Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been forced to write a ‘personal statement’ for Ph.D applications. Now while this might seem a bit pretentious, I thought I would post it because it really is the best statement of where I am at and what I intend to continue thinking about, whether or not it is in relation to an advanced degree.
So here is most of the statement that I’m submitting with my application. Let me know what you think and what questions you have. But don’t steal my project!!
How might we return the Book of Common Prayer to ministers as a revolutionary manual, rather than merely as a guide to personal prayer or corporate worship? Within the ………………………….. concentration of the …………………… program, I plan to answer this question by researching the intersection of Liturgy and Politics, with the hopes of reclaiming the subversive power of Christian liturgy for the Western Church after Christendom.
My interest in corporate worship has transitioned from an understanding of personal piety, to corporate spiritual formation, to the advent of an alternative community. These transitions roughly fit the trajectory of my intellectual and theological development. Beginning from my undergraduate studies in philosophy, and being influenced by Reformed Theology, I primarily understood corporate worship as a form of personal piety. During my preparation for pastoral ministry in graduate school, being influenced by post-liberal theology, I then shifted to an understanding of worship as corporate spiritual formation, or the place of forming a distinctive Christian identity. Finally, throughout my pastoral ministry, and in relation to the movement known as Radical Orthodoxy, I began to conceive of corporate worship as the definitive space for creating an alternative political community. During my three years as an associate pastor I have increasingly noted the importance, and yet difficulty, of forming an alternative community in the midst of American consumerism and individualism, as well as the capitulation of the Religious Right to conservative politics. All of this has led to my interest in the relation between liturgy and politics, culminating in a desire for sustained research in both sacramental and liturgical theology, as well as political philosophy focusing on the emergence of American Pragmatist political theory, exemplified by Jeffrey Stout, and post-Marxist appropriations of Christianity, represented by Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou. In relation to the above, as well as my vocational commitment to developing future church leaders, both pastorally in the church and academically as a seminary professor, I am seeking an advanced degree at ………………………..
My specific research proposes to investigate the intersection between Liturgy and Politics. Beyond merely stating that there is a connection between liturgy and politics, this research will show how liturgy constitutes the Church as the political Body of Christ, and how this Body interacts with the political, social, and economic bodies found in our global situation. The liturgical side of this project will examine the “subject” as it is produced through sacramental practices. It will draw particularly on the resources of Jacques Lacan, whose articulation of Freudian psychoanalysis can be understood as an anti-sacramental philosophy (mirroring an authentic sacramental theology), and for that reason offering insights into the inter-subjective, corporeal, and symbolic nature of liturgical practices. Building from this, the possibilities of a political subjectivity will be explored as a primary site of resistance to the current abuses of globalization. This research will suggest the liturgical resources of the worshipping Church as the culmination of recent political projects seeking to reintroducing the themes of Kantian ‘cosmopolitanism’ and Hegelian ‘recognition.’
This research will build from my past education and current activities. In addition to receiving a B.A. in Philosophy concentrating on Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and a Masters of Divinity, I am working with James K. A. Smith on a project relating postmodern philosophy to church practice in the works of John Caputo, Merold Westphal, Bruce Bensen, Graham Ward, and Karl Raschke. I am also organizing a conference concerning Political Theology at Northern Seminary. I have written an essay on Augustine’s Eucharistic theology in relation to the political philosophy of Antonio Negri under the supervision of Bruce Fields, and a paper integrating the New Perspective on Paul with post-Marxian revolutionary politics. In addition to this, I have developed a personal reading program covering the post-Marxist appropriation of Christianity in Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizkei, the Italian political philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri, and American Pragmatists such at Jeffery Stout, Hilary Putnam, and Robert Brandom, as well as the liturgical theologies of Gordon Laythrop (Lutheran) and Lious-Marie Chauvet (Catholic). Through all of this I have prepared myself to extensively research both political and liturgical theology.
Academically, this research will contribute a Lacanian reading to sacramental theology which will both enrich sacramental theology as well as an understanding of Lacan as an (anti)sacramental philosopher. In addition, this research will add to the nascent appropriation of Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou as resources for political theology. Practically, it will help ministers see how the planning and execution of corporate worship does not merely prepare or inform our political awareness (although it certainly should), but is itself a political act, producing a specifically Christian political subjectivity through the liturgical elements of public worship.
It is my conviction that within the secular processes, economic and political, of globalization and it fundamentalist (religious and/or ethnic) backlash, the Church must affirm again the politically constitutive nature of its public worship. Only when ministers see how the planning and execution of corporate worship does not merely prepare or inform our political awareness, but is itself a political act, producing a specifically Christian political subjectivity, will it again be able to witness to and embody the peace and reconciliation of the Gospel in Christ.