Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dorrien, pt. 4: On Thandeka

See posts below for introductions to these posts.

From "Rethinking the Traditions" in Dorrien's book. Thandeka is grouped with the following theologians: Forrest Church, Rufus Burrow Jr., Nancy Frankenberry, Jerome A. Stone, William Dean, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Roger Haight, Ian G. Barbour, Catherine Keller, and Postmodernity.

underlines from the intro to this section:
"Liberal theologians are usually ambivalent about traditions, even their own....But that did not stop them from appropriating aspects of their tradition or seeking new ways to express old truths. A century after the liberal era, progressive theologians demonstrated the surprising vitallity of their tradition by vigorously rethinking various aspects of it. Thandeka returned to the origin of liberal theology in Schleiermacher's theory of religious feeling, Forrest Church sought to renew the transcendentalist stream of the Unitarian Universalist tradition in a postmodern, religously pluralistic context, ....

After bio material on Thandeka, some summary of her work:
"Her signature work, The Embodied Self (1995) argued that Kant's critical idealism failed to show how pure self-consciousness leads to knowledge of an individuated, embodied self and, more generally, the objective world....Thandeka believed that Schleiermacher made a more adequate and defendable move by laying hold of feeling--the subject-less, object-less, nonsensate reality that reason cannot grasp...The gap between the rational mind and the empirical world (which includes the rational mind's body) is the rupture in human consciousness that the self feels (affectively) before it knows (by reason) anything else.....Thandeka noted that Schleiermacher counseled against trying to separate the self's consciousness of God from its conciousness of humanity. Such attempts were pointless and led to "unconscious brooding", for God-consciousness is experienced in one's experience of immediate self-consciousness, which is part of nature....

"Thandeka explained, "There must be in being something (x) that the being of the world presupposes and through which it has emerged." For Schleiermacher God was the idea of the unity of being, to which all concepts ultimately referred, and "the world" was the totality of being, to which all judgments ultimately referred. The idea of God was inherent in that of the world, but the two ideas were not the same. Both were transcendental terms marking the limits of thinking, each was the terminus of the other, and they met at what thandeka called "their common border,' the unity of God and the world in feeling.

"Building on what she called Schleiermacher's "affect theology" Thandeka proposed a new field in theology--"physical theology" or "neurotheology"--that analyzed religious experiences and theological claims from the standpoint of the human body. Her goal was to develop an affect theology that explored the religious implications of neurological studies of emotions. [RR: dorrien picks up on her influence by process thought, but is this also close to the "body theology" folks and also to what E.O. Wilson has been arguing for in his latest books stemming from Consilience?]

"To be an embodied self is to feel the congruence of mind and body with the self's environment, she aregued. Christian theology negotiated the split between mind and embodiment by appealing to the Trinitarian Spirit, but modern and postmodern intellectuals, having jettisoned the Spirit, were left with mere difference. For Thandeka, that explained the troubled state of Christian feminism. Haunted by its discarded Trinitarianism, feminist theology reverberated with the rhetoric of difference, accentuating sexual and cultural differences. She urged feminist theologians to stoop perpetuating an anachronistic Trinitarian agenda.....Thandeka lauded Schleiermacher for replacing human consciousness of the Holy Spirit with mystical, unitive feeling; Barth was right that for Schleiermacher, everything was revelation: wonder. As the unmediated experience of a moment of creation, feeling is infinite. [RR: here is where my marginal comments spin off and take me back to my grad English days and immersion into critic Geoffrey Hartmann of Yale and the problems of searching for something "umediated" and "pure", and where feeling without common rituals and worship degenerate so often into the very opposite of the embodied self; it is a problem with Channing's and so many who followed seeking or thinking they had found "pure Christianity." The "generous orthodoxy" and touchstones of tradition and particular the Holy Spirit help embody community, but then Dorrien's book also explores the work of many liberal/liberation theologians who make this claim, and my favorites as i mention below who have helped me in this regard are Peter C. Hodgson and Kathryn Tanner, Presbyterian and Lutheran. Anyway back to Dorrien on Thandeka]. Euro-American Christian feminists had a pronounced tendency to essentialize their own experience and religion, thereby offending womanists and Jewish feminists, Thandeka observed. The solution was to take seriously the intersubjective reality of the embodied self, which is not a thing, but rather the experience of "cooperative, mutually enhancing encounters with others as the core of self-cohesion, congruence, and coherence." [RR: another great theological line for the impetus of church planting churches; of course you can get the same thing from Jesus' story.]


Dorrien then moves Thandeka from the Embodied Self book to the Learning to be White book, through her exampler of Martin Luther King, Jr. as one who lived the "intersubjective ideal." But King didn't, according to Thandeka according to Dorrien, understand the "deep structural damage' to Euro-American selves in the process of being racialized. [RR: Here in the later book we see examples of what she is referring to in the emphasis on feeling in her update of Schleiermacher]....D: Thandeka urged that one of the most neglected and overdue aspects of racial healing in America was for Euro-Americans to interrogate the content of their racial identity in order to find its affective ground. When this ground is discovered, an experiential ground of human transformation and healing is revealed: compassion."

I'd love to see a biblical narrative woven into and throughout Thandeka's work; I guess that would be somewhat counter-intentional, but I think it would drive it home for many. Course that's my bias.