Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Attending to the Other Round-Up: Part One

I got back yesterday from the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture conference, "Attending to the Other: Critical Theory and Spiritual Practice," hosted by the Faculty of Theology at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. Here's a (very long) round-up of the event:

After drinks in a splendid room in the Bodleian Library, the first night consisted of a dinner and a keynote address by Amy Hollywood (Harvard University), "A for Antigone: Reading Derrida's 'Differance' Again" - which was hard to follow not only due to the content, but also because of the aforementioned drinking and because she spoke very quickly and often too quietly, and, ultimately, wasn't particularly "audience friendly" in her presentation style, which was disappointing. Pamela Sue Anderson (University of Oxford) chaired the session, and it was nice to catch up after meeting her at the inaugural conference for the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion (Liverpool Hope University) last year.

I stayed at my uncle and aunt's house "near" (40 min train ride, 30 min walk) Oxford to try to keep the cost of the conference down, but on Saturday morning someone had stolen copper off the railway line or something, so my uncle very kindly drove me in so I wasn't late for the start of the day. After a quick cup of coffee from the refectory, I went to Modern Theology panel of the first parallel sessions of the conference, chaired by Trevor Hart (Universiy of St. Andrews). I particularly enjoyed Natalie Wigg's paper, "Christology as Crucible: Practising Wisdom at the Intersection of Church and Academy," which framed theology as a component of ecclesial practice, but was primarily a methodological reflection on her positioning within the church community she is studying.

She began with an introduction to Pierre Bordieu's notion of "habitus" and by characterising the ethnographer's task as that of identifying the objective structures and governing forces that shape participants. The ethnographer has to also, however, develop the subjective experience of possessing the habitus him/herself. However, unlike researchers such as Loic Wacquant, who himself became a student of boxing in order to study the habitus of prizefighting in American black ghettos, Natalie is already a part of the community she is studying. Thus she already inhabits the habitus. Her research methodology therefore involves teaching classes at her church, wherein the group explore together their shared habitus, to bring their habitus to light, to reflect upon why they think what they think, why they do what they do, why they say what they say, why they desire what they desire, etc.

After a coffee break, we all reconvened together for the second keynote address, "Critical Theory and Spirituality: Restless Bedfellows," from Graham Ward (University of Manchester). In this address, Graham not only addressed the relationship of critical theory to spirituality, but of "critique" to "theory," since critique is necessarily parasitical on the theory it criticises. He began by recounting Descartes' experience during the 30 years' war of being in a dense forest. Imagining being lost, Descartes reasoned that the decision/choice/wager of the direction in which to walk could be a moment of conviction only. From this, therefore, the forging of a method, tool or theory could likewise only be based upon conviction. Graham enumerated the differences, however, between critical theory - which he defined as a practice - and spirituality - a discipline, since it aims to form particular types of persons, i.e. disciples - as:

  1. The telos of Christian spirituality is worship. Therefore it's orientation is liturgical, soteriological and doxological. In contrast, critique is orientated around the immanent structures of the world and not, therefore, towards a transcendent redemption that will necessarily ever arrive.
  2. Christian spirituality is not the enemy of, neither does it withdraw from, materiality. Spirituality begins with an entrance into the material more profoundly, and - following the central narrative of Radical Orthodoxy - only metaphysics of transcendence can grant meaning to the immanent. Critical theory, in its refusal of the transcendent, makes the immanent nihilistic.
  3. Rather than the attainment of mystical feelings or knowledge, Christian spirituality is a discipline and not just an emotional or intellectual practice. It is a submission to being governed and formed by an authority, a disciplining and discipleship.
  4. Spirituality is not an end in itself, but a means to conformity to Christ, the resurrection of the body and the redemption of the soul.
  5. While spirituality concerns immanence, it arises from transcendence, and therefore moves across boundaries of immanence and transcendence, secularity and sacrality. In contrast, critique (parasitic on theory, which it exposes as contradictory) is itself generative of contradictions, tensions and dualism - e.g. individual versus social, natural versus ideological, the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie.

Graham's paper, therefore, exhibits the central structuring motif of many arguments by those associated with Radical Orthodoxy - only Christianity! Only Christian spiritual practice (understood properly as a discipline that forms disciples) can perform the kinds of critiques that critical theory itself attempts and fails. Victor Seidler (Goldsmiths, University of London), who's own keynote later took up the image of walking, asked why exactly Graham rejects "walking" or the practices of theorising - philosophy, as well as theology - as spiritual. To my mind, this question was never really answered.

At lunch, I had a good catch up with Steve Shakespeare. Chatting with various people at lunch, meant I was late for the first ("Theological Materialism") of the panels organised by the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion (Liverpool Hope), which Steve was chairing. I missed the gist of - and had to stand up for! - Jeff Kauss' paper, "Slavoj Zizek and Dynamic Incarnationalism: Towards a Lived Material Theology of Personhood," and then wasn't familiar enough with Meillassoux or Bataille to get much out of the other papers. Hopefully I can get Jeff to email me a copy of his paper, though. After lunch, I went to two panels on "Theological Humanism," but I was too tired to concentrate and decided to go back to my uncle and aunt's early to have a rest and go over my paper for the next day. It did mean, though, that I missed Toril Moi's keynote, which others said was much more "audience friendly" than Amy Hollywood's.

On Saturday morning, I went to the second Continental Philosophy of Religion panel ("Phenomenology and Deconstruction") where I was keen to hear Dan Miller - a student of Jack's from Syracuse who finished his dissertation, on radical democracy as religious affirmation, earlier this year too - give a paper on Milbank, and to catch up with Neal DeRoo (Dordt College, Iowa) whom I met at the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology's "Postmodernism, Truth and Religious Pluralism" conference in April 2008.

Dan's paper, "Synchronicity and the Flattening of Materiality: Evaluating the Phenomenological Turn in John Milbank's Theology," framed Milbank's work in terms of a shift from a non-realist narrative philosophy to a phenomenological and materialist realist philosophy, arguing that the philosophy thus produced is open to a deconstructive criticism since it requires a metaphysical supplement to preserve the integrity of the material. While Milbank asserts that when we attend to the world (the phenomenological shift Dan identifies in Milbank's theological method) we see a "harmonious synchronicity" of the transcendent in the material. However, this must be a harmony that is eschatlogically given, since, if we attend to the world as it is given to us now, harmony is not synchronically present but diachronous with traumatic disruption, fragmentation and brokenness.

While I enjoyed Dan's paper and largely agree with his assessment of Milbank's project, I disagreed with how he presented what he regarded as Milbank's earlier work of "suspending the material," since this suspension is explicitly not one of "putting the material aside" (as Dan suggested) but of demonstrating that only participation in the transcendent can "suspend the material" over and against the void (as in a suspension bridge). Further, I wanted to know whether he had engaged with Gavin Hyman's book on Radical Orthodoxy - The Predicament of Postmodern Theology: Radical Orthodoxy or Textualist Nihilism? which argues that Don Cupitt's (non-realist) critique of Radical Orthodoxy distorts it into a realist framework when Radical Orthodoxy attempts to overcome such dualisms as non-realist/realist. I felt that the shift Dan identified in Milbank's theological method (from non-realist narrativity to realist materialist phenomenology) risked the same distortion.

Dan took these points constructively, acknowledging that he possibly hadn't fairly represented the meaning of the phrase "suspending the material" and that the language of realism and non-realism is problematic in relation to Radical Orthodoxy. However, he maintained that, even at points where Milbank stresses that the Christian narrative is not grounded in anything other than itself (hence, Dan's characterisation of this position as non-realist), he is left - as a reader - unconvinced that Milbank doesn't "actually believe" the narrative is a realist one. As a project, Radical Orthodoxy depends upon the persuasive powers of its story... I guess it has a way to go to convince Dan, then... or me.

Neal's paper, "Phemoneology as Eschatological Materialism," reflected upon broader questions of the nature of phenomenology. How can phenomenology - the study of "things themselves" - talk of God without turning God into a thing? Neal suggested that phenomenology's recent so-called "turn" to eschatology enables us to see that, rather than eschatology adding to phenomenology "from without," we might say, phenomenology is revealed as inherently eschatological. Specifically, not only does phenomenological reflection on intentionality reveal a two-fold notion of time as horizontal and diachronic, but that this two-fold notion of time is what phenomenology is. It is, therefore, inherently eschatological. This means, further, that the eschatological turn in phenomenology is, rather, a making explicit of what is already central to phenomenology. One of Neal's edited collection adds to these suggestions: Phenomenology and Eschatology: Not Yet in the Now.

After Paul Fiddes' keynote, "The Sublime, the Conflicted Self, and Attention to the Other: Neglected Contributions from Iris Murdoch and Julia Kristeva," I took myself off to read through my paper before presenting in the late afternoon. This has already been a rather long post, so I'll leave my reflections on the rest of Saturday's events, as well as on the panel I was most looking forward to - Sunday morning's "Political Theology" panel from the Association of Continental Philosophy of Religion - for another day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Religion, Literature and Culture conference

The 2010 International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture conference, "Attending to the Other: Critical Theory and Spiritual Practice," starts at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, tomorrow, hosted by the Faculty of Theology, so I'm off to stay some (relatively) local family tonight. I'm particularly looking forward to Graham Ward's keynote, "Critical Theory and Spirituality: Restless Bedfellows," and panels on Theological Materialism and Political Theology that will both include papers on Zizek.

My paper, "How to 'Eat Well' in Church: Saying 'Yes' to the Other and Becoming Nothing in Derrida, Paul and Emerging Christian Discourse," is on Saturday afternoon, on a Modern Theology panel with some other papers that promise to explore questions that overlap with my interest in the "ecclesial" performance of contemporary theo-philosophies:

Mark Godin (Glasgow) "Situated Liturgies: A Theology of Worship Meets the Philosophy of Michele Le Doeuff."
Ben Kautzer (Durham) "When Faith Gets a Body: Sacramentality and the Order of Charity."

But I'm also looking forward to the end of the conference, when I get to see my Mum!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Divine Doubt

Yesterday, Pete Rollins posted two photographs, inspired by the subtitle to his blog, "to believe is human; to doubt divine," by photographer Art Summers. The first, "to believe is human," shows a little girl (Art's daughter) approaching the altar of a church, intimating that belief is a structure of human experience. The second, "to doubt is divine," shows the little girl leaving the church.

I particularly like this second image, especially when it is placed in conversation with theo-philosophical reflections by Slavoj Zizek that link human doubt, abandonment, and atheism to God's own self-emptying (in the Incarnation) and self-abandonment (on the cross).

One of Pete's talks at the Subverting the Norm event in Missouri next month repeats this motif of human belief and divine doubt: "To believe is human; to doubt divine: Introducing Zizek's Christology." I'm really looking forward to this presentation and hope he uses Summers' artwork - it would be a powerful backdrop!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Subverting the Norm Provisional Schedule

I'm really excited about being added to the programme of speakers for Subverting the Norm: The Emerging Church, Postmodernism and the Future of Christianity, Oct 15 - 16 2010, Drury University, Springfield, Missouri, USA. My presentation, "An Emerging A/Theistic Fighting Collective? A Caputian Introduction to Žižek’s Pneumatology," is currently scheduled straight after Pete Rollins' introduction to Žižek’s Christology, so hopefully they'll be good companion pieces. One of the organisers, Phil Snider, has updated the conference website to include:

A short blurb he wrote to advertise my talk (here)

"On Friday afternoon, U.K. scholar Katharine Moody will present "An Emerging A/Theistic Fighting Collective? A Caputian Introduction to Žižek’s Pneumatology." Her expertise on the highly influential theo-philosophical discourses offered by Slavoj Žižek and John Caputo will help participants get a feel for what religious collectives might look like when informed by the respective thought of these pre-eminent postmodern theorists."

And a bio and photo (here)

"Katharine Sarah Moody is currently in that period of an early academic career that one of Slavoj Žižek's biographers refers to as 'the professional wilderness.' She gained her PhD in Religious Studies in April 2010 from Lancaster University, UK, which used an examination of how the notion of truth is conceptualised in emerging Christian discourse to assess the viability of Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology as theoretical frameworks for the emerging church milieu. She is now working on her first book, and seeking funding to further investigate how theological engagements with European philosophy might supply insights for a radical ethico-political sociality. She is particularly interested in working at the intersection of philosophical thought and the empirical study of religion to explore how contemporary theo-philosophies might be enacted in practice by religious collectives. Katharine is engaged to her partner, Sim, and together they are trying to work out how to have an "a/theistic" wedding ceremony!"

Friday, September 17, 2010

Apple 7, Subverting the Norm, Žižek, and the Holy Spirit

So I've had an interesting and exciting few days. I managed to get down to London for Apple 7, "Is the Institutional Church an Out-Moded Organisational Technology?" (which was recorded and is available for free download here). I had to buy (and, obviously, consume) a bottle of wine because of a £10 lower limit on cards and that, along with the mango vodka shots, lemon and mint warm vodka "tea" and wine I had with my meal earlier in the evening, meant that I was probably a bit embarrassing. Never mind. It was only recorded for posterity, right?

Then I got back yesterday to news that, due to incredibly generous donations from local churches in the States, I'm now able to present a paper at Subverting the Norm: The Emerging Church, Postmodernism, and the Future of Christianity conference in Missouri next month (Oct 15-16, Drury University, Springfield, Missouri), which features Jack Caputo, Pete Rollins, and Karen Ward, among others.

I'll post more details of my presentation as it gets written (!) but it'll be entitled "An Emerging A/Theistic Fighting Collective? A Caputian Introduction to Žižek’s Pneumatology." Hopefully it'll get scheduled near to Pete's "To Believe is Human, To Doubt Divine: Introducing Žižek’s Christology."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Big Tent Christianity and Subverting the Norm

Over the last few days, the Big Tent team (Philip Clayton, Justin Heinzekehr, and Tripp Fuller) has been hosting the first Big Tent Christianity event, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here's the blurb:

"Who’s coming to the conference?
"We have invited three dozen leaders on the cutting edge of “Big Tent” style ministry and theology to talk with you about issues close to their hearts: justice, theology, sexuality, the Bible, and the future of denominations. Among the speakers are:
"Philip Clayton, Brian McLaren, Shane Claibourne, Phyllis Tickle, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Bill Leonard, Keith Ward, Tripp Fuller, Gareth Higgins, Hugh Hollowell, Anthony Smith, Tim Conder, Terence Fretheim, Jo-Ann Badley, Jay Bakker, Brian Ammons, Tim King, Spencer Burke, Tom Oord, Christopher Copeland, Frank Green, Peter Rollins, Greg Boyd, Stephanie Spellers, and Ian Cron.

"Why "Big Tent Christianity"?
"Numerous battles in the past produced the large number of denominations and separate churches within American Christianity today. Some of these battles were important. But many of the old battlelines no longer speak to Christians today, especially to the youth. Indeed, our divisions are driving some folks away from the church altogether.
"In the old days revival tents were set up outside towns and cities across the South. The people of God would join together for celebration, community, and revival. The revival tent was a sign of Christian unity and Christian renewal — the ongoing and active work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
"What would happen if Christians came together from across the South to proclaim what unites us as followers of Jesus Christ and as His disciples in this modern world? Some two dozen leading Christian speakers from around the country will be assembling in Raleigh for this event. They will share with you new and innovative forms of church-based ministry and renewal — new ways of being and becoming the church. And they will inspire you with their vision for how we can speak even more powerfully in and to the world of the 21st century."

I'm hoping to be able to speak at the Subverting the Norm: The Emerging Church, Postmodernism and the Future of Christianity conference in Springfield, Missouri, next month, and will probably mention this event, so I'll be scouring the Internet for responses over the next little while. Here's a piece by Philip Clayton in The Huffington Post, "Seeking Common Ground in 'Big Tent' Christianity." I'll hopefully be talking precisely about this notion of seeking common ground.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion

I blogged a few months back about the 4th conference in the Postmodernism, Culture and Religion series at Syracuse, "The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion." Over the last few days, churchandpomo have posted the contributions to a symposium on continental philosophy of religion that were first published in Faith and Philosophy vol.6, no.9 (Oct 2009).

First, James K.A. Smith (Calvin College) wrote, "Continental Philosophy of Religion: Prescriptions for a Healthy Subdiscipline." Abstract: Over the past decade there has been a burgeoning of work in philosophy of religion that has drawn upon and been oriented by "continental" sources in philosophy—associated with figures such as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, Gilles Deleuze, and others. This is a significant development and one that should be welcomed by the community of Christian philosophers. However, in this dialogue piece I take stock of the field of "continental philosophy of religion" and suggest that the field is developing some un-healthy patterns and habits. The burden of the paper is to suggest a prescription for the future health of this important field by articulating six key practices that should characterize further scholarship in continental philosophy of religion.

Then Bruce Ellis Benson (Wheaton College) replied with, "A Response to Smith's 'Continental Philosophy of Religion'." Abstract: All of us working in continental philosophy of religion can be grateful to James K. A. Smith for his call to consider which practices will best further the "health" of the burgeoning subdiscipline of continental philosophy of religion. Given that he offers his suggestions "in the spirit of 'conversation starters,'" my response is designed to continue what I hope will be an ongoing conversation. With that goal in mind, I respond to Smith by considering not only the practicality of each suggestion but also whether adopting practices he suggests would actually improve the health of the subdiscipline.

And then Jamie responded with, "The End of Enclaves: A Reply to Benson." Abstract: In reply to Benson’s response, I agree that we should be seeking the dissolution of all enclaves in philosophy of religion—whether continental or analytic. But I continue to suggest that continental philosophy of religion bears special burdens in this respect.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Apple 7 - Institutional Church as Out-Moded Technology

Apple's next meeting is timely. Following on from the recent online debates regarding the institutional church and Kester Brewin's use of Hakim Bey's notion of "Temporary Automous Zones" (TAZ) in his book Other (I posted a list of links to these discussions in an earlier post, here), Apple 7 will ask, "Is the institutional Church an out-moded organisational technology?" The evening will revolve around a panel discussion by Jonny Baker, Maggi Dawn, Ian Mobsby and Kester, at The Betsey Trotswood, Farringdon Road, London on Wednesday Sep 15 at 7.30pm. Here's some blurb:

"In the light of the scandals surrounding the Catholic church, and the decline in church attendance over the past decades, has the classic model of the institution had its day?

"Is institutional Christianity an outmoded organisational technology – slow, heavy-weight and rigid – and are there new, more light-weight and adaptable ‘skins’ that provide a more flexible and adaptable service… or is the move towards a more fluid, ‘TAZ’ Christianity no more than a flash(mob) in the pan, lacking substance or ground for genuine action?"

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Liturgical Turn

I'm going to try and apply for a three week seminar series next summer with James K.A. Smith at Calvin College. It's called "From Worldview to Worship: The Liturgical Turn in Cultural Theory" and stems from Smith's interest in "arguing for the importance of practices, and particularly liturgical practices, as the "site" or "topic" of philosophy of religion," with which I completely agree. Not only do I also want to be working at the intersection of theo-philosophy and the empirical study of religion, but it would be great to meet Jamie, whose work I used in my PhD thesis, as well as to experience American postgraduate culture.

Here's the seminar description:

""Religion" has received increased attention from both social scientists and journalists over the past decade. But the phenomenon of religion has also been reconceived: rather than focusing simply on beliefs and doctrines, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers of religion are increasingly attentive to the role of practice and ritual as fundamental to religious identity. So rather than merely distilling the "worldview" of religious communities, scholars exegete the understanding implicit in worship practices. Thus one could speak of something like a "liturgical turn" in "cultural theory" –an appreciation for the formative role of cultural practices in constituting communities of meaning. This can be seen in the philosophical work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor; the social theory of Pierre Bourdieu and Christian Smith; research in social psychology as seen in the work of Timothy D. Wilson and John A. Bargh; and the theological developments in the work of Stanley Hauerwas, Graham Ward, and Craig Dykstra. This has important implications both for the study of religion, including Christianity, as well as for critical reflection on faithful religious practice."