critical theory

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Book Review: “Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis” by Carl A. Raschke

ct-raschkeCarl Raschke’s Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis is a brief look at the integration of critical theology into global theology. Now that I’ve basically just restated the title in different terms, what does it actually mean? Raschke states it as: “The thesis… is that the new era of global crisis demands a whole new theological formulary that is unprecedented both in the content of the challenges it faces and in the conceptual resources or ‘intellectual capital’ on which it must draw” (10). Essentially, the idea is that there is a global crisis–a kind of intermingling of ideas that makes it difficult to sort out what is what–and in order to deal with that, Christian theology must utilize a new set of tools for thinking and conceptualizing ideas.

After a chapter outlining this “Age of Crisis” in greater depth (along with a very brief history of critical theory), Raschke draws upon many lines of critical theory to show how it might be used to communicate Christianity effectively on a global scale. Mostly, this plays along the lines of highlighting several important critical thinkers (Jurgen Habermas, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and the like) and showing how their thought may be applied to broader theological trends. Of course, none of this is done naively, as some of the pitfalls of critical theory are also acknowledged. But the focus is almost entirely on what critical theory brings to the table as far as the “global crisis” is concerned. It is worth noting here that the book assumes a general working knowledge of many of these important thinkers.

One question which it seems to me Raschke did not adequately deal with is the question of whether “new” theology is a good thing. As many have said in various ways, “new theology” tends to be heresy. There’s a reason that the historic church made confessions and creeds–in order to establish boundaries for orthodoxy. Thus, some may argue there is a danger to trying to make a truly new theology, for it may just be a rehashing of old errors, as so many modern heresies are. I didn’t see any specific place where Raschke dealt with this objection at length. I suspect his answer would be that yes, new theology in a sense is a dangerous endeavor, but when genuinely new challenges arise (i.e. globalization/globalism and how to make sense of Christianity in a somewhat universal fashion), it calls for new evaluations. Yes, there is truly nothing new under the sun in some sense, because what Raschke calls for is a critical look at existing theology and sources thereof so that we do not get too attached to cultural expressions of Christianity as just being orthodoxy. On these proposed responses, I believe Raschke to be correct. But he doesn’t make this or any other specific defense at length, so far as I can tell.

Critical Theology is a needed work that will get readers to look, well, critically at ideas they may have taken for granted before. It’s a deep work, despite its brevity.

The Good

+Brings critical theory to bear in theology
+Challenges perspectives
+Encourages further study

The Bad

-At times may leave those unfamiliar with the topic befuddled
-Little defense of the notion of “new theology”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory” by Graham Ward

tcct-gward

There is no conceivable limit to what critical theory cannot comment upon, nor what form that comment can take. Every discipline and cultural phenomenon is swept into its purview… (xviii)

Graham Ward, in Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory, seeks to bridge a gap between critical theorists and theologians. Critical theory is essentially various ways to look at how discourse is practiced through the means of socio-cultural factors. Yes, this is a simplified definition, but at its core critical theory engages with various practices of discourse in order to draw out the implications for how the conclusions may be reached. It calls into questions those conclusions by pointing out there may be more to the story.

In order to explore critical theory, Ward outlines the thinking of various contemporary theorists under representation, history, ethics, and aesthetics. These topics are each interesting in their own ways, and readers will be often surprised at the turns critical theorists take. Much of the thinking involved here is of interest, sometimes as much for how wrong it seems as for how enlightening it may be. There are some very weird findings from critical theorists, who are often involved in psychoanalysis and other projects to draw out the alleged sources of purported evidence.

Ward ends each chapter with insights into how the theories discussed may be applied to thinking about theology today. These conclusions are highly fruitful, as they demonstrate how even some approaches which seem at odds with Christianity in whole or in part may help shape theological thought. For example, issues of gender loom large and Ward suggests that critical theorists have jumped ahead of theologians in their thinking on the topic through explorations of how concepts of gender are formed. Whatever one’s thoughts regarding gender, it is true that theologians may do well to explore this topic further, whether from a critical (!) perspective or not.

One area readers may fault the work is that Ward, while engaging critical theory, is rarely critical himself. That is, he seems to adopt the findings (if psychoanalysis of entire fields of research may be called findings) of critical theorists without himself having a critical eye towards these same. However, that would be to try to make the book into something it is not. Ward’s project is to simply present critical theory and see how it might be applied to theology. That said, it would have been nice to have a chapter which engaged these theories. Those interested in the book should be aware that it really is the case that Ward essentially just reports on the theories and comments upon how theology might benefit from them.

Again, critical theory is far more complex than outlined above, but Ward has set for himself the monumental task of distilling it and applying it to theology, another field which he stresses touches upon all aspects of human life and experience. As such, readers should realize that although this book is engaging and compelling, there is far more work which can and should be done in this area.

Links

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Source

Graham Ward, Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

Links

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Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology– I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology

tnaa-bradley-tateEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The New Atheist Mythology

I recently finished reading The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11. The book was simply phenomenal as it applied critical theory to four novelists in order to draw out various themes in their works and parallels with the writings of the “New Atheists.”  I’ll write up a review at some point, but for now I want to highlight the central theme of the book:

[I]t is possible to detect an obscure… reason for the massive popular appeal of the New Atheism: it constitutes a new and powerful creation mythology that–like all mythologies–performs an implicit anthropological service… For Dawkins… it has become de rigueur to wax lyrical about, say, the ‘breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology’ (whatever that means) even amidst attacks on the ‘fairy story’ that is monotheism. (7, 9, cited below)

The book analyzes various novels in light of this theme: that the New Atheists are, in a sense, creating a rival mythology to the monotheism they denigrate, and this expands into literature in various and interesting ways. In a sense, this mythologizing about the power of the human mind, the wonders of the cosmos, or the beauty of poetry is a project to create transcendence in a worldview which, by definition, rails against the transcendent. It is a kind of creation myth which allows for meaning to seep into the meaningless.

What do you think? Can humans live without a mythology? Is wonder a necessary part of the human condition? Why do you think that even the “New Atheists” have put forward such lyrical and mythological language in their writings?

As I said, I’ll try to get a review of this book up ASAP.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2010).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Critical Theory and… everything?

tcct-gwardEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Critical Theory and… everything?

I finished reading Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory by Graham Ward recently, and I found it extremely interesting. Critical theory is not a united movement or even way of doing things; rather, it simply refers to the practice of drawing out motivations, means, sources, and the like from anything. Does that sound broad? Well, it is:

There is no conceivable limit to what critical theory cannot comment upon, nor what form that comment can take. Every discipline and cultural phenomenon is swept into its purview… (xviii)

Critical theory touches on every aspect of reality, because people who engage in it can search any work, any words, any statements for things to draw out. The book itself has made me more self-aware of how my own ways of thinking may be directed by things beyond what I would desire. Sometimes, we may import aspects of our culture into our reading of the Bible, for example. Although it is impossible to avoid that, when we become aware of it in certain areas, we should work to correct it. Critical theory allows us to become self-aware of these importations and seek to excise them where needed. The book was a short, good read, but not without fault. I’ll have a review coming in a week or three.

What do you think? In what areas could you be more self aware? If you could apply critical theory to any one study or discipline, what would it be? Leave a comment below!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Graham Ward, Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

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