Tag Archives: postmodern theology

Beyond Belief: Postmodernity & Religion

As I have read more writing on postmodernism I have begun to question many of the assumptions that I have learned throughout my education career. Recently, I have begun to question my own belief about the study of religion. Specifically, through reading Anderson’s piece on postmodernism and religion I question my previous notions of what categorizes religion. I attended TCU as an undergraduate and religion was one of my majors. I chose religion as my major because I wanted to have an objective understanding of religion before deciding how committed I wanted to be in making ministry part of my career. My undergraduate career culminated with a senior seminar course in religion. Throughout this course we discussed various definitions of religion from Thomas Tweed, Fredrich Schleiermacher, Diane Eck, Anthony Pinn, and a variety of others who articulated various definitions of religion. I noticed at that time that many of those scholars were focused on objective views of religion. For me religion has always been something that a person feels. It is an internal conviction with various outward expressions that cannot be quantified. I chose to attend Brite and seminary in general as an attempt to formulate my own subjective ideology about religion. It is from this that I have come to understand religion as beyond traditional notions of belief. From understanding religion in a postmodern context I have come to several realizations.

I have wondered how the Judaeo-Christian context as well as the Western context of religion has influenced scholarship in the field of religious studies. Does Christianity continue to determine the central and privileged norms in global debates about culturally specific ritual practices, localized beliefs on suffering, life, death, and immortality? Certainly not all but there are definitely a great number of religious scholarships that dwells on religious aspects of life, death, and the afterlife. These tools for sifting through various religious beliefs are a decidedly modern Western Christian centric enterprise. Western Christianity’s fascination with the life death and resurrection narrative can taint the way other religion are viewed. For example, it is easy to study religions such as Buddhism and the concept of atman is often viewed as having the “no soul.” The term denotes detachment from a permanent sense of self. However, this is a Western Christian view of atman. The concept of Atman can also be used to describe universal impermanence as opposed to personal impermanence. Universal impermanence means that there are no absolutes. This view of atman allows for more religious plurality and does not confine religious constructs to monolithic interpretations.

I have also questioned to notion of belief as the decisive epistemological term with respect to defining religion. Religion can be easily defined based on the practices and beliefs that a pertinent to a particular group of people. For example, Ninian Smart uses a worldview analysis to describe various dimensions of religious beliefs. According to him there are seven different dimension: doctrinal, mythological, ritual, ethical, experiential, institutional, and the material. Ironically enough he uses these dimensions as a platform to get away from both Western and Christian quantifications on the study of comparative religions. His 1998 addition of the material dimension is proof of the arbitrary nature dimensional analysis. He limits the definition of religion to specific functions of a belief system with all seven aspects as important Western construction emphasis on how to compare religions. For me as I think of religion a major aspect of it that is that Smart misses is the ineffability of religion. What would Smart make of the various views on religion that are not expressed through a particular dimension? Not all aspect of a religion fit neatly into a particular category nor are they articulated as such from various worldviews.

Lastly, I have begun question the need for justification as a part of religious studies. Much of religious studies has focused on an obsession with the justification of a particular faith. Reason as the primary factor to appeal or analyze a particular religious concern seems to be another Western Christian tradition. A major part of early Christianity was the need for apologetics. During the first centuries of the Roman Empire, the early Christians were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Many charges were brought against them for their seemingly absurd beliefs. Thus it became necessary for survival to depend on a proverbial defense of ones’ faith. This logic to justify faith has carried over into the present and many describe religion using apologetic even if they do so by using a different name. Reason becomes the principle point for analysis. I prefer to think of religion not based on how a faith is justified through reason but how it is experienced by both the individual and the community. Religion through experience for me is a pivotal turning point for the discourse of religion. The chief concern for me related to religion is not the question what do you believe rather it is how is it lived.

Can The Subaltern Blog? Part 3: On "Invitations" And Safe Spaces

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can the subaltern blog? Part 1: Institutional Sexism & the Biblioblogs (from 2009)

Can The Subaltern Blog Part 2: Theology Studio And The Rhetoric Of Gender Dialogue (from last December 2012)

After last week’s conversation on race and emergence Christianity had died down somewhat, Tony Jones went back to work with an invitation to Christian feminists and womanists to submit entries (accepted by a small group of people without Jones) to be posted on Theoblogy, without comment or moderation from Jones himself. A few questions have come up: Is TheoBlogy really a safe place for dissenting voices? (I don’t even know if PJ is a safe place for others sometimes, but its my and the other authors’ safe space so there!). Why was this particular invitation given by a person who has derided womanists and feminists as angry, emotional, unreasonable (to the point of not meeting him face to face for “reconciliation”), and too dedicated to identity politics to validly critique his “incarnational” theology.

A more important question that we should be asking, like Caryn Riswald did yesterday; by the way, please read her post, A Blog Of Our Own. Why should womanist and feminist Christians be concerned to “teaching” Jones and his audience what they are doing wrong? Why is this their responsibility, their burden to bear? Why should the experience of Jones and his audience be placed at the center? Isn’t that the problem to begin with?

The problem I brought up in my previous two parts, “Can The Subaltern Blog?,” is the question of power and gender relations, and marginalization of women in the real world in seminaries and Bible colleges.

From Christianity Today, The Seminary Gender Gap:

“Perhaps the lack of job prospects is a deterrent: Why pay the tuition if you are not guaranteed a job afterwards? Or perhaps it is a matter of theology since some traditions discourage women from the pastorate on biblical grounds. Still, other churches support the idea of female leaders in principle, but simply fail to take the steps necessary to cultivate women’s gifts.

Combined, these factors produce a persistent minority of female, evangelical seminarians with a rather tumultuous seminary experience. Evangelical women who discern a call to seminary often find themselves without much community and without many resources. Whether or not they are seeking ordination, women report feeling ostracized by male classmates.”

The quest for safe spaces for women and racial minorities to work out their own faith journeys online is important. As one person on twitter pointed out, with one fewer moderater (the author), it would be open season on feminists and womanists whose articles were accepted by Jones’ “committee.” From what I have seen and read, Jones’ supporters use ad hom attacks themselves on the blogs of his critics. So, yeah, the lack of a safe space is a pressing issue.

I have two examples of constructive actions that Tony Jones and whoever else is interested in seeing things from “the Other’s” perspective: it starts with reading books by people who do not look or think like you do. Reading is just the first step, the second step is something my friend J.K. Gayle calls “rhetorical listening,” actually hearing out “the Other’s” argument and maybe engaging in some self-criticism. This part of listening happens when we let other voices than our own define themselves, and maybe even re-define you in the position that you see yourself. For an example of this, see J.K.’s reflections on racial gazes and rhetoric: About Biblioblogging…?: Jacqueline Jones Royster’s voices.

The other example is my friend James Bradford Pate, who regularly reads and blogs on books about controversial issues, even by authors he does not agree with. Like last year, he did series during Women’s History Month and Black History Month. James uses rhetorical listening to give authors who may not look like him a fair hearing. Both JK and James regularly blog about religion, race, gender, and politics. In both instances, these white men did the hard work themselves and were changed for the better. The oft-quoted, oft-attributed quote from Ghandi, “You are the change you seek” comes to mind.

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Listening.

“Black theology opens up for the theology of the whites the unique chance to free itself from the constitutional blindness of white society, and to become Christian theology. If we listen seriously to the stories of blacks, if we try to understand black theology, we begin to see ourselves and our own history through the eyes of the people who have suffered and are still suffering under our culture and our church. The person who has incurred guilt can no doubt admit his guilt, but only his victims know what suffering his injustice has caused. So we only become free of our own blindness if we see ourselves through the eyes of our victims and identify and identify with them, because it was with them that the Son of Man already identified himself (Matthew 25). White Christians should not, one day, have to ask unsuspectingly, ‘Lord, when did we see you black?’ Christ lies before their door as a black. Black theology makes our own task clear in the struggle against the evils of racism, which oppress both the victims and the perpetrators, even if in different ways.

But people who are personally involved with black theology are also asking whether to describe blacks only as victims of the ruling whites does not fixate them on the whites in a way that has negative consequences. Black people in America are more than merely descendents of the black slaves. They have also brought into America their own culture and their own forms of religion. So whenever black people in America remember who they are, this brings to the surface their rich culture, even though in many cases it has been suppressed.”

– Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences In Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology

I thought I would just share a random Moltmann quote on race and theology, you know, JUST RANDOMLY! 😉 😉