Thesis Defence

Last Friday I defended my thesis. It went well, my examiners were gracious and insightful, helping me to better understand the issues and topics discussed in my paper. I was given the opportunity to prepare an opening statement which turned into a reflection on my thesis as a learning exercise. So, I thought it would be appropriate to share that statement below. Perhaps when my thesis is ready to deposit into the ICS repository I’ll share it here as well.

The things birth sets in motion seem to have an unlimited reach, extending far beyond the body that emerges from the womb. Few comparisons are fitting to describe the meaningfulness of birth. Over the course of writing this thesis I’ve had the opportunity to personally witness and experience the birth of two children, but also the birth of a mother, the birth of a father, and, ultimately, the birth of a family. This experience obviously “helped” shape my thesis in as much as it complicated the process.

Just as it would be remiss to overlook the importance of birth, I feel compelled to briefly discuss how this learning experience has transformed my relationship with religion. When you’re saturated from an early age in religious ceremony and discourse, as I was, the meaning of religious concepts and rituals can be obscured by how self-evident they seem. One can easily take one’s tradition for granted. My thesis brought this tendency to light for me especially as I grew to better understand some of the theory that underpins principles germane to religion, such as, forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, promises, freedom, and conversion. This personal transformation illuminated religious texts and practices that I find belonging in. In particular, I have become increasingly interested in how themes significant to my Mennonite inheritance such as pacifism, reconciliation, and forgiveness could benefit from an engagement with the philosophical tradition represented in this thesis by Hannah Arendt and Jacques Derrida.

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The Decentered Self: Prayer and the Worst Violence

The Decentered Self: Prayer and the Worst Violence

This article originally appeared on Groundmotive.net

Ethan Vanderleek, a fellow junior member at ICS, contributes to the upcoming edition of Perspective an excellent article titled, “Some Truths about Christian Prayer.” Quoting Merold Westphal, Ethan writes, “Prayer is the posture of a decentered self.” I confess to knowing very little about prayer, for this reason I’ll focus my discussion on the second half of this quote—the nature of a decentered self.

To illustrate what one might mean by a “decentered self,” let’s follow Derrida by examining the nature of a confession: “I confess.” When an unrepentant criminal confesses, for example, identity changes, the “I” becomes a repentant “I.” But there is a problem here. Given these two separate identities, how are we to decide which one actually makes the confession? Is it the repentant or unrepentant “I?”

A closer look at the moment the unrepentant self repents reveals something very strange. An unrepentant criminal by definition does not confess. Who then authorizes or initiates the confession? If there has been no confession, then the repentant criminal does not exist, at least not as such, and therefore cannot initiate the confession. So the confessing “I” is neither the unrepentant criminal nor the repentant criminal. Derrida claims that a fabulous gap resides in this liminal moment of responsibility in which both identities are inexplicably present and absent. Whenever we assume responsibility, whenever we act, make a decision, or confess, we enter into this space, our past and future selves are simultaneously present and absent.

That which originally seemed very definitive—the “I,” the decision-making self—is in reality quite indefinite. Two possibilities emerge from this ambiguity.

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Discovering Franz Rosenzweig

Discovering Franz Rosenzweig

Tomorrow begins The Star of Redemption reading group at ICS. When Dean first suggested Franz Rosenzweig’s book, I was completely unfamiliar withP00417 the name. The short foreword to The Star by the translator, who was a student of Rosenzweig’s, presents the intriguing life story of this wonderful thinker.

Franz Rosenzweig was born December 25, 1886 in Cassel, Germany, as the only son of a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family. It was during the war and his assignment to an anti-aircraft gun unit at the Balkan front, that Rosenzweig started to write The Star of Redemption, on army post cards (umm I’m struggling to write an MA thesis in the quiet of a library on a Macbook Pro, I can’t imagine attempting such a feat in the middle of a war using post cards and pencils).

Rosenzweig is another shining light in what seems to be an endless procession of German scholars clustered around the time of the World Wars. Reading his biography and introduction, which is really an autobiography of his philosophical thought, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hannah Arendt, another Jewish German thinker whose life’s passion was sparked by the horrors of war, this time World War II.

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Exciting Happenings at the Institute for Christian Studies

Exciting Happenings at the Institute for Christian Studies

I’m encouraged and motivated by all the work being done by students and faculty at the Institute. ICS encourages scholars not slackers #SNS.

Our students are just killin’ it! Check out the list of ICS Junior Members presenting or publishing their work so far this year (and check some of these papers out in Institutional Repository)

Ruth Bott: 

      • Holy Blood, Menstruation as a Signifier of the Holy: A Study of the Ritual Purity Codes of Leviticus 15.” Advanced Degree Student Association Theology Conference at Toronto School of Theology, March 14th 2014.

Dean Dettloff:

  • “Back to the Rough Ground! Into Life!: Anti-Philosophy as Christian Philosophy.” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014

Joshua Harris:

  • “Propositions, Art, and Truth: Zuidervaart’s Critique of Wolterstorff,” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014;
  • “Gadamer and Praxeology: The Hermeneutics Debate Revisited,” IHS Research Colloquium, George Mason University. Washington, D.C., November 2013;
  • “Quantification, Sein and Univocity: A Response to Peter van Inwagen’s Critique of Martin Heidegger,”Philosophical Perspectives on Theological Realism, Erbacher Hof. Mainz, Germany, August/September 2013;
  • Review of Heidegger and Philosophical Atheology, by Peter S. Dillard. Praxis;
  • “Philosopher” and “Anthropomorphism” in Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Matt Johnson:

  • “Songs of Solidarity: A New Approach to Liturgical Music and Community Cohesion,” 20th Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, March 6, 2014.
  • “A Particular Collision: Arendt, CERN, and Reformational Philosophy,” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014.

Joseph Joonyong:

  • “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in a Christian Context,” in Christian Higher Education. Volume 13, Issue 1, 2014: 74-87.

Joe Kirby:

  • “Ontology and Living Death: Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Monasteries.” Penn State Graduate Conference in Philosophy, March 1-2, 2014;
  • “Mysticism and Madness in Prison Awaiting Death,” 20th Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, March 6th, 2014.

Carolyn Mackie:

  • “This Thinking Individual: Conscience and Subjectivity in Søren Kierkegaard and Hannah Arendt,” Ryerson Graduate Philosophy Conference at Ryerson University, Feb. 22, 2014.

Caleb Ratzlaff:

  • “Ephesians and the Household Code: a Conversation with John Howard Yoder,” Advanced Degree Student Association Theology Conference at TST, March 14th 2014.

Joanna Sheridan:

  • “Identity and Difference in Derrida’s “The Other Heading,” Traversing Traditions: A Polyphony of Thought, Ryerson Graduate Philosophy Conference, Feb 22, 2014.

Caputo’s The Insistence of God, Chapter 5 and A Childhood Identity

BookThis last semester I’ve been involved in a reading group exploring Caputo’s new book, The Insistence of God, with Jim Olthuis, Author, philosopher, professor, and rollerblader. Last week, Dean, a fellow student who also has a blog and has written about our reading group (his blog is so good I encourage you to stop reading this and head over there), brought our attention to Caputo’s decision to focus on the topic of religion. Caputo gives two related reasons for focusing on religion, even though, according to him, he could just as easily focus on being and finitude. First, religion is more important and less obscure for American culture than being and finitude. Second, Caputo’s own embeddedness in this tradition provokes him to take up his heritage. This interesting (and on some levels disingenuous) rhetorical move, motivated me to think about chapter five without explicitly referencing religion. What does it look like when we remove religion from the discussion?

Perhaps we can have this conversation using an example from my childhood. Back then, I found myself in a context that encouraged competition and sport. This context both enabled and limited me. It limited me in the sense that it determined the perspective through which I saw the world, one full of winners and losers. As unhealthy as this perspective can be, it was a large influence on my choice to self-identify as an athlete. In addition to limiting self-understanding, my competitive social context afforded me the opportunity to learn how to play with others, to lead, and even on the rare occasion, to lose gracefully.

The finite nature of my historical perspective hid from me the “event” taking place in the name athlete. At the age of eighteen, I unexpectedly blew out my knee, an injury that forced me to see the world from a new perspective. The injury made me skeptical (or atheistic) of my own confessed identity. Although I had matured as an athlete, this identity did not fully contain the truth of who I was—past, present, and future. Dogmatically holding on to the name “athlete” would have been detrimental to my own development and a poor expression of self-love. Continue reading

Communion at ICS

The question, “How should we ‘do’ church?” has haunted my liturgical experience. Growing up as a PK I had the good, or not so good, fortune of experiencing a number of different liturgical communities. In undergrad David Cunningham’s book “Christian Ethics: The End of the Law” introduced me to the formative aspect of Christian liturgy and sent me on journey exploring Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and many protestant expressions of faith. In the future, I’d like to do a series titled “A Meal as Liturgy” or something like that. Until then, here are some thoughts I shared at my graduate school’s first chapel of the year, which happened to occur around a meal.

For me, sharing a meal can be an act of worship for many reasons. Two reasons that I find interesting and important include being thankful for food, and the fact that a meal seems to improve when it’s shared. I grew-up on a hobby farm, where food was something that we didn’t take for granted, not because we didn’t have enough, but rather being part of growing and harvesting made it difficult to separate this process from the actual act of consuming. I mean, as a young boy I learned how to milk a cow by hand. I hated doing it, the cow hated when I did it, but it had to be done, even when my father was away. After struggling to squeeze a bucket of milk out of a 1600 lbs animal it’s difficult to forget food’s fuller context.

To Serve and Cultivate

To Serve and Cultivate. The farm’s blog can be found by clicking on the picture of that sharp looking young man.

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