Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Troeltschian pessimism on the state of theological work

I read through Troeltsch's little essay "My Books" tonight, and was struck by some comments he made concerning the discipline of theology during the course of his life,
...at that time the state of theology seemed to demand such great synthetic undertakings rather than the more circumscribed work of the specialists.  In this respect, too, theology was then one of the most interesting of disciplines.  Here more than in other fields, general scholarship continued to be cultivated; although it had to be looked for, one could at least find it.  Since then, the situation in theology has changed.  Theology today is only interested in practical matters and has abandoned the historical and systematic study of religion in the struggle for its own survival.  Such theology interests me only in terms of social psychology and history.  (Religion in History, 368)
I've been thinking a bit lately about the common assertion that there simply aren't very many good theologians in the U.S. these days (readers from other countries may hear similar narratives of decline, I'm not sure).  Troeltsch here seems to be lamenting an analogous lack of vitality, so his thoughts on what sort of change was going on in the style of theological scholarship might be worth considering.

I'll state up front that I'm not convinced (or at least not overly impressed) by cries of a waning in theological work.  I understand why the point is made; I agree that standards of excellence can be pretty unimpressive and that there is a lot of fluff passing as real work.  But I'm not sure if this is unique to our own time and place, and more importantly, I'm not sure it's really even a useful picture of current theological work.  It's my intention to write a longer post offering some reasons why I think people fall into this sort of pessimism (and what is actually useful about such pessimism, and what is simply unjustified), but when I came across this quote I thought I'd introduce the problem in a more open-ended manner, as a sort of preface.  Troeltsch identifies some specifics... like a shift from "great synthetic undertakings" to "practical matters" and a lack of "historical and systematic study".  There's also a suggestion that these changes have something to do with a struggle for survival, which may be worth considering with regard to its plausibility as an explanation for theology's current status amongst the disciplines.

Another quote from the essay worth considering:
The so-called systems of modern authors are means to understand their actual main works, which are directed to particular themes; they are instruments of control for themselves and others.  It goes without saying that outstanding, brilliant, and instructive materials are to be found among them.  But there is nothing remotely resembling the great systems of antiquity or of the seventeenth, the end of the eighteenth, and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.  In this sense, everything that we do today is the work of followers (Epigonenwerk), even if it is not dead and superfluous.  (377)
The point seems straightforward enough.  Is it true for our own day?  If it is, is this necessarily a problem in current work?  Is theology more appropriately a systematic project, or a commentative one?  Does one of these in particular make for greatness of work?

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Issue of the Wesleyan Theological Journal

 

Wesleyan Theological Journal 45.1 (2010) is out.  Especially worth noting is Bruce McCormack's article, "Why Should Theology Be Christocentric?  Christology and Metaphysics in Paul Tillich and Karl Barth" (pp. 42-80) and Nathan Crawford's article, "Pursuing an Ontology of Attunement Through St. Augustine's Christology" (pp. 179-196).

Also, be on the look out for Nathan's forthcoming article in Pro Ecclesia, "The Sapiential Structure of St. Augustine's De Trinitate".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Halden Doerge completely worthless in every way imaginable?

...of course not.  But sometimes I scratch my head and wonder what he's thinking.

I hesitate to dive into blog politics like this, especially after Brad of Resident Theology was so recently kind enough to say that I'm a levelheaded guy.  But taking a stab at this is, I think, worthwhile.

In his recent post "Why Novak is Completely Worthless in Every Way Imaginable", Halden follows Daniel Larison in criticizing a piece from First Things, where Michael Novak seeks to open up dialogue about sanctions and the possibility of eventual war against Iran. Novak appeals to Niebuhr and some vaguely Zionist ideas in making his point, and Halden is concerned about this as contrary to Christian teaching, to the Sermon on the Mount in particular, etc. etc.

I'm not interested in arguing with Halden on the merits of Novak's case.  On the one hand, my initial sense from reading the First Things piece was that it was a bit overly paranoid and probably not adequate as a Christian ethical proposal, either concerning Israel or war with any other country.  On the other hand, I haven't really read any of Novak's work, so any very substantial response to it should probably be left to someone else.

Setting that aside, then, let me explain my personal perspective on the man.

Michael Novak is now retired (or semi-retired) on the coast of Delaware just between the ocean and the bay, and next-door to my grandparents.  I've never met him, but my grandparents will have dinner with him every once in a while.  They've actually given copies of my articles to him, and Novak apparently thought well of my Augustine paper and sent it to some friends at Ave Maria University (after which I had quite a time explaining to my sweet yet oblivious grandmother why, "No, in fact I don't think the Ave Maria folks would be very interested in having me as a doctoral student.").  Two years ago my grandparents gave me a signed copy of Novak's No One Sees God for Christmas.  I think it's still sitting on a shelf in Virginia at this point, although it will probably get read sooner or later.

During a Thanksgiving visit this past autumn that included a stop in Delaware, Novak again came up in conversation.  Apparently he had a lot to do these days, putting things in order.  Was it for an upcoming neo-conservative conference?  For a warmongering book?  If he did have any such plans, he was now more busy attending to family affairs following the August death of Karen, his wife of 46 years. I knew that she had been struggling with cancer for a while, and from what I understand this wasn't a complete surprise. He still writes poems to her, and publishes them at First Things. Those don't usually make it to Inhabitatio Dei.

We can be thankful, I suppose, that on the day of her passing Halden happened to be criticizing Mark Driscoll and John Piper rather than Michael Novak.  It would have been a little tacky in retrospect if the new widower had been the one to raise his ire on August 12th.

I don't say this as a cheap and sentimental shot against Halden's criticisms.  Michael Novak (and Mark Driscoll, and John Piper, and everyone else who receives similar treatment from Halden) put themselves out there, and express quite bold views without so much as a blush.  They're obviously thereby exposing themselves to criticism, and I'm happy for them to take it... and they can, just fine.  John Milbank receives the same treatment from certain bloggers (and certain bloggers receive similar treatment from him in return).  Amidst all of this is a good deal of worthwhile critique, and an even larger amount of stupidity.  But the point is that it's public argument, and far be it from me to dismiss the value of such interaction.

What strikes me as unwise is to so readily talk about someone as a "sub-Christian joke".  I take it that the intended genre of such accusations is somehow prophetic, and there are clearly reasons offered for coming to such a conclusion.  But I simply don't understand what the rhetorical need is for going about things this way.  Further (and more importantly), I can plausibly imagine some real harm that might be done by it.

I was within one hundred feet of the man this past autumn in Delaware.  Should I have knocked on his door and offered a witness to him that he was worthless in every way imaginable (citing the Sermon on the Mount as my prooftext, of course)?  Or should I have kept such truth-telling within the community of the non-worthless, and perhaps simply warned my grandparents that their neighbor was a sub-Christian joke?  Or should I have followed Halden, concluding that the best course of action is to speak this way about people within one's role as a blogger, where subscribers to one's posted thoughts can discuss these important issues more comfortably from their desk or wherever they happen to be using their laptop?

As I said, I don't claim to know much about Michael Novak, and I'm not interested in arguing with Halden about the merits of his First Things piece.  I hope that this string of anecdotes makes it clear exactly why I tend to be concerned by these sorts of blog posts (as opposed to critiques more generally), and why I don't usually think it's worth taking part in the comment section.  My advice to folks who are interested in blogging about theology would be, frankly, to not blog like Halden often does.  I think it's a mistake to do so, and that it can foster a stunted ability to interact with other people.

Historical note on histories of the self

Jan Goldstein's The Post-Revolutionary Self: politics and psyche in France, 1750-1850 considers the influence of sensationalist psychology through thinkers like Condillac and the rise of the Cousinian moi as a more stabilizing alternative for post-revolutionary French thought.  In her introduction, Goldstein notes where she differs from Charles Taylor and Jacques Derrida, and how her investigation might offer greater nuance to our understanding.  Snippets from pp. 15-17:
"What I have called the horizontal fragmentation of the self occurred in early modern Europe when Descartes' picture of the human mind- an immaterial, indivisible, and ever-present thinking substance- gave way to the additive, biologically based Lockean picture.  Hence, in its a priori holism, the Cousinian moi restored essential features of its Cartesian predecessor. [...] The story I tell here, in other words, turns on the distinction between Descartes and Locke [...]

"In his Sources of the Self, whose canvas covers the more than two millennia from Plato through Derrida, Taylor makes no such distinction.  He depicts the modern Western self as triply characterized by an inwardness, or sense of having inner depths, that began its career with Augustine; [...] Descartes and Locke made the next significant contributions to Western inwardness.  At more than a thousand years' remove from Augustine but a mere fifty years' remove from each other, they participated in a common project that Taylor calls disengagement [...]

"That Taylor has presented a striking narrative must be granted.  But the very broad sweep of that narrative almost ensures the existence of valid subnarratives that fall within its chronological scope and go against its grain.  One such subnarrative, completely effaced by Taylor but well documented in this book, is the concern about a specific quality of psychological inwardness: whether the inner space that is inhabited enjoys a structural unity that can ground a reliably coherent self or is so fragmented and diffuse as to preclude that outcome."
She goes on to clarify a distance from certain post-modern accounts:
"Post-modern theorists of a Derridean stripe have typically portrayed the Western subject as monolithically logocentric- that is, as a unified "presence" serving a foundational function- all the way from Plato to Derrida.  According to their account, the possibility that this reassuringly stable entity might be illusory dawned on Western thinkers only in the late twentieth century.  The account of the Cousinian project that I offer in this book casts doubt on this postmodern tenet.  It shows that anxious awareness of the potential disintegration of the subject was a central fact of early-nineteenth century French intellectual life and describes deliberate political efforts to ward off that eventuality as early as the 1830s.  It suggests that the conceptions of selfhood embedded in Western philosophy are considerably more variegated than the post-modernists allow."
 All of this has its place in current theological discourse.  My sense is that most criticism of various narratives of the modern self have surfaced in relation to where and how Augustine falls into the narrative, and perhaps not so much in the sort of regional intellectual history that Goldstein offers here.  Furthermore (and this is a posture toward which I am continually struggling to adjust myself as I attend her seminar), Goldstein is primarily concerned with “institutional knowledge transfer” rather than with abstracted intellectual developments.  Shifts in curriculum are then more pertinent to her than the scoreboard of philosophical arguments themselves.

Sweeping narratives of the sort that Taylor offers don't need to be dismissed by historical qualifiers (although at times this might actually be necessary), but theologians would do well to note that such an approach "almost ensures the existence of valid subnarratives that fall within its chronological scope and go against its grain."  I would love to see more footnote sections engaging with works like The Post-Revolutionary Self to offer a more textured account of intellectual history, one less committed to any easily identifiable stream of total progress or regress.

There is, of course, a need for synthesis and closure at some point.  But Goldstein notes that her points are "completely effaced by Taylor".  What concerns me is that the helpfully synthetic works like Taylor's often stand in as our tutor in history... when this is the case, students of Sources of the Self haven't made their own choice of "effacing" certain details for the sake of synthesis.  Rather, they've encountered Taylor as history, and therefore lack an encounter with contradicting details that would have allowed them to knowingly "efface" or "include" as they contribute their own narratives.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rowan Williams-- "there are no quick solutions for the wounds of the body of Christ"

For many who embrace the theological work of Rowan Williams but are not embroiled in current disputes of the Anglican Communion, his approach is gracefully profound; there is simply a spirit to it which gives a fitting voice to the work that the Spirit is doing in the churches.  I don't want to say that this is simply a facade... it isn't.  But the day-to-day work of Christians towards unity and mission in Williams' own communion reveals the less elegant terms upon which we encounter the life of the Church.  With this lack of elegance, disagreement, and at times division, I worry that onlookers unhelpfully idealize what ecclesial deliberation should be on the basis of various poetic ecclesiological writings, and perhaps reject what is on the basis of the fact that it doesn't look so poetic.  

Rowan Williams has offered a statement to the fourth Global South to South Encounter, now going on in Singapore. The headline from ACNS quotes from Williams, saying "There are no quick solutions for the wounds of the body of Christ."

This section of the address does seem to be the heart of his point:
"But I hope also in your thinking about [the election and consecration of Glasspool] and in your reacting to it, you’ll bear in mind that there are no quick solutions for the wounds of the Body of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit that heals the Body of Christ, not the plans or the statements of any group, or any person, or any instrument of communion. Naturally we seek to minimize the damage, to heal the hurts, to strengthen our mission, to make sure that it goes forward with integrity and conviction. Naturally, there are decisions that have to be taken. But at the same time we must all...share in a sense of repentance and willingness to be renewed by the Spirit."
Just following this caution against "quick solutions", however, Williams recognizes that this is not what has been going on in the work of the Anglican Global South:
"So while the tensions and the crises of our Anglican Communion will of course be in your minds as they are in mine, I know from what you have written, what you have communicated about your plans and hopes for this conference, that you will allow the Holy Spirit to lift your eyes to that broader horizon of God’s purpose for us as Anglicans, for us as Christians, and indeed for us as human beings."
Too often I think that the term "reactionary" has been attached to Anglicans who have pushed for reform in Communion offices or broken from various provinces, and Williams seems worried about this as well.  Those of us who are a part of these churches are also familiar with accusations of "schism" that we have supposedly instigated.  While the warnings should be received with thankfulness rather than bitterness, it's also incumbent upon all to follow the charity of Williams' remarks and listen to the Global South provinces and those to whom they are ministering.

I find it difficult to reconcile the work that has gone on over the past few decades with "quick solutions" of the sort that Williams warns.  Consider Archbishop Orombi, usually recognized as outspoken in a way comparable to Akinola, and his explanation of why he has not attended the Joint Standing Committee meetings since 2007.  As Williams recommends the Covenant for consideration by the South to South Encounter, Orombi points out how Canterbury, Windsor, the ACC, etc. have moved from one structure to another with little regard for previous decisions or the witness of the churches.  Williams continues to call for us to listen and deliberate, but our protests against this are not primarily that such a process is too slow or too indecisive.  Rather, the problem is that disorder reigns at the moment... that one thing can be said today and another thing tomorrow, and that there is no basis upon which to trust those in power in the Anglican Communion.  Things are not moving too slowly and too deliberately, but rather too quickly and too decisively... and without charity.  Plodding deliberation is fine, as long as it is honest and receptive to the Spirit.  This is not what is often going on in the Communion, however.  And this is why certain churches, dioceses, and provinces have separated themselves from their brothers and sisters, have offered statements of judgment, or have objected to certain decisions that are being made.  The problems that Orombi raises are at the heart of my own article on ecclesiastical reform in the Church of Nigeria, "Instruments of Faith and Unity in Canon Law".  Rarely, if at all, have I seen these objections addressed by Williams or anyone else who holds authority.  We are open to listening, and we have.  But how can we feel welcome in a Communion where our straightforward concerns about the Windsor process or the Covenant process are simply left unrecognized?  These are not calls for a radical or reactionary disruption of Anglican life that are being made.  The disruption is already present.

The current dispute within the Anglican Communion is too often described with the vocabulary of simplistic culture wars, and on the basis of unhelpful stereotypes.  Those who are concerned for the unity of the Church would do well to heed Williams' words to the Anglicans of the Global South (here, at least... his actions at various points may be a different story), and pay attention to,

"what you have written, what you have communicated about your plans and hopes [...], that you will allow the Holy Spirit to lift your eyes to that broader horizon of God’s purpose for us as Anglicans".

Our concern is not a "quick solution", but rather that the work of the Holy Spirit be done in the Church in all unity and charity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A few items...

    • A friend pointed out to me that the whole Wheaton Theology Conference of last weekend is in fact recorded and available at the WETN website.
    • Gard Granerød has just published Abraham and Melchizedek with De Gruyter.  I used Granerød's recent article "Melchizedek in Hebrews 7" (Biblica 90.2 [2009], pp. 188-202) for some of my own research, and so recognized his name when the volume passed by my desk the other day. This study is concerned with Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 rather than with the New Testament witness.

      Sunday, April 18, 2010

      Working paper on the 1920-21 depression

      Some of you may be vaguely aware of my twin brother Daniel, who will periodically comment here on the blog.  Daniel is a research associate at the Urban Institute in D.C., and has done work on topics ranging from child welfare to unemployment insurance.  Right now he's in the midst of a few personal projects that hit closer to some of his major interests in economics.  One of these is now up at SSRN, and I wanted to mention it for those of you who might be interested and have the expertise to offer your thoughts on the paper.  I've given it a read-through and offered some edits, but the more technical aspects of the work are way out of my depths.  I thought perhaps that some readers of this blog interested in economic issues may be better suited for the job.

      One of Daniel's interests in the history of economics has been to engage with Austrian thought from a Keynesian perspective.  This stuff offers some really wonderful charitable readings across boundaries that are normally left untraversed by either side.  Below is the abstract.  If you do have any thoughts on the draft, Daniel would appreciate it if you email him with your comments.


      A Critique of the Austrian School Interpretation of the 1920-21 Depression

      A series of recent reviews of the depression of 1920-21 by Austrian School and libertarian economists have argued that the downturn demonstrates the poverty of Keynesian policy recommendations. However, these writers misrepresent important characteristics of the 1920-21 downturn, understating the actions of the Federal Reserve and overestimating the relevance of the Harding administration’s fiscal policy. They also engage a caricatured version of Keynesian theory and policy, which ignores Keynes’s views on the efficacy of nominal wage reductions and the preconditions for monetary and fiscal intervention. This paper argues that the government’s response to the 1920-21 depression was consistent with Keynesian recommendations. It offers suggestions for when Austrian School and Keynesian economics share common ground, and argues that the two schools come into conflict primarily in downturns where nominal interest rates are low and demand is depressed. Neither of these conditions held true in the 1920-21 depression.

      Wednesday, April 14, 2010

      N.T. Wright Conference later this week...


      Many probably already know of the 2010 Theology Conference starting later this week at Wheaton, which will discuss the work of N.T. Wright.  And given how big this event is going to be compared to some of our other conferences, many of you might even be attending.  My general practice for our yearly conferences has been to entertain every good intention of making it to most of the sessions, and then only actually making it down to one or two of them, if that.  I can't imagine it will be different this year, especially given that the place will probably be a circus with all of you academic tourists clogging the hallways and slowing down the buffet lines at the cafeteria.  At the very least, I'll be making it for the book discounts from Eerdmans and Baker.

      Do let me know if you'll be on campus, and I'll look out for you to say hello.  We could also maybe pull together some folks for coffee or lunch if there's any interest.  I was initially thinking about opening up our apartment for dinner to people, but I don't think we're up to that this week.

      For those of you who will not make it to the conference, the keynote lecture will apparently broadcast live on our college radio station WETN.  I'm not sure whether you'll be able to hear the other lectures, but you can at least catch Wright himself.

      Monday, April 12, 2010

      The Augustinian Moment: Reflection at the Limits of Selfhood

      The Divinity School  will be holding a one-day conference on Augustine, just before the NAPS meeting this May.  If you're in town it would be worth your time to stop by.  The event is free and open to the public, but make sure to register.  Following are the speakers:

      Introduction: Willemien Otten, University of Chicago
      Brian Stock, University of Toronto: “Philosophical Soliloquies and Narrative Thinking in Augustine’s Early Dialogues”
      Burcht Pranger, University of Amsterdam: “Augustine and the Silence of the Sirens”
      James Wetzel, Villanova University: “Life in Unlikeness: The Materiality of Augustine’s Conversion” 
      Jean-Luc Marion, University of Chicago: “Augustine and the Approach to the Self”


      The conference details also mention in passing that Marion's 2009 book should already be translated at some point in 2010.

      Sunday, April 11, 2010

      Thursday, April 8, 2010

      A few items from journals...

      • Gerald O'Collins has a review article in the latest issue of Irish Theological Quarterly on the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology.  In much the same vein as some recent reviews of work in analytic theology, O'Collins discusses the relationship and divide between theology and philosophy, as well as bridges that are surfacing in new work.  O'Collins speaks in particular from his own work in fundamental theology, and paints a more extensive picture of the situation from Macquarrie, Flew, and MacIntyre to the present.
      •  In the current issue of St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Pantelis Kalaitzidis has an article considering some important current trends in Eastern Orthodox theology, "From the 'Return of the Fathers' to the Need for a Modern Orthodox Theology" (54 [2010], pp. 5-36).  In it he discusses the neo-patristic synthesis of Florovsky and others, which so dominated 20th century Orthodox theology.  While acknowledging the importance of this movement, Kalaitzidis points out a number of dangers that surfaced as a result, and calls for renewed attention to the development of Orthodox theology within the modern context, drawing from contextual theologies and other sources.  A shorter version of this article was presented by Kalaitzidis in 2008, and can be found in full here.  In the original address, Kalaitzidis focuses much more on the work of specific institutions, such as the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, where he is the director. 

        Monday, April 5, 2010

        The Crisis of Jason Stanley... thoughts on philosophy

        Jason Stanley of Rutgers has a lament published in IHE on "The Crisis of Philosophy".  It's similar to many of the other articles you've probably read already about the sorry state of the humanities, and the lack of respect that philosophy receives in particular.  You'll probably see it re-posted by Leiter soon enough.

        I'll preface by saying that I'm trying my darnedest to sympathize with, learn from, and interact with philosophers.  I don't approach this article or those like it with any sense that philosophy is irrelevant for or in some sort of basic contradiction with theological work.  It's also worth noting that many philosophers do not share the views of Stanley and feel quite at home in the current state of the conversation with their disciplinary neighbors in the humanities.  No sweeping statements about "philosophers" are intended, then. What I'm taking issue with is one philosopher's characterization of the situation concerning philosophy amongst the disciplines.

        Stanley starts off by retelling a story that was cycled through Leiter last year, about the fact that a recent ACLS fellowship program included no recipients trained in philosophy.  Later on in the article he notes that only six philosophers have won the MacArthur Fellowship compared to 17 in American history... and he describes these philosopher winners as "an odd group".  If Stanley wants to write off Rorty, Churchland, Cavell, and others in this way in order to make his point, then I don't know exactly where to begin.  This seems to be simply a petty complaint against certain schools of thought within his discipline.  In contrast, there are no theologians on the list of MacArthur fellows, and while I don't know where a list of the ACLS fellows can be found, I'd wager that there aren't any theologians on that list, either.  I don't bring this up to announce my own "crisis of theology" (although we theologians do often give in to the temptation of touting our marginalization).  The point is that it hardly seems objective to bring up two prestigious fellowships where there happens to be few or no winners from a certain discipline, and mock that up as if it's a sign of the times. 

        Stanley goes on,
        Most American humanists are unclear about how the debates of philosophers are supposed to fit into the overall project of the humanities. We are ignored at dinner parties, and considered arrogant and perhaps uncouth. To add insult to injury, the name of our profession is liberally bestowed on those teaching in completely different departments. 
         I'm not sure whether he's here referring to "philosophers of X" strewn throughout different humanities departments, or the actual "PhD" degree itself... either way, though, this strikes me as an unfortunate lack of clarity about what philosophy actually is.  Peruse any number of philosophy department websites that attempt to offer a description:

        "In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. As an academic discipline philosophy is much the same. Those who study philosophy are perpetually engaged in asking, answering, and arguing for their answers to life’s most basic questions."  (Florida State)

        "Philosophy, like all other fields, is unique. But the uniqueness of philosophy seems more impressive. Whereas historians, physicists, etc., generally agree about what constitutes their proper field of study, philosophers do not. Some philosophers have even maintained that there is no proper field of study for philosophers.  This extreme position fortunately is not held by too many philosophers, but it illustrates perhaps the most distinctive feature of philosophy, namely that it leaves nothing unquestioned."(Bernard Gert, Dartmouth)

        "For me, philosophy is defined by a goal and a method. Philosophy's goal is nothing less than a systematic world view. Other fields study particular kinds of things. Philosophy asks how it all fits together. [...] The method of conceptual analysis might sometimes seem picky, but unclarity or imprecision in our concepts is often what leads us into paradoxes and incoherence in our world views. That is why the philosophical goal of a coherent overall world view makes philosophers adopt the method of conceptual analysis." (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth)

        Most of these attempts at description boil down to a general sense that philosophy questions everything.  A lot.  Very rigorouslyBut this is simply a standard of scholarly excellence, not a definition of a field of study.  Given this sort of definition, it's no wonder-- and not a problem!--  that professors in other disciplines are awarded doctorates "of philosophy" and teach in the "philosophy of" various inquiries.  Yet Stanley sees this as adding "insult to injury" rather than as a natural outworking of common conceptions of philosophy articulated by philosophers themselves.  In light of some of these definitional options, I'm pleased that the University of Chicago philosophy department opts for a situating of themselves against various institutional frictions.  This seems much more helpful, and avoids the grandiosity that inevitably leads to disappointment in others:
        "There are three characteristic sorts of disciplinary divisions that tend to leave a philosophy department in a condition in which its whole becomes less than the sum of its parts: (1) between those who are concerned with the systemic study of issues in contemporary philosophy and those who are concerned with the interpretation of classic historical figures and texts, (2) between specialists in theoretical philosophy and specialists in practical philosophy, and (3) between those who take their problems, methods, and overall orientation from the analytic tradition and those who take theirs from the Continental tradition. The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is distinctive in its freedom from all three such forms of division within its philosophical community."

         Back to Stanley.  There are some interesting sections of the piece that opine about philosophy's role in both establishing modernity and writing itself out of the narrative once modernity had arrived.  There's also a response to typical maligning of logical positivism as what has ruined philosophy more recently.  I'll pass over these for the historian of philosophy to consider.  In the midst of all this he discusses the fact that philosophical work is foreign to many humanists because they are interested in other cultural productions:
        "Like the fiction writer or the artist, and unlike her fellow humanists, the philosopher is focused on creating her own body of work, ideally a novel attempt at a solution to the on-going philosophical problems. But unlike the fiction writer or the artist, there is hardly an audience anymore for philosophy outside of the academy. Few bankers care to hear about the latest views on rational agency or vagueness. Humanists are used to studying cultural works created outside the academy for audiences outside the academy. Philosophical work is cultural creation formed inside the academy for an audience that is now largely inside the academy."

         Stanley seems not to be able to make up his mind.  If "fellow humanists" are apparently receiving prestigious ACLS and MacArthur fellowships left and right for work written in the academy for the academy (unlike the "fiction writer or the artist" about whom they write... although Stanley earlier seems to contradict this distinction: "many humanists are members of the communities they seek to understand"), then why is it a problem that the philosopher's only audience is the academy?  Who cares whether bankers read philosophy?  Is Stanley trying to imply that they do, in contrast, read anthropology or literary criticism?  Or are we now engaged in a double-front war whereby the crisis of philosophy is both 1) not being respected as a humanities discipline and 2) not being read by anyone except professional scholars in humanities disciplines?  But apparently philosophy is not being read by humanist scholars, as Stanley clearly says elsewhere, "The activity of philosophy is also foreign to many American humanists" ... "philosophy has become estranged from the humanities" ... "A typical humanist might be somewhat interested in the philosophical views of a certain group, but is probably more interested in the identity that results."  For a discipline that prides itself on clarity and rigor, it's difficult to make heads or tails of all this.

        And are we really to believe that humanists do not incorporate the work of philosophers on a large scale?  Certainly other humanists aren't philosophers, and so Stanley shouldn't expect them to keep up with the philosophical literature to the extent that he does.  But it's highly debatable whether he's correct about the fact that we aren't reading philosophy.  On the other hand, Stanley readily volunteers, "The great philosophical works have always been difficult technical tomes, pursuing arcane arguments in the service of grand metaphysical and epistemological conclusions. None are easy reading for laypersons, and few base their arguments on anthropology or sociology."  Why, then, should he expect sociologists or anthropologists to be impressed by his call for more incorporation of philosophy into the wider humanities disciplines?  And while it is often true that theologians read philosophers through overly apologetic intentions, what's striking is that we actually read them, and quite a bit.  Many philosophers also read theology, to be sure, but Stanley seems uninterested in incorporating these voices into his idea of what a philosophical discipline should be.

        He also often shoots down all of those philosophers who are often read by other humanities scholars (e.g., Zizek, Nietzsche) as if they were philosophical aberrations.  It's not my place to dispute with Stanley concerning the normativities of philosophical inquiry and who counts as an oddball... I'll leave that for philosophers to decide.  But one would think that, in arguing for increased attention to the work of philosophers, he wouldn't so brazenly shoot himself in the foot by disowning every single example of non-philosophers reading philosophers that he sees fit to acknowledge.  It's embarrassingly awkward how disputes between philosophers are projected onto an interdisciplinary question here, so that other humanities scholars are in effect exhorted not simply to show more respect to philosophy, but rather to show respect for the right kind of philosophy, which of course they need the right kind of philosophers to point out to them.


        I mentioned in the first paragraph that Leiter will probably re-post this article and, lo and behold, he has.  There are also some comments on the IHE site already.  I'm unimpressed, and I hope I've made a good case for being unimpressed without appeal to presumptions about what the work of philosophers is about or should be.  Speaking merely as someone involved in another humanities discipline and engaging in what I'd consider a healthy amount of interdisciplinary conversation, Jason Stanley's piece strikes me as wavering between disciplinary self-pity and an inability to put himself in the shoes of others- to apply an objective standard from various perspectives in order to hear how he sounds to others.  I agree that engagement with philosophers is important for the humanities, and this is precisely why I think it's valuable to critique ill-conceived evaluations of the "crisis"... in philosophy, theology, or any other community of inquiry.


        UPDATE: Jason Stanley has been replying to some comments on the article, both at IHE and on a number of philosophy blogs.  Over at Feminist Philosophers he shares some more details about his thoughts and the longer version of the piece that was not published.  He is also apparently considering writing a longer version of the article and publishing it in another venue.

        Sunday, April 4, 2010

        "Do not let anyone shame you for your joy"

        I just returned home from our church's Easter Vigil service.  We don't hold a full vigil, but the service is usually a good four or five hours.  The time moves from two hours or so of relative darkness and Old Testament readings into the great Easter Acclamation and the Holy Noise, baptisms, communion, and Easter worship.  By the end, the children who are still awake (and many adults) are running around and screaming and dancing.  Our priest has a tendency to drag the bishop out and dance around the communion table with him during worship, too.  Any real propriety is set aside after the first hallelujah dismantles our Lenten fast.

        At the end of the service, our priest spoke to this issue, and told the congregation something I thought was worth repeating.  "Do not let anyone shame you for your joy.  Do not go home and feel ashamed for your joyfulness."


        This Easter season, especially for those of us who can be tempted to eschew the naivete of a less intellectualized faith, let us not be ashamed of the joy that is within us.  The evangelists will long outlast the critics.  The Gospel will do just fine with or without any theologians lecturing on (or around) it.  Christ is not risen from the grave by any other power than the Spirit.

        Thursday, April 1, 2010

        Journals for theological research... supplements to F&T

        Ben Myers recently posted a list of theology journals to follow.  The selection offers a nice group of prominent publications that will give students a good sense of what sort of conversations are going on in the field.  While I'd change some of his suggestions myself (Journal of Religious Ethics rather than Studies in Christian Ethics, perhaps... and maybe I'd add a Roman Catholic journal), his compilation is quite helpful.

        I thought I'd make my own additional list here as a supplement to what Ben has started.  I won't include anything that has already been mentioned at F&T, and this list will be biased towards my personal interests without attempting to be "the" list that will be helpful for every, or even any, other person.  Back when I wrote a critique of R.R. Reno's ranking of theological programs, I commented: "Although I have a lot of complaints about Reno's piece, I think it's a good idea that he bothered to write a column like this. What we need, however, is a dozen such columns from people of widely differing perspectives."  The same logic applies here (although Ben, unlike Reno, gets us off to a quite even-keeled start). As I see it, an inquiring student will probably get a more helpful picture of the landscape if she reads the idiosyncratic contributions of a philosophy of religion blog, a classicist blog, a traditionalist Catholic theology blog, and a critical theory blog rather than reading a bunch of "general theology" lists that hover around the same half dozen editorial boards.  Ben has set up the general theology list wonderfully.  Following is my contribution.  I'd also note that I've titled this post "Journals for theological research" rather than "theology journals", as some of these journals do not really publish any theology.  In these cases, I don't intend my mention of these journals to signal any sort of endorsement of their superiority in their respective fields... these are simply journals that I've benefited from reading as I do research.

        I'll begin with two journals that I've published with and so have a bit of a personal loyalty to... my experience with both was very constructive, and readers of clavi non defixi will know that I tend to make a note every time a new issue of either journal comes out.
        • Theological Studies is an American Jesuit journal in theology that is currently edited out of Marquette University by David Schultenover.  This publication features a wide range of topics and historical periods, and also includes a regular Notes on Moral Theology section.  They have more recently added an RSS feed for the journal, although some more work needs to be done- it seems to be more of a manual update for news, and doesn't feed article abstracts into your Reader directly.  
        • The Ecclesiastical Law Journal is a British journal published by the Ecclesiastical Law Society.  While there are plenty of canon law journals out there, EccLJ is uniquely ecumenical.  It's probably the only journal of religious law primarily concerned with Protestant polity, although there is plenty of work on Catholic canon law, and (perhaps more so than anything else), on church-state issues and questions of reilgious pluralism and the legal structures of other religions.  EccLJ has recently been picked up by Cambridge UP, so it now offers quality RSS feed and a good website.
        •  Sacris Erudiri is published by the same people who do Corpus Christianorum, and features important critical studies of historical texts and institutions.  Often the works published in this journal are preliminary analyses tied to work that will later be published in the Corpus Christianorum series.
        •  While I don't know the philosophy literature very well, I've enjoyed reading Inquiry and Journal of Speculative Philosophy.  The interdisciplinary nature of these publications will probably make them more attractive to folks in theology, although I'm unsure of their reputation amongst philosophers.  My sense is that Inquiry is definitely the more well-regarded of the two, and that seems right to me.
        •  Two superb religion journals that often feature theological work are The Journal of Religion and the Harvard Theological Review.  The Harvard Theological Review will tend to be more historical and less constructive, and both of these will have plenty of articles that are of less interest to the constructive Christian theologian.  When they do publish more theologically related work, however, it is always quite good.  This, I think, is what distinguishes them from other more broadly religious journals that will be of less use for theological work.
        •  Traditio is an important resource for anyone doing work in patristics or medieval theology.  Unfortunately, the indexing of this journal is a mess.  They have some author and subject indexes that haven't been updated for a few years, and no content updates available that I know of, or really any online presence to speak of.  Still, the quality of the articles makes wading through the index worth its while.

          This list isn't meant to be comprehensive, although even as I look at it I feel like there's more I'd like to mention.  I may follow this up with another post, or with more suggestions in the comment section.  For now, though, here you go.  Please feel free to suggest further journals, but I'd also encourage other bloggers to write up their own lists... apart from the standard theology venues, where do you go?  The more unique your suggestions, the more likely someone will learn something new from them.