“…The term ‘postmodern’ had been used sporadically by process [theology] thinkers since the 1960s. The later French movement that gave ‘postmodernism’ wide currency reinforced many Whiteheadean criticisms of modernity, but it concluded on a ‘deconstructive’ note. Whiteheadians [and other process thinkers] joined with other constructive critics of modernity in emphasizing reconstruction.” — John B. Cobb, Jr., “Process Theology,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2007), p. 561.
Unitarian Universalists are in the direct lineage of process thought, through the contributions of thinkers like Charles Hartshorne and Bernard Loomer, both of whom were members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. And for many years, our thinking emphasized the reconstructive aspects of postmodernity. More recently, though, I’ve been feeling that we Unitarian Universalists (and I include myself in this critique) have been following the French postmodernists by emphasizing the deconstructive aspects of postmodernity. This is due, I think, to our adoption of liberal political discourse, which currently emphasizes deconstruction over reconstruction — liberal politics tends to default towards breaking down stereotypes and attacking the sacred cows of the existing social order, as opposed to trying to construct a better social order. We who ally ourselves with liberal politics know what we are against, but we sometimes find it difficult to articulate what we are for.
Speaking for myself, to get out of reactive deconstruction, it’s been helpful to think about process thought. But the process thought of Hartshorne, Loomer, et al., seems a little dated these days. Maybe for us Unitarian Universalists, the work that Dan McKanan is doing around ecospirituality is one way to be reconstructive rather than deconstructive. Although, finding myself still in a deconstructive mode, I can’t help but keep looking for someone who isn’t a Western white male….
The spring/summer issue of the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin features essays on ecological spiritualities. Dan MacKanan, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Senior Lecturer in Divinity, provides the introduction, “Making a Space of ‘Alternative Spiritualites’,” saying in part:
“When the Divinity School committed to offering a fully multireligious master of divinity curriculum about 20 years ago, we expected to see an increasing number of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu students. That has certainly been the case. But we have also been blessed by a steadily growing number of pagans, animists, readers of the Urantia Book or a Course in Miracles, practitioners of entheogenic or queer or African diasporic spiritualities, seekers, and people who affiliate with two, three, or more traditions. This diversity … invites us to reimagine both religion and the practice of ministry.”
In other words, religion in American has expanded beyond Christianity, and beyond those “world religions.” I’m putting “world religions” in scare quotes because these were the religious traditions that were judged to be the equal of Christianity, the religious tradition which until recently was assumed by many Western scholars to be the paradigm of all religion.
So McKanan and some others at Harvard Divinity School formed the Program for the Evolution of Spirituality to explore how religion was changing (or maybe to find out how our perception of religion has expanded beyond considering Christianity as the paradigm of all religion). I think I’d want to gently critique the name of this program for using the word “evolution” in the title. That’s not a value-free word, and comes freighted with all kinds of assumptions that may not be intended by the people who formed the program. In spite of that, the Program for the Evolution of Spirituality appears to be A Good Thing; I’ll be following their future work with interest.
Their first conference, held in 2022, was on ecological spiritualities. And the bulk of the spring/summer issue of the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin is devoted to essays that apparently grew out of that conference. I’ll have more to say about some of those essays in later posts….
Some more of my reporting on General Assembly is up on the uuworld.org blog:
The continuing power of liberal theology today, lecture by Gary Dorrien, with responses by Rebecca Parker and Dan McKanan.
UUA Financial Advisor reports a brighter situation, report from Plenary this morning.
Faith formation in a multi-cultural world, conversation with Mark Hicks, professor of religious education at Meadville/Lomard Theological School.
The cultural challenge of digital media, conversation with Rev. Scott Wells.
Report of the president of the UUA, report from Plenary this afternoon.
As before, comment here, or comment on the posts themselves.