out of 4 sections completed), six (2 out of 4) and seven (2 out of 3). Chapters one and two are in a similar sort of state (half to three-quarters done), and three is mostly done but in a bit of a state structurally, but I've yet to even start writing up my notes into something remotely resembling a chapter five.

Therefore my newest timetable for completion is:

  • Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Six and Seven completed by the end of January
  • Go see my Mum for my birthday at the beginning of Feb and spend a week printing and editing
  • Chapter Five completed by mid-Feb
  • Edit draft and submit the latter half of February.
Doable? We'll see.