A vaguely shared sensibility

One thing that has always puzzled me about Radical Orthodoxy is their refusal to acknowledge that they are a school of thought. Recently, this befuddlement has been reawakened by reports that a Theology Studio member regards their group as highly diverse compared to the more homogeneous viewpoints represented here. What could this mean, I wondered? Are we to take such claims seriously, or are they nothing but “I know you are but what am I?”-style provocation?

And then it hit me: from their perspective, they are very diverse among themselves, because their various differences and disagreements are relevant and meaningful to them. By contrast, the differences among AUFS contributors all fade into the background compared to the Big Difference that divides us from them: what one might variously call our nihilism, heresy, “bad faith” — or, in short, our failure to be Radical Orthodox.

Now of course one could make the case that every meaningful difference must take place against the background of shared similarities, etc., etc. — but there is a question of degree here. Case in point: Tony Baker’s apparent conviction that the best way to respond to the lack of women’s engagement with his blog was not, for example, simply to ask women what the disconnect is, but rather to extrapolate what a “feminine” contribution might look like based on what they’re already doing, a contribution that is already called for by the Radical Orthodox approach in its best sense. Surely, if they are more faithful to their calling, women will engage more as a matter of course! (And presumably if they don’t, it’s their loss.)

10 thoughts on “A vaguely shared sensibility

  1. This is probably a totally unhelpful comment, but…

    Well… Yeah!

    In a certain sense the whole m.o. of RO has been to try to claim that every truly helpful and transgressive idea has always already been present in Christian tradition, and that every counter claim is only ineligible as the embrace of a bankrupt liberalism. Their position almost requires them to collapse all opponents into homogeneity.

  2. I always viewed the refusal to call it a school of thought to be motivated by wanting to distinguish one’s own work from Milbank’s work (e.g., Graham Ward wrote an article awhile back making claims in a footnote against RO being a school of thought by reminding us that it is a “book series,” and, if I remember correctly JKAS did something similar, I just cannot recall where). I know some thinkers, such as Tony Baker, are more willing to align with Milbank still, but you have Milbank speaking of RO not too long ago as a “youth movement” that was “storming Europe” (San Diego AAR, in 2007, at a reception for the Veritas book series). So it depends on who is saying that RO is not a school of thought I guess.

  3. What’s odd to me, though, is that Radical Orthodoxy is, as far as I can tell, the only strong movement in contemporary theology. It has a book series and now a dedicated journal. Aside from a few semi-ambiguous cases like Cavanaugh, it’s obvious who’s in an who’s out. Members of the school generally attempt to “take over” any institutional structure where they reach a critical mass — I know this happened at Garrett-Evangelical during the 2000s, and obviously we’re all familiar with goings-on at Nottingham. Milbank is prone to rhetorical overreach, but seriously!

    If you want to see what an actual “shared sensibility” looks like, I think you could point to me, Anthony, Brad, and Dan as a group in some sense — we’ve blogged together for years, we’ve appeared on panels together, Anthony and Dan have co-authored stuff, we routinely show up in the acknowledgments of each other’s work, etc. We obviously have some shared concerns and commitments. Yet our work is also so different, drawing on different figures and moving within different disciplinary spaces, that I think anyone who came to our work without knowing of our “affiliation” would not necessarily think to group us together.

    The examples of JKAS and Ward are telling here — Ward has always been stand-offish (which increasingly strikes me as a disingenuous “strategic” move), while JKAS is genuinely an outlier as a Calvinist and a phenomenologist.

  4. Sorry, I guess I should not have used coded references, as if everyone is an insider to all inside jokes. For the humor of it: JKAS could also mean (it did in the past, on this blog I think…) James “Kick-Ass” Smith, or simply “Kick-Ass” (I don’t know if this nickname has gone out of style yet or not).

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