Sunday, November 28, 2010

New faculty publication!: Polydoxy

The Library is pleased to announce that it has received its copy of Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation, co-edited by Drew professor of Constructive Theology, Catherine Keller, and Laurel Schneider, professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at Chicago Theological Seminary. This volume comprises essays based on presentations made at the 9th Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium (TTC), an annual event at Drew Theological School. The colloquial origin of the essays accounts in part for the spirit of community they evince, but this also owes in large measure to the appreciation the authors collectively have for the very multiplicity and relation cited in the sub-title. The authors know each other's work and cite it (which does not invariably happen in multi-author collections of essays). Among the 12 authors, Laurel Schneider cites Catherine Keller, who cites John Thatamanil, who cites Mayra Rivera, who cites Sharon Betcher, who cites Laurel Schneider...--in a circle of citings that includes many additional mutual citings (and sightings!) embracing the other authors. The authors do not simply discuss multiplicity and relationality, they realize it before our eyes.

A helpful introduction introduces a third term to what might have been a mere complementarity of multiplicity and relation: "Unknowing" (p. 4), and it is under those three headings (Multiplicity, The Unknown, and Relationality) that the twelve essays are arranged. The three terms together mark a range of value that does not so much oppose as dis-enclose (to quote Rivera quoting Jean-Luc Nancy, p. 175) orthodoxy, the counterpoint to the polydoxy of the book's title. If Orthodoxy is, as Marion Grau simply and lucidly characterizes it, the "lifting up of one particular opinion as true" (p. 218), then polydoxy is the co-existence--or better, co-habiting--of multiple opinions. As counterpoint to orthodoxy, polydoxy accompanies it with possibly and indeed hopefully harmonizing alternatives, as Roland Faber indicates when he segues from polydoxy to polyphony (p. 41). The coinage of "polydox," though not entirely new (Rabbi Alvin Reines had used this term to name the non-dogmatic and open-to-atheistic Judaism he developed and promoted in the late twentieth century), dis-encloses itself in a plurality of meanings, even without the "poly" prefix. For doxa all by itself can mean, as Rivera explains, "opinion, view, or judgment" (p. 168). But then, by a curious twist of biblical translation, whereby the Hebrew kabod became doxa in Greek, a whole new range of meanings unfolded for the term out of the Hebrew: weight, honor, beauty, power, manifestation--as in the Glory (or manifestation) of God. And Rivera's essay is indeed an exploration of how doxa in this wonder-inducing sense can alternatively energize or enervate those who receive it.

A philosophically (Platonically) inflected meaning of doxa, which demeans it, as mere opinion, in contrast with certain knowledge (p. 168), pushes the argument for polydoxy forward. For here is where the Unknowing enters in. The uncertainty that the Platonic doxa on doxa implies becomes its appeal to polydoxic sensibility. A previous TTC had explored the paradoxical affinity of apophatic teachings about the divine with the reality of multiple, related bodies. And a preference the authors show, apart from the interest some of them have in the Trinity (the editors, Lee, Thatamanil), is for that name of God that, from the Christian heritage, is most elusive, indeterminate and difficult to speak authoritatively about: Spirit. In the index, ably compiled by Beatrice Marovich, Spirit receives the longest entry (and God, none at all.) (Never underestimate the communicative value of a good index!--yes, to quote the Acknowledgments, "brava Beatrice"!).

Now to turn from the doxa to the poly--polydoxic thinking crosses boundaries of space and time. The essays here draw from geographically diverse traditions, in Africa (Yoruba), East Asia (Neo-Confucianism), South Asia (Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism), Native North America, and Latin America, in the essays respectively by Coleman, Lee, Thatamanil, Brianne Donaldson, Schneider, and Rivera. From within the western Christian tradition, we receive here sympathetic new readings of old favorites, such as Hegel (Lee), and Augustine (Rubenstein), and an original reading of a lesser-known primed to become a favorite for some: Anne Conway (Keller), a 17th century thinker who herself polydoxically interlinked Cambridge Platonism, Quakerism, Kabbalah and Leibniz. The aim here is not plurality for its own sake, but discerned analogies, parallels, complementarities, potential dialogues across difference. Hyo-Dong Lee and John Thatamanil explore these explicitly as they appear between the Christian trinity and Asian religious thought. But the essays also interrogate each other, if only implicitly. Haloes are a theme for both Roland Faber and Mayra Rivera; Monica Coleman's reading of Tananarive Due's novel The Living Blood includes thoughts on hurricanes that speak across the intervening chapters to Colleen Hartung's reflections on tornadoes; while theft, whether as trickery or tragedy, becomes a bridge of potential conversation between Coleman and Schneider.

But if one idea impressed itself most on this reader, it is that the very notion of identity is itself an artifice that need not draw our allegiance. The essays collectively suggest an analogy between identity and orthodoxy. But if polydoxy is the counterpoint to orthodoxy, what plays that role to identity? These essays offer up a family of terms for what this might be: permeability (Schneider, p. 32); indetermination (Faber, p. 41); "the borderline where the I emerged from its matrix" (Betcher quoting Erik Erikson, p. 76); the membranous (Keller, p. 96); ecstasy, in its most literal sense (Rubenstein); emptiness (Lee, quoting Cheng Yi, p. 130); blindness (Hartung); and Jean Luc Nancy's term, already via Mayra Rivera: dis-enclosure. Life in the space marked by these terms is something Roland Faber limns for us at the close of his essay. It is not necessarily an easy place to be. It is something like the place Levinas describes before a self that is hears or beholds the approach of the Other. Sharon Betcher suggests it is just from this space that the ligatures of urban conviviality and friendship open up. But what sustains us in this space before that happens or if indeed it fails to happen? Well, in part, words of such essays as these. If, as Laurel Schneider enjoins us to do, and as Monica Coleman demonstrates in her attentions to fiction, we remember "the innate agency of stories" (p. 31), we may find that more emerges from that quarter to sustain than we imagined--and that more than meets the eye is, or can function as, story. The agency of story can even emerge in that holdout of orthodoxy: the creed. I, for my part, have always loved the sound of the Nicene Creed, which is partly story, even if, from my perch in the religious world, I do not pronounce it myself. Perhaps the authors of this volume, in a future collaboration, will share polydoxic readings of that polysemic and polyphonous string of words, whose flowing cadences may indeed reach far beyond the bounds of that orthodoxy they were originally framed to serve.

Polydoxy is cataloged with the call number BR41 .D74 2011, which places it in the old Cornell Room (Level E). Readers of this volume may be interested in the published essays of other TTC's, listed here, all of which are available in the library. Books of kindred spirit may be found cataloged under these subject headings:
Theology of Religions (Christian Theology)
Christianity and Other Religions
Process Theology
Religious Pluralism
Enter any of these terms into the catalog search box click on the Subject button, and a list of books will appear.