Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Eat Well in Church

As I begin to emerge from a just-passed-my-viva-(phew!) lull (I always tend to get a bit depressed after the excitement of finishing a piece of work, presenting a piece of work, or handing something in), I am doing my corrections (done!), writing my paper for the Edinburgh BSA SocRel conference on the Changing Face of Christianity (not done yet!), and submitting abstracts for a couple of conferences later in the year - 500 words for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture's "Attending to the Other" (done!) and 200 words for the "Re-Writing the Bible: Devotion, Diatribe and Dialogue" symposium, held by the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Literature, Theology and the Arts (not yet done!).

My submission for the Attending to the Other conference is called, "How to Eat Well in Church: Saying 'Yes' to the Other and Becoming Nothing in Derrida, Paul and Emerging Christian Discourse." Hopefully it'll get accepted by either the Continental Philosophy of Religion or the Theology panels, but I'm also keen to work this paper into a journal article so it won't be too bad if it doesn't get accepted. Here's the abstract:

‘Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination... before any identification’ (Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, 77).

‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you’ (St Paul, Romans 15:7).

‘...we can freely enter into a theatrical space in which we act as though there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female... Here we do not lay down our identity only to pick up our new identity in Christ. Rather it is in laying down all our identities that we directly identify with Christ’ (Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal, 178-179 and

‘If a community is too welcoming, it loses its identity; if it keeps its identity, it becomes unwelcoming’ (John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 113)

For Derrida, hospitality, friendship and love are responsibilities that are excessive to the complacent fulfilment of duty. While hospitality by rights and justice under the law protect the self-same, unconditional hospitality is to attend to (to pay attention to and to serve) alterity. Similarly, for (Badiou’s) Paul, the Christian community is to welcome the other, without quarrelling about or arguing over determinations of truth. Co-implicated in this is that, in order to welcome those with different truths, that which makes the host distinctive is to be sacrificed or performatively suspended, which is why there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28). Paul’s injunction to hospitality is occasioned by questions regarding whether or not to eat meat and what Paul calls for is the creation of communities that attend not to the question of what to eat but to the question of how to eat, which is a ‘learning-to-give-the-other-to-eat’ (Derrida, “Eating Well,” 282). The event of Jesus’ excess in relation to all law is to be translated into hospitable ecclesial spaces that attempt to let the other be other, to privilege hospitality over the temptation to conversion or consensus, to refuse to subsume the other to the self-same, and to create a space that places unconditional welcome above conditions of entrance.

The “emerging church conversation” is one contemporary discourse about Christianity that is attempting to imagine and enact such spaces. This paper introduces the discursive motifs in which this Derridean-Pauline desire to attend to the other is expressed and through which it is being performed liturgically, particularly in the work of Peter Rollins and the Belfast-based ‘transformance art’ collective, ikon. I examine the ways in which alterity is welcomed, by which a place for the other is prepared, and through which Christian community negotiates unity and difference. I raise questions of openness and the possibility of radical sociality, of kenosis and the problems of self-identity, and of how deconstructive theologies (such as John D. Caputo’s weak theology) might be ecclesiologically, ethically and politically viable for concrete collectives.

If deconstructive theology interprets the church and the world, how might deconstructive religious collectives be changing them?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Viva Results

On Monday, I had my viva voce (oral defense of my thesis). Because I felt that I was most likely to get either a pass with minor corrections (usually typos), for which they give you 3 months or a pass with more major amendments (6-12 months), I went in having written sections on the things that I thought they might ask me to add (a list of typos, some more contextual information for my participants - which I had to cut to get to under my word limit of 100,000 words - and a section for my conclusion that widened things back out to the future of Christianity in the UK). This meant that they gave me a pass with 3 months to correct typos, and add in those things I'd already written, so I'm hoping to be able to get back up to Lancaster at the end of the Edinburgh conference to hand in my final thesis.

While I was nervous about the viva, I also drank lots of rescue remedy and felt much more confident about what I had produced than I did when I handed it in and was suffering from exhaustion! I was able to get a bit more perspective on the thing and just think, "I'm not facing a firing squad; the worst that can happen is that they have some concerns, that I'm then allowed to address and resubmit. What's the big deal?" So I think I had quite a good frame of mind to go in - even when there were hiccups like when I forgot to put a parking ticket in my car, or when my supervisor forgot to tell my independent chair that the time of the viva had changed (we found a tape recorder instead)!

Anyway, it went down like this...

My examiners (external, Gerard Loughlin, and internal, Chris Partridge) have a little bit of time together to tell each other what they think of it and to work out who is going to ask what and in what order, etc. Then they send for me. In our department, it's optional whether or not to have your supervisor present but I thought she might be able to make notes better than I would and I thought it would be useful to have a rundown of what happened - in case I wasn't able to remember anything when I came out!

Chris started off by saying that they liked and enjoyed reading my thesis, which put me at ease somewhat - although they aren't allowed to tell the candidate what their initial recommendations are (since the viva voce can be the point at which they change their minds about whether or not the candidate demonstrates the requisite skills to be awarded a PhD degree). Chris asked me warm up questions about how I came to be involved in researching the emerging church and then Gerard asked me about whether I needed the emerging church voices (my participants) alongside the established academic voices and whether my argument would work without them. This is what my supervisor Deborah F. Sawyer and I had been calling the Gavin Hyman question (since he wrote The Predicament of Postmodern Theology as an analysis of Radical Orthodoxy and textual nihilism without recourse to empirical data), and I answered it by demonstrating how a combination of theory and data could allow me to speak to both: to Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology, and to the emerging church milieu.

Gerard also asked whether the work of Jack Caputo is more nihilist than I was portraying it, which I answered by explaining that, while Caputo does use nihilistic language such as the void and the abyss to describe the flux or play of differance, it is only possible to portray Caputo as a nihilist by ignoring the more affirmative strands within both Derrida's work and Caputo's own deconstructive theology, particularly the messianic "to-come."

Then Chris and Gerard asked me some more questions about the emerging church milieu to contextualise their discourse and activities within Christianity in the UK (and the US) more generally, which was just a nice chat about broader issues in philosophy, theology and ecclesiology. They agreed that I should include a little more on this, and on who my participants were - which I'd already written in anticipation of these comments.

Deborah and I then waited outside for about four minutes and were then asked back in, which was when they said that they were going to recommend the award of PhD subject to minor corrections and additions and Chris said that they thought I'd should publish it.

Although they've given me 3 months to do this work (standard practice), Chris said it was only a few days work. However, as I have to go back up to Lancaster to get it bound and to hand it in, I'll have to wait until we drive past on our way back from the BSA SocRel conference on "The Changing Face of Christianity in the 21st Century." Deborah gave me a bottle of champagne and that was that! So the final thesis will be submitted in a few weeks and then I'll graduate in December and be Dr. Moody (which sounds a little too like an evil genius, but I'm happy with it for now!)