Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poverty? Greed?

Plato once claimed that poverty is not a decrease in our possessions, but an increase in our greed. As a middle class (have) individual this has a strong ring of truth to it. It speaks to the endless fascination with material success that is so prevalent in Western society. Yet, this statement also alerts me to a need for distinction with the term poverty. While I agree that our greed impoverishes us - poverty has many roots and causes. And the kind of poverty that is caused by greed is, in my opinion, more of a spiritual poverty than a material poverty.

This spiritual poverty is not necessarily synonymous with the inability to provide sustenance for ones family. Nor  is it always indicative of an inability to "catch a break" socially that will allow your most basic needs to be met. The difference between spiritual and material poverty seems to describe the gulf between the haves and have nots - where the have nots often face destructive material poverty their concerns are grounded in the reality of putting food on the table not on having too little equity to buy a second car for purely convenience sake. Perhaps this is why I so appreciate the epistemological privilege that  Liberation Theology offers to the poor? Indeed the real remedy for spiritual impoverishment must lie in the path of solidarity with the truly poor - that is the materially poor. In fact, dare I say, one can only climb out of spiritual poverty with the help of the materially poor - because the greed that offers only spiritual poverty can never be sated, and can never offer us freedom.

Food for thought.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theory of Religion

In the Winter semester I will be exploring the world of religions with a new class. I have some students signing up from my previous classes which has to look good to the admin! It is going to be challenging both for me and the students. I've done this sort of work as an undergrad but my grad work has all been struggling with an inside conversation - specifically focused on the nitty gritty world of evangelicals. In this course we will be trying to develop an outside perspective on a plurality of religions - putting aside our own commitments.

Yet, at the same time I want to find the place for our own commitments to come into the conversation. So the first class will have to introduce the idea of navigating conversations about world religions from a perspective of humility, expectation, and desire to bring out the best in others (and even to have the best brought out of our own religious commitment!)

My director often says that the problem with a lot of contemporary theology is that it lacks a good theory of religion. Where I think she is right is that we often think that what we practice is not religion but is somehow above the religious conversation, it has a privileged place. What is disturbing is that we all do it - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.  We all talk about religion in essentially two modes: world religions as a phenomenon and our religion as the only reasonable and reliable faith. Where this gets tricky is that in one sense I believe this should be why we stick with our own religious commitment - why would you adhere to a religion that you don't completely buy into? If you do you will at best only follow the bits of it that are comfortable. Religion, at its best, cannot function this way.

But the other extreme - our way the only way - is what makes religions function at their worst.

This coming semester we will be seeking to find the balance. A good theory of religion. A humble approach to the other. And a desire to be the best of our religious heritage. Sound like a challenge? I think so.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Did you Miss Me?

Ok. Semester is almost done. It is all over but the exam marking. Yikes. At least now I know what I am in for.

Needless to say I learned a lot this semester.

There are things I'm going to do differently if I run Intro to Theology again (which I hope I get that opportunity to do). For one thing I'd add a textbook. Yup, you heard right. I'd add a textbook that covered the historical stuff I want to cover. My brief romp through the history of Christian thought was all too quick and if I was supplementing a text reading then I could be more focused on a few key thinkers instead of a broad swathe.

What I wouldn't change much is my Christian Spirituality course. I really liked the way it came together and the way the students engaged with the lectures. Sure I'd tune it a bit here and there, but I think it is a good solid foundation to the study of spiritualities and Christian spiritualities in particular. Those students have a take home exam which comes in Friday after next. Hopefully I'll have all the Intro exams marked so I can focus on those at that time.

I've already started my course prep for next semester. I'm doing Religion, Culture and Diversity which is a second year course. This one is going to be challenging as it is not a course on a specific religion, in fact it is a religion studies course at heart. I will focus on North American religions and in particular those that are purposeful in spreading their ideas/beliefs beyond their cultural settings (Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism) but more because I need to set some limits on the material. The course will be broken into three parts:

1) Theory of Religion - this will have lots of case studies and class discussions.
2) Culture - this will be a brief section on cultural anthropology with a focus on the role of religious imagination in culture.
3) Diversity - this last section will focus on the diverse ways that religions speak into issues of contemporary importance, primarily ecological issues but I'm going to branch out from there. Again, lots of case studies and class discussions.

It should be a fun course.

OK, in the meanwhile I am around. But this time I won't promise to be back blogging. I'm behind still on lots of life stuff. But I'm confident that I'll find a rhythm soon.