“Analytic Theology” in the new JAAR

I am reading through the essays on the so-called analytic theology in the  new issue of the JAAR (18.3).  I have seen the fellowship announcements, sessions, and some publications in this new, seemingly emerging field.

I am curious:  Is it just that many of us are unfamiliar with analytic philosophy or that we just find its resources and methodologies to be uninteresting or unimportant to our questions and discourses?

And:  Why let these divisions, which unfortunately plague the discipline of philosophy, and introduce them into theology, a field already deeply guilded and specialized?  (It’s interesting that the journal Faith & Philosophy is invoked in these articles, which is a journal attached to an organization that at least used to be rather unfriendly to continental philosophy folks.)  There are examples of great theologians who engage analytic theology — Paul Van Buren and Robert Corrington come to mind–in non-exclusive ways.

Is this just not something to work toward, or are the differences in directions of our theological work just too set in our ways?  Or is it possible that for the mainstream of theology as a whole, the ship has already sailed for analytic philosophy?  Or is it that analytic theology is deemed safer in evangelical and bible college circles for those who wish to do theology, inasmuch as this is possible, in these contexts?  (This was actually my impression of the Society of Christian Philosophers, who published Faith & Philosophy, when I gave a paper at one of their conferences years ago–the whole philosophy department from Moody showed up.  They also heckled my paper on Heidegger, asking, “Why are we talking about Heidegger and Rahner at a Christian philosophers conference?”)

I am curious what your thoughts are.

4 thoughts on ““Analytic Theology” in the new JAAR

  1. I think what we see here is the academic equivalent of astroturfing. As far as I can tell there has been nearly no organic interest in analytic theology and almost all of these fellowships and such have been aggressively pushed with the assistance of Templeton money. A lot of it. And a particular kind of Christian apologetics, which has always been a kind of “analytic theology” anyway. After having read the manifesto volume I thought I was presented with something nearly as politically dangerous as Radical Orthodoxy, but a million times more boring. Imagine theology without theophany.

  2. I just gave a paper at an AT event, a response to Peter van Inwagen’s (sort of) critique of Heidegger in an essay called “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment.” My paper wasn’t even arguing that H was right and PvI wrong–only that PvI had missed the substance of the disagreement. This was my first time presenting in front of analytic-minded folks, but unfortunately I had a very similar experience to the one mentioned above. This one guy was just convinced that Being and Time could be dismissed as a cheap form of “subjectivism” and that continental philosophy is essentially an extended exercise in bad poetry. After running out of coherent ways to try and explain that “subjectivism” is exactly the kind of thing H is trying to diagnose and overcome in BaT, I let myself get pretty pissed and was scattered and unclear in the rest of my responses.

    I’ve not run into any Christian apologetics here, but there’s no question that the Biola School of Christian philosophy has a natural home in this project. I actually do think there is interesting work that goes on (the first installation of the AT Journal has what I think is an interesting discussion on Kevin Hector’s book), but my hopes for good discussion were dashed at this event, for sure.

  3. One other thing that came to mind for me over the weekend is that the Leiter Gormet report used to say something like “those interested in Continental philosophy should best just go to graduate school in English, since that is where Continental philosophy belongs.” Analytics have always maintained that Continental philosophy belongs in the English, psychology, art, film studies, theology departments. So here we are, analytic theology.

    Again: I don’t have an issue with this. But I am concerned a little with this designation of “analytic” as opposed to “continental,” and some of it is that so many folks in philosophy of religion designate themselves as “continental” and have absolutely no knowledge or interest in analytic philosophy. For example: Sometimes when I talk to theological ethics folks, especially when they move into fields like biomedical ethics, there is no knowledge whatsoever of Beauchamp and Childress, or the really helpful contributions from value theorists, etc. And when we talk about it further, I feel like theological ethicists have no interest, either. But maybe because for them, that’s philosophy. But one would think if you’re interested in ethics, you’d want to know about these things…

  4. I’m guilty of being a continental partisan without much familiarity with analytic philosophy. I’m sure I’m missing out, but at the same time, I’m also missing out on thinkers within “my own” tradition (I barely know Deleuze, Laruelle, etc.). Perhaps the situation is different in ethics, but it’s hard for me to imagine an “organic” connection between my work and analytic philosophy.

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