Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty
Major Schools of Thought and Actors
In Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty, Elaine L. Graham addresses Traditional, Postmodern, Empirical, Liberation and Feminist perspectives on Theology and ultimately on Pastoral Theology. In order to address these perspectives, Graham traces the historical development of each, current theological realities, and prospective "horizons." The result is an extensive review of the Pastoral Theolog (y)(ies) of the Church and its faith communit (y)(ies), viewed very strongly through the feminist pastoral perspective.
As presented by Graham, the Traditional perspective is built on Scripture that is rife with patriarchy and an overarching patriarchal hierarchy. While providing conventionally binding values and norms, the Traditional perspective is decidedly male-centered: traditionally-based pastoral theology tended to focus on the traits of a good male pastor and was essentially restricted to the pastoral ministry of ordained males. This Traditional perspective also ignores vital aspects of theology such as the situational nature of knowledge, the internal diversity and fragmentation of the faith community, and the external fragmentation and diversity confronting the faith community. In this Traditional mindset, there is an assumption of "the unimpeachability of the Christian community… in identifying the 'Christian tradition' as definitively binding on contemporary practice" (Graham 1996, 118).
Graham also addresses Postmodernism and its effect on Traditional Theology. Originating in the 19th Century but finding its greatest strength during the 20th Century, Western modernity advanced scientific perspectives and advancements that necessarily confront traditional systems, including but not limited to Traditional Theology. Based on tendency toward personal ethics and autonomy rather than requiring conformity to externally imposed moral codes, Postmodernism thought has dissolved many political, philosophical and scientific panaceas. These developments have resulted in an "Age of Uncertainty" that places theology within a context characterized by a high degree of pluralism, fragmentation, and skepticism. The challenges Postmodernism presents for theology, have resulted in a loss of innocence and made hierarchical imposition of moral values inappropriate.
Another phenomenon borne of Western perspectives and also addressed by Graham is Liberation Theology. Arising in the South American Catholic Church of the 1950's and 1960's Liberation Theology applies a "hermeneutic of suspicion" to Traditional Theology and critically focuses on the impoverished and oppressed. Liberation Theology challenges the faith community to shift priorities from personal salvation to socially just change (Graham 1996, 51, 136). Challenging the Church's theory-based, clergy-dominated paradigm, Liberation Theology engendered a theological shift from theory to praxis or "theology in action," as previously excluded perspectives of minorities and other groups are included in addressing issues of justice within society and the Church. Though the Church has issued "instructions" to move away from what it perceives to be a purely political and Western-intellectually driven approach to the Gospel, Liberation Theology remains at least one of several dominant paradigms in current society and the Church.
Empirical Theology, in which the social sciences are employed to explore, define and test religious values, beliefs and practices, is also addressed and followed in Graham's book. Though including ecclesial study, Empirical Theology moves beyond to examine religious worldviews and attempts to appraise those worldviews by empirical-theological construction and analysis. Championed by theologians such as Don Browning and sociologists such as Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu, Empirical Theology is known by the hallmarks of ambiguity, freedom and creativity. Don Browning (1934 -- 2010), a pre-eminent disciples scholar from the University of Chicago, examined the interrelatedness of psychology, sociology, morality, law, and theology. Stressing the importance of practical theology, Browning believed that it should be a public endeavor using reflection on the Church's ministry in the world, integrating religious theory with religious practice. Anthony Giddens (1938 - ____), deemed one of the most prominent sociologists of modern times, posits that we are still in an age of Modernity; however, it is a late, reflexive modernity. Late, reflexive modernity, along with a world economy laboring under scarcity, may result in a new social movement transforming "life politics" -- or the management of self-actualization -- into a more dominant factor than "emancipatory politics" -- or management of inequality. Believing that the importance of the self's reflexive biography and changes in gender relations, Giddens maintains that those two factors may be in the forefront of a "democratization of democracy" in which conflicts are resolved and practices are created through social discourse among all groups rather than traditional authority or violence. Pierre Bourdieu (1930 -- 2002) was a French sociologist and philosopher who rejected Sartre's notion of the intellectual prophet. Along with Giddens, Bourdieu believed that self-identity is "reflexive"- an individual's account of his/her own life -- and those theories must be evaluated against empirical data gathered from day-to-day life. Rather than analyzing society by classes, Bourdieu referred to "fields": the modern world is divided into social fields in which hierarchy is based on the struggle of individuals within it and involves numerous social relationships. In addition, for Bourdieu, language is a conduit of power. Traditional hierarchy establishes a system of the right and degree to which one may speak, lecture and be heard. Ultimately, Bourdieu was considered a major theorist of modern Sociology, as well as an ardent activist for groups that are traditionally subordinate, powerless and oppressed in society.
Feminist Theology, heartily espoused in Graham's book, arose from Postmodernism, Empirical Theology and Liberation Theology. As Graham points out, modern moral uncertainty has resulted in a feminist focus on personalized social and political aspects of care and a liberationist focus on the impoverished and oppressed (Graham 1996, 51, 136). This feminist focus has resulted in a contribution that exemplifies liberating thoughts and actions benefitting all oppressed people. Employing the unique perspective of females, Feminist Theology insists on the vital inclusion of women's language, issues and contributions to contemporary Theology. Criticizing the Church's exclusionary male-centered tradition, Feminist Theology celebrates the gifts and needs of the faith community as a whole. Ultimately, Graham's book focuses on the range of Pastoral Theology or "Practical Theology," which has remained a consistent thread through Traditional, Postmodern, Liberation, Empirical and Feminist thought. "Practical theology" originated in European universities and traditionally refers to pastoral skills clergy must have at completion of theological study. Practical theology was the crowning aspect of studies involving the Bible, Christian doctrine, Church history and Christian philosophy. Deemed an "applied theology" in that the clergy's studies were being practically applied in their work with the faith community, Pastoral Theology prepared clergy for leading the community's worship, educating the community, preaching, and dialoguing with the community. Postmodernism challenged all Traditional faith systems, including but not limited to a male-centered Pastoral Theology. "Liberation theology" and the shift to praxis or "theology in action" seriously challenged the clergy-dominated paradigm, resulting in a shift to the hermeneutical and contemporary. Liberation theology's "hermeneutic of suspicion" became means of transforming the valuable practices of the faith community. This paradigm remains significant in modern practical theology due to growing diversity of the faith community and their perspectives. Empirical Theology focuses on the "spirit" of enlightened social responsibility while Feminist Theology contributes the uniquely feminine perspective to the discussion.
b. Graham's Application of Major Schools of Thought
In Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty, Elaine Graham argues that practical theology must face up to the challenges of a postmodern context characterized by a high degree of pluralism, fragmentation, and skepticism. It is a context of uncertainty in which it is no longer possible for theology to build on a consensus of values in society. Nor can theology take for granted the authority of traditional sources and norms of the church. It must find new ways of developing truth claims and values that will be persuasive to a skeptical postmodern world.
Graham develops an approach to normativity that can help the church and society move beyond the oppressive legacy of patriarchy, which defines human nature by assuming that maleness and masculinity are the norm. Using postmodern thought as her lens, Graham argues that Western modernity has dissolved many political, philosophical and scientific panaceas, resulting an "Age of Uncertainty." Rather than completely destroying values, this "age of uncertainty" is more a loss of innocence allowing the pursuit of theological reflection and action. This search necessarily involves ways of employing traditionally binding values while seeking currently relevant transparency and coherence.
Graham argues that normativity must be approached reflexively, not prescriptively, as dialogue and reflection on the practical wisdom emerging in communities of transforming practice. As she puts it: "Principles of truth and value are not to be conceived as transcendent eternal realities, but as provisional" yet biding "strategies of normative action and community within which shared commitments might be negotiated and put to work. Ethics and politics therefore become processes and practices, rather than applications of metaphysical ideals."u (pp.6-7)
Over the course of her book, Graham develop three central arguments about transforming practice in the Christian community: transforming practice generates new knowledge and values that cannot be formed in any other way; such practice is oriented to…
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