Posted by: gcarkner | August 21, 2012

Negotiating Postmodern Thought

Why is postmodernism a good thing for Christian graduate students? Cornel West writes that “truth-claims about descriptions in science and religion are contextual, and for Christians, ‘Truth-talk’ precludes disinterest, detachment, and distance because Jesus Christ is the Truth, the Truth which cannot be theoretically reified into a property of an abstract description, but only existentially appropriated by concrete human beings in need.” Rather than having to shoehorn Christianity into our academic work in a way that presents some parochial Christian idea as The Right Way to Think About X, we have the freedom to approach our work joyfully as an outgrowth of our position as followers of Christ.

The applied linguist Suresh Canagarajah notes that postmodernism or post-positivism in the social sciences is hospitable to those with strong political or religious commitments because it unsettles the “old platform” of scientific inquiry, calling into question constructs of rationalism, objectivity, empiricism, disinterested knowledge, and so on. On the other hand, Canagarajah also writes: “postmodernism has only limited uses for me as a philosophical paradigm. I am prepared to abandon postmodernist discourses when my spiritual walk reveals richer orientations that illuminate faith and life better.”

The Christian faith may not be, strictly speaking, a “theoretical framework “ of the type we expect to use in our research. Yet I suspect the further we drill down into the practice of our faith and its relevance in the postmodern moment, the better chance we may have of seeing its relevance in our work. I think it’s clear that we have a deep well of resources in our Christian faith; we find values and motivations to align ourselves with truth, justice, kindness, mercy, love, forgiveness, reconciliation; postmodern thought opens a door, allowing many of these rather radical values to permeate our scholarship if we desire.

Discourses of postmodernity seem to have the deconstruction and dismantling of ideologies, religious and secular alike, as their ultimate goals. This used to bother me, but it doesn’t much any more; after all, what is the purpose of tearing down, if not to build?

The quotes by West and Canagarajah come from: West’s essay “A Philosophical View of Easter” in his book Prophetic Fragments; and Canagarah’s chapters in the book Christian and Critical English Langauge Educators in Dialogue (link to my review)

Joel Heng Hartse

PhD Candidate/Graduate Teaching Assistant

Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia

See also  Crystlal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: questioning truth in language, philosophy and art. (IVP, )


Related Books: Crystal Downing, How Postmodenism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy and Art; Norman Klassen and Jens Zimmerman, The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education.

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