|New College Postgrad Conference|
I thought I’d put up an update on some of my research. Two weeks ago I presented a paper at the New College postgraduate conference. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. As is my normal pattern, I was harder on my performance than pretty much anyone else. For instance, I thought I did especially bad during the Q&A portion, but one friend told me they felt that part of the paper went “exceptionally well.” Christie tells me I’m too hard on myself. Shhh - don’t tell her I said this, but she’s probably right.
The paper itself was titled: The ‘Self’ of Post-Modernity in Theological Perspective: A Communal, Narrative, and Ecclesial Proposal. Basically, I tried to follow some of the same basic methodology that I’m aiming to employ in my dissertation – namely, drawing primarily on the thought of Stanley Grenz in conversation with Ricoeur along the way. In this paper, I drew on Grenz and Ricoeur (and others) focusing on the idea of the ‘self’ as it was constructed in modernity, deconstructed in postmodernity, and proposing a reconstruction of the self as the communal, narrative, and ecclesial self. Below is the abstract to give you more of an idea about the aim of the paper:
Drawing on the work of Stanley Grenz, with additional input from Paul Ricoeur, this paper proposes a communal, narrative, and ecclesial response to what Grenz calls “the dissipation of the self” after modernity. Tracing briefly the rise of the centered and self-sufficient self of modernity with the help of Charles Taylor, attention is given to the self in postmodernity. Following the discussion in Grenz and others it is found that the self after modernity can be characterized as a decentered and fluid self. The remainder of the paper discusses the imago Dei as a theological resource for the reconstruction of the postmodern self (again following the lead of Grenz). The proposal for this reconstruction firstly draws on Grenz’s use of Social Trinitarianism in relation to the imago Dei, positing an embodied and irreducibly communal self in the image of (the triune) God. Second, the proposal for this reconstruction draws on Grenz, with help from Ricoeur, positing a narrative and hermeneutical self in relation to the imago Dei. And thirdly, drawing on Grenz’s Christo-anthropology in conjunction with Ricoeur’s “summoned self,” an incarnational and ecclesial self is posited in relation to the imago Dei. The final conclusion is that the postmodern self is only fully reconstructed in trinitarian community “in Christ” through the Spirit, expressed in incarnational community through the calling of the ecclesial self within Christ’s new humanity.
Grenz - SGRS
After getting some feedback, I am now working on editing and expanding the paper into a more presentable (and perhaps publishable) form, incorporating some research that wasn’t able to be included beforehand due to time constraints. But not specifically related to this paper though, I have begun rereading Boyd Blundell’s Paul Ricoeur between Theology and Philosophy, and I came across a couple of quotes I had forgotten about that resonate well with Grenz’s work on the self in The Social God and the Relational Self, which I think will have to at least go in a footnote.
The first quote comes in a section at the beginning where Blundell is giving an introduction to not only the compatibility of Karl Barth and Ricoeur, but Ricoeur’s own account of indebtedness to Barth. Ricoeur states,
It was in fact Karl Barth who first taught me that the subject is not a centralizing master but rather a disciple or auditor of a language larger than itself. (Paul Ricoeur, “Life in Quest of Narrative.” In On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation. Quoted in Blundell, PRBTP, 10)
The second comes from chapter two where Blundell is seeking to defend Ricoeur from the stringent critique of Hans Frei (whose seems to have confused Ricoeur’s voice with that of David Tracy’s appropriation of Ricoeur), utilizing four characteristics of textuality drawn from Ricoeur’s ‘critical supplementation’ of Gadamer’s hermeneutics: 1) the relationship between speaking and writing and the role of distanciation, 2) the resulting structure of texts and the need for an explanatory moment, 3) the ‘world of the text’ as it projects a ‘world in front of the text,’ and 4) the question of subjectivity in which mediated self-understanding come by subordinating the self to the ‘matter of the text’ in which the reader is subject to interpretation as well. (Blundell, PRBTP, 48-51) On the matter of subjectivity Blundell says,
Finally, there is the question of the subject. Frei lumps Ricoeur in with those mediating theologians [like Tracy] who subordinate Scripture to their own philosophical or ethical convictions. But Ricoeur is mystified by such accusations, since the hermeneutic notion of play and the psychological notion of “illusions of subjectivity” necessarily imply that the subject is not the master of the interpretive process, but is in fact one of the things interpreted. In engaging the matter of the biblical text, “a critique of the illusions of the subject must be included in the very act of ‘self-understanding’ in the face of the text.” To simply project one’s own preconceptions onto the text would be to deny the self-dispossession that is part of textual distanciation, and as such would not engage the matter of the text at all. For Ricoeur the “hermeneutic of suspicion” is not something used to discredit the biblical text, but is instead turned against the reader, whose illusions and prejudgments can “impede our letting the world of the text to be.” A mastering subject is not only bad theology, it’s bad hermeneutics. (Blundell, PRBTP, 50. Ricoeur quotes here are from “Philosophical Hermeneutics and Theological Hermeneutics.” Studies in Religion. Sciences religieuses 5 (1975), 30 – emphasis in bold mine.)
Blundell - PRBTP
The work of teasing out the implications of this for my thesis and finding where it will fit exactly is ongoing of course (though I have some intimations), but I think these quotes are instructive. The question of the self bequeathed to us by its construction in modernity and deconstruction in postmodernity works itself out in our time, I think, in a still yet incredibly resilient and pervasive individualism (in which the postmodern here, as is the case with so called ‘anything goes’ relativism, actually turns out to be modernity drawn to its logical conclusion or perhaps modernity caved in on itself, and so may actually be better thought of as most-modern). This is something that needs our attention, because not only is this individualistic self bad for hermeneutics and theology as suggested above, but it ends up being bad for ecclesiology as well, complicating and potentially subverting ecclesial mission and community – thus signaling the need for the aforementioned reconstruction and incorporation of the self as the communal, narrative, and ecclesial self in trinitarian community, ‘in Christ’ and through the Spirit.