Introducing the Network… Katharine Sarah Moody

12 04 2013

[This is the third in a series of posts in which those closely involved with the new network introduce themselves]

Katharine Sarah Moody

Katharine Sarah Moody

Working with Dan and Chris as a Research Associate for the Philosophy and Religious Practices (PRP) network, I’ve been affiliated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool since January 2013. As the RA, my role is to take the lead on the network’s mini-project, a small-scale study of the ways religious practitioners engage with philosophical texts.

My background is in Religious Studies but I’m increasingly working at the intersection of continental philosophy, radical theology and religious practices.

My doctoral studies at Lancaster University focused on the ‘emerging church’ – a new religious movement that explores Christian belief and faith in contemporary culture. The ‘emerging church conversation’ is diverse, but it often has a particular interest in how the so-called ‘postmodern turn’ in philosophy and theology might influence individual and communal life, and the cultural and philosophical contexts of ‘emerging Christianity’ are especially shaping the ways in which religious truth is being conceived in this conversation. This meant that I could take the philosophical notion of truth as a site from which to examine the generative relationships between postmodern or ‘post-secular’ philosophical theologies and material, lived, or everyday religious discourse and practice.

My first monograph, Post-Secular Theology and the Church: A New Kind of Christian is A New Kind of Atheist (Wipf & Stock, 2014), illustrates how emerging church discourse positions Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology into narratives, hermeneutics or imaginaries that make sense of two divergent forms of ‘emergent religiosity’: Deep Church and A/Theism.

James K.A. Smith

James K.A. Smith

John D. Caputo

John D. Caputo

Following James K.A. Smith’s (Reformed) Radical Orthodoxy, the Deep Church discursive motif of depth imagines that only immersion in the informative and formative narratives and material practices of the ancient Christian tradition can enable participants to rightly discern the ‘secular liturgies’ that dis-order rather than correctly order the world.

However, taking significant cue from John D. Caputo’s radical hermeneutics and weak theology, A/Theism is organised around a motif of deconstruction, recognising that the Christian tradition is itself ‘auto-deconstructive’, meaning that faith cuts across the boundaries between atheist and theist, and between the secular and the religious, disturbing these and other dualisms.

Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek

Peter Rollins

Peter Rollins

My post-doctoral work and second monograph, Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity: Deconstruction, Materialism and Religious Practices (Ashgate, 2014), examines the relationships between John D. Caputo’s deconstructive theology, Slavoj Žižek’s materialist theology, and emerging Christianity, especially Pete Rollins‘ project of ‘pyrotheology’.

Because my work combines philosophical, theological and empirical approaches to the study of religion, I was invited to take part in the Chester workshop on speculative philosophy and religious practices – one of the initial events out of which the PRP network emerged. My contribution to that event, later published in this special issue of Political Theology, highlighted the affinities between deconstructive theology, speculative philosophy and emerging Christian practices.

Speculative Philosophies and Religious Practices

Speculative Philosophies and Religious Practices

But one religious (or, rather, ‘ir/religious’) practice in particular provides something of a case study for an exploration of how philosophy impacts faith communities – the a/theistic contemplative practice of Atheism for Lent.

The origins of Atheism for Lent can be found in Merold Westphal’s Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism, which introduces readers to the great atheist critics of religion, the unholy Trinity of Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. But the catalyst for this course was Pete Rollins, who, in 2006, started an Atheism for Lent course at Ikon in Belfast.

Ikon Belfast

Ikon Belfast

Participants committed to reading a chapter of Westphal’s book a day, meeting together regularly to discuss them in the hope of encouraging subjective transformation. In Spring 2011, Pete ran an online seminar about Atheism for Lent, hoping to inspire webinar participants (like me) to set up their own versions of these events.

I was intrigued by the possibility of exploring these thinkers in a more contemplative environment, encouraging participants to move on from their questions about these critics of religion, beyond a critical questioning of them, towards a point where they could let their own religious practices be placed in question by them.

Ann Kim, 'Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani'

Ann Kim, ‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani’

But this process isn’t simply one of intellectual engagement with a variety of critiques of religion of religious faith. It’s not a practice that merely encourages participants to place their intellectual theism in conversation with critics’ intellectual atheism.

Rather, it’s intended as a practice of existential atheism, with the potential to transform participants. This Lenten course is designed to encourage participants to experience something of what Jesus felt on the Cross when he cries, ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’ – when doubt, disbelief and atheism become internal to the life of faith.

So during Lent 2011, I began running an Atheism for Lent course with Journey, a collective in Birmingham that welcomes Christians, spiritual seekers and those of no religion. Our course ran with an average of twenty members, meeting every week to discuss the reading material that I had prepared on atheists ranging from Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, to Ricky Gervais and Derren Brown. I posted these materials on my blog over Lent 2012, gave a presentation on Atheism for Lent at Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival, and wrote an article for Third Way Magazine about giving up God for Lent. In 2013, these materials were used – amongst others – as a springboard for the daily readings of an online Atheism for Lent course created by Ikon NYC.

Ikon NYC

Ikon NYC

The format of Atheism for Lent as a reading group in search of individual and collective transformation provides something of a model for the PRP network’s study of how reading philosophical texts can impact faith communities. And it also led me to think about philosophy as itself a religious exercise, spiritual discipline or contemplative practice. I’ll post more reflections on philosophy as a religious practice, as well as about the PRP network’s mini-project, over the next few months as my work in these areas develops.

In addition to my role within the PRP network, my work with Drury University, Springfield, Missouri, on a conference series, Subverting the Norm, that brings academics and practitioners together to explore continental philosophy, radical theology and church practice also reflects my interest in the juncture of philosophy, theology and lived religion.

For more information about my research activities, see my blog and follow me on Twitter, @KSMoody.


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