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Thursday, 09 June 2011


Chelle Wade

Hey Paul,

So, I'm intrigued - would you define 'spirituality' as a God thing like McIntosh (and therefore most properly the study of theology) or as a human thing like Schneider (and therefore a subject for any social science)?


Paul Fromont

Hi Chelle. Thanks for stopping by, and for your question. While very sympathetic to Schneiders and the contexts into which her description of "spirituality" is needful; I'm more inclined to fall on the side of McIntosh - certainly as the starting point for thinking about spirituality from a Christian perspective...

Have a good day

Chelle Wade

Obviously, as a sociologist I find human spirituality in general interesting in and of itself. But in terms of doing theology, I think that it is important to have links outside of itself.
It worries me that McIntosh's definition locks the Christian perspective into speaking just for Christians or, alternatively, that the Christian perspective is the only one, or is the same as a generic 'one'.
How does Christian spirituality interact with other expressions of spirituality without resorting to theories of universalism?
Of course, Rowan Williams is brilliant at this as he is at most things, and I think he would say that there has to be an internal consistency that can stand alone on its own and be compared to other stand alone explanations of spiritual experiences. I haven't worked out yet whether that puts him on McIntosh's side or Schneider - which, again, is classic Williams!
Thanks for the discussion,

Paul Fromont

Hi Chelle, appreciate your additional comment, and like you I find the whole “spirituality” question fascinating. Too much to reflect on and unpack in a “comment”, but I think, as a starting point, I’d want to reflect on Graham Ward’s understanding of “standpoints” (see especially his “Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice”) in relation to how we might bring McIntosh’s definition into wider conversation with the interest in spirituality.

I think that Amos Yong too offers a useful pneumatological methodology that opens possibilities for working with McIntosh’s definition. James K A. Smith (see especially his essay “The Logic of Incarnation: Towards a Catholic Postmodernism” in “The Logic of Incarnation: James K.A. Smith's Critique of Postmodern Religion” is also someone I’d use to frame the conversation between McIntosh and Schneiders, and within the wider multi-disciplinary conversation around spirituality. Part of that task would also centre on weaving together “incarnation”, “missiology”, and as I’ve already alluded to above, “pneumatology”.

I’m not sure McIntosh’s definition cuts itself off or “locks” itself away from a wider conversation. I think what McIntosh brings is a needed particularity (cf. the “incarnation”) to the conversation. Schneiders too brings much that is important and needful. There is a Maori proverb: “Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi” – “With your basket and my basket the people will not go hungry”.

I think you ask a really important and needful question: “…How does Christian spirituality interact with other expressions of spirituality without resorting to theories of universalism?” Or, I’d add, “without dumbing itself down and losing its particularity and distinctive contribution to the ‘spirituality’ conversation. Or, as you say, without losing its own “internal consistency”. I get a little worried that the more generic definitions of spirituality run the risk of a solely anthrocentric perspective which leads to variations on “personal experience [becoming] in itself the goal of spirituality” Or, the goal ending up as being about the pursuit of “extraordinary inner experiences” (see my recent post on Kenneth Leech)

I had to chuckle too at your comment about Rowan Williams. If you haven’t read Towards a Poetics of Theological Creativity: Rowan Williams Reads Augustine’s ‘De Doctrina’ After Derrida by Jeffrey McCurry (published in “Modern Theology” journal) I think you’d enjoy it given our shared interest in and appreciation of Rowan Williams’ approach to the theological and missiological task. I think William’s while not neglecting his own “food basket” (it would be carried over his shoulder), would put his arms around McIntosh and Schneiders and invite them to sit around the fire and continue the conversations their respective study had uncovered and made possible for them.

What I think is that Schneiders definition is inherently fitted for a different context / audience than McIntosh’s. Schneiders being near the forefront of positioning ‘spirituality’ and bringing ‘spiritual’ experience and the interpretation of those experiences into conversation with the rigors of the intellectual and multidisciplinary disciplines of the academy. In that sense it doesn’t make it better or worse than McIntosh’s - it’s just different.


Chelle Wade

Bugger! I already have too many new authors to read - you've just added a couple more!!!
thanks anyway,

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