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Best Contemporary Theology Meme

Print Version January 11th, 2007

A meme! A meme! No one’s ever hit me with a meme before. Kaloo kalay… Actually I hate the whole idea of memes — at least the philosophical idea that ideas are analogous to viruses. This on the other hand seems more like an invitation than an infection so I’ll pipe down.

Crystal at Perspective infected me but it seems the source of the contagion was Patrik. The task as it has developed is to name three of the most influential works of contemporary theology, and three lesser known books that should be widely read.

I pondered that for a while and decided that in my reduced state what I could do was scan my bookshelves for the books that have fixed themselves in my mind and shaped my theology. I have to wriggle around the task that way because most of my choices aren’t exactly theological! Another plug for the interdiscipinary task of theology…

Anyway … in alphabetical order, six good books:

Elaine Scarry (1985 ) The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
Scarry does a fascinating job pulling together reports of torture, theories of war, Marx and Freud, and the God of the Hebrew Bible to shape a way of talking about creativity and the imagination. It’s a book that I’ve never found a direct use for in my own writing but it sits there reminding me my theorising has to be adequate to the body’s experience of pain and beauty.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1981) Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter
Of all Balthasar’s rich writing this little work captures for me the heart of his enterprise. My liturgy teacher taught the maxim that the best answer to most theological questions was always ‘the paschal mystery’. Balthasar takes that more seriously than most and finds the heart of this heart: the enigma of Holy Saturday. What do we do with Christ dead?
Louis Dupré (1993) Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture
I don’t know how you can do theology today without taking some stance on what Modernity is or was, how it came to be, and where we are now in relation to its issues. Dupré’s analysis in terms of the relationship between nature and culture is a beautifully written enlightenment. It doesn’t hurt that he explores Ignatius of Loyola as a response (in his eyes flawed) to modernity’s splitting apart of the two.
Alejandro García-Rivera (1999) Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Michael Glazier Books)
I must declare an interest here. Alex supervised my own research and many of the long and exciting discussions from that time find themselves echoed on the pages of this book. It’s an exploration of theological aesthetics from the angle of the poor in a quest to undo the divisions our culture is heir to. Beautiful and creative and dripping with ideas.
Lewis Hyde (1979) The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World
The concept if ‘gift’ finds itself at the heart of many contemporary theological appropriations of postmodernity. I haven’t found a better approach to gift than Hyde’s. His subtitle in my US edition is far more promising than the one above–‘Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property’.
Stephen Toulmin (1990) Cosmopolis: Hidden Agenda of Modernity
‘Modernity’, hmm, you might be seeing a pattern here. Simmer together Toulmin and Dupré and season with Hyde… Cosmopolis gives, I think, the best account of the modern and the postmodern–and all in good, straightforward, Anglo-Saxon prose.
James Alison (1998) Knowing Jesus
This isn’t Alison’s best or best known book–I have a soft spot for all his work–but it does get to the core of a Girardian approach to theology and shows its strength in a brief book I find myself giving away to all sorts of people.

Oops, neither alphabetical, nor six, nor all that ‘contemporary’… I’ve mutated a meme…

Entry Filed under: Thoughts

1 Comment

  • 1. crystal  |  January 11th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Was it Dawkins who wrote of the meme? 🙂 Thanks for doing this … I’ve only known about two of the books you mentioned, so I’m looking forward to checking out the others.


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