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 peterrollins.net/blog/?p=889)

‘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?

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

oh katherine

the gulf betwween idealistic theory and the more prosiac on the ground reality !!!!!!!!!

Rodney

Anonymous said...

You need to live on the ground as part of a collectives for years, do extensive interviews with many people who loosly interact/are committed members/ examine the socioeconomic and political backdrop amongst many other things before you can even draw tentative thoughts about the nature of a community otherwise your work will be idealistic naievity that sounds good in conferences but has no relation to the more mundane actual messy grey reality on the ground.

Katharine Moody said...

Don't you think that what you call 'the more prosiac on the ground reality' is always engaging with the 'idealistic theory' of Scripture, in particular Jesus and Paul's "ideals" of church, of the kingdom?

Don't you think Christian communities are always trying to embody (incarnate?) something ideal (eschatological?)?

Doesn't this mean that the relationship between theory and 'reality' (whether or not this is a 'gulf') is precisely what we should be looking at?!?

I don't think you should be so despairing of what I'm exploring! ;)

Katharine Moody said...

I was still writing my response to your first comment when you left your second one. So here's my response to that comment,

Ouch.

Anonymous said...

Katherine

do you not have to collect extensive data about the 'on the ground' reality of many peoples perspectives and life story narratives plus actually spend a good period of time living with the community amongst many other things in order to make informed judgements about the theorical embodiment and actual practices of a community?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Katherine...I,m in ranting mode and sound too severe..

I was for mare years part of the shepherding charismatic stream ..the contested and conflicted issue of 'what is the correct/real narrative' of this community is still of burning practical importance for some eg was it spiritual abuse or not.

Sorry again for sounding too severe.

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Extensive 'on the ground' research and socio-political contextualisation of particular communities is of course important, particularly for anthropological and sociological studies. My approach, however, is more discursive and theological. I have not been undertaking the kind of ethnographic approach taken, for example, by Cory Labanow: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Evangelicalism-Emerging-Explorations-Practical-Empirical/dp/0754664503/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269944070&sr=1-1 Rather, my approach is more discursive and more theological.

I'm using the notion of "truth" to examine how two particular post-secular theologies (Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology) are being adopted and adapted by the emerging church milieu. Because I am looking at emerging church discourse, my data (which has been extensively gathered and analysed) comes primarily from interviews, emerging church print literature, and online media. Grounded in this 'on the ground' data, I am able to justify both my argument (which is nonetheless MY argument, based on my observations) and my conclusions - which you haven't yet read. Once I have finished the final submission I would be more than happy to email you a copy so that you can engage with what I've actually been doing, rather than dismissing what I've been doing.

I know how concerned you are to make sure that I have not misrepresented the emerging church milieu. However, this is such a diverse phenomenon that even if you personally disagree with the theologies I am exploring within emerging church discourse, you cannot claim that these theologies are not there, or that they represent 'idealist theory' that is not being enacted 'on the ground.' I have evidence to the contrary, which you are welcome to read.

While I am keen in the future to explore more ethnographically and sociologically these aspects of my thesis, what I have just submitted was a more discourse-focused piece of work (you have to draw boundaries around a project somehow). It is therefore unfair to judge it on the basis of a different methodology.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Katharine

Have you read 'Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places' by Eugene Peterson? I'm not sure he would fall into the emerging church bracket as he is a little more mainstream evangelical, but he has some interesting insights into the eucharist and hospitality.

Although he sees them primarily as means to cultivating 'fear-of-the-Lord' rather than attending to the other, I couldn't help but make the connection with Derrida's 'hospitality, friendship and love are responsibilities that are excessive to the complacent fulfilment of duty'- Peterson argues similarly, at least with regard to hospitality.

He is writing pastorally exhorting Christians to not neglect, or more accurately to rediscover hospitality, in that hopsitality is the primary means of acknowledging our human connection.

He argues similarly with regard to the eucharist as a means of acknowledging our commonality, but he is perhaps more concerned to privilege consensus over unconditional welcome (given what the eucharist for him represents).

But certainly with regard to hospitality he strikes me as touching on attending to the other, even if, as I've said, his primary end is cultivating 'fear-of-the-Lord'.

Just a thought that may be useful as point of illustration, word count allowing!

Regards, Joe

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Katharine Moody said...

Rodney, thanks for clarifying what you were talking about. However, even restricting your comments to the abstract that I originally posted and not extrapolating out to my thesis as a whole, my point regarding methodology still stands.

As I mention in the abstract, I am looking at the 'discursive motifs in which this Derridean-Pauline desire to attend to the other is expressed and through which it is being performed liturgically.' This means that I am examining the discursive '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 am not engaging in indepth ethnographic research nor participatory observations. I don't claim to be, either. And that's not a problem with my research. It doesn't mean that my work is, as you say, 'idealistic naievity that sounds good in conferences but has no relation to the more mundane actual messy grey reality on the ground.' I'm clearly working with data that I've gathered and it is not possible to claim otherwise. I have not simply plucked an idea about the emerging church milieu out of my head without basing it on the very discourse that goes on in that milieu!

In this particular paper, I'm going to explore how the discourse of the emerging church conversation (particularly, what I identify in my thesis as an A/Theistic hermeneutic) seeks to 'attend to the other' - the title of the conference. While the extent to which this desire to attend to the other is successfully translated successfully into practice, is of course an important and interesting discussion, I am clear in my abstract that this paper is more concerned with the 'possibility of radical sociality' than with whether or not it is put into practice effectively 'on the ground.' As I mention in an early comment, Christian communities are always trying to make the 'idealistic theory' of Jesus and Paul into a 'reality,' are always trying to 'embody (incarnate?) something ideal (eschatological?).' This means that the discourse in which such hopes and desire are narrativally emplotted are incredibly important to study and enable me to indeed make 'informed judgements.'

My proposal for POSTdoctoral funding for a more ethnographic and sociological approach did not get accepted - only about 45 out of 913 were accepted! So clearly this is something that I am interested in, something that I am not trying to deliberately ignore, but something that will have to wait until I have more money!

Katharine Moody said...

I thought that I was clear that my approach is discursive and theological, rather than ethnographic or sociological. I thought I had been clear in this and other posts that I'm looking at post-secular theology in the context of the emerging church milieu. In the coming years I will of course be building upon this starting point, a trajectory which includes (among other things) ethnography, participatory observation, and socio-political analysis. At the moment, however, I'm working with what I have - which is data from emerging church discourse (interviews, publications, and online media).

Sorry if you had a different impression of my work, but all academics place boundaries of some sort around their work for both theoretical and practical reasons. This is a part of the research process and actually something that we get tested on in our viva voces (i.e. Have we put realistic boundaries around our study?).

From what you imply in your comments, you have clearly not found ikon to be as attentive to the other as their discourse suggests they are. This is not only a really interesting point from my perspective of academic interest in what you see as a 'gulf' between ikon's discourse on the other and their practice of welcoming (or not) the other. It is also clearly a central experience for you in your own religious journey and I understand why you are so passionate in talking about it and part of why you come across as, as you say, 'severe' when you worry that I am missing or ignoring your negative experiences of ikon.

But I don't think that it is fair for you to question the academic validity of what I have been working on (very hard!) for the last four and a half years - particularly as I have not been looking at the emerging church in the way that you think I have (i.e. ethnographically or socio-politically)! While in the future I am keen to address the points you raise (about the failure or success of emerging church discourse on the other to translate into practice that welcomes the other), I have NOT been working on these questions so it is unfair to dismiss what I HAVE been working on (which is more discursive than practical).

I hope you understand my reaction to what you wrote earlier - partciularly as I am still getting over the emotional rollercoaster of having my viva voce last week. That said, you raise interesting questions, as always - but you often phrase them quite confrontationally.

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Katharine Moody said...
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Katharine Moody said...

Note to readers: I have agreed to delete some of the above comments at the request of the commenter involved.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on passing the viva. I would love to read the final version if that is possible?
All the best for what comes after with conferences, papers etc

Gary Manders

Katharine Moody said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the congrats! I'm starting to think now about how to publish my thesis - what sections to take as journal articles, how to structure the rest as a monograph, etc.

Are you on facebook? I've possibly found you: 2 mutual friends: Pete and Paul. Friend request me on facebook and let me know a bit more about who you are, what you do, what you're interested in, etc.