Louvain Studies special issue on ‘relation, vulnerability, love’

by Lieve Orye

Several treads of thought woven at the conference in 2016 have been rewoven into paper and digital format. A Louvain Studies issue has been published recently with contributions of several keynote speakers and respondents. Under the menu heading ‘Special issue Louvain Studies 2018’ you can find a table of contents and links to further information.


As editors, Yves de Maeseneer and I feel that this special issue has become a well-woven cloth, a colorful tapistry of thought and reflection on the what and how of theological anthropology in the 21st century. We particularly would like to draw attention to the last article in this issue, ‘Weaving Theological Anthropology into Life. Editorial Conclusions in Correspondence with Tim Ingold’. In this last contribution, we weave together five key themes that have been raised in the different contributions of this issue, and we do so in conversation with the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold. This weaving together confirms the terms ‘relation’, ‘vulnerability’ and ‘love’ as key for theological anthropology in the twenty-first century.


A first theme is theological anthropology’s conversation with the discipline of anthropology. The first section addresses Michael Banner’s call for a more thorough anthropological turn for theological anthropology. Following a line of connection starting from anthropologist Joel Robbins, who has inspired Banner in taking this turn, towards Ingold, we argue that the latter’s understanding of anthropology as ‘philosophy with the people in’ turns him into a much more interesting conversation partner for a theological anthropology that wishes to pay attention to the work of being human and being moral ‘on the ground’.

The second section finds a similar opening for conversations between theology and anthropology in relation to evolutionary perspectives. Here we make the connection with anthropologist Agustín Fuentes’ work in order to open up such a space. Fuentes does important work, as both Jan-Olav Henriksen and Markus Mühling appreciate. But, we argue here again – in line with Mühling’s contribution – that Ingold’s reflections in conversations with evolutionary theorizing take us onto a fundamentally different path towards a fully relational theological anthropology.

A second theme is woven through these first two sections. Being human is a practice, notes Banner. Or, as Brian Brock indicates with the help of Barth, we exist in our acting. In Ingold’s relational anthropology ‘to human’ is a verb; being human is a never-ending task. In these understandings, a perspective that sees knowing-in-being as primary is indicated. We argue with Ingold that Henriksen’s emphasis on what is specifically human is important to keep, though within a framework that goes beyond a human-animal and a culture-biology divide by prioritizing movement and life in a forward-going approach.


The third and fourth themes, addressed in the third and fourth sections, must be seen, with Ingold, as two sides of the same coin. The third theme involves a weaving together of Ingold’s primacy of knowing-in-being with Banner’s and Brock’s existing-in-believing. This further opens up a discussion of enskilment, of tradition and way-formation, and of imagination and vision in a relational, participative perspective.

The fourth theme, however, clarifies with the help of Elizabeth Gandolfo and Paul Fiddes that such knowing-in-being fundamentally involves exposure and existential risk in a ‘wild’ world. Vulnerability surfaces as a key notion here. We follow Ingold in taking a step beyond James Gibson’s ecological psychology which was key in Mühling’s contribution, towards an understanding of the world, not as a given, but always on its way to being given.

The fifth theme brings us to theology’s areas of concern in the conversation with anthropology. Theology ‘from a wound’ points to the dark side of wildness and vulnerability, and to the need to discern when and how to embrace or to resist vulnerability. Importantly, such discernment and resistance happen through existing-in-believing: precisely a believing and acting that discovers through participation that love is the deepest reality.


As organizers of the conference and as editors of this Louvain Studies issue, we would like to thank once more everyone who in one way or another made a contribution. We hope that several of the threads of thought and reflection developed and woven together at the conference, in the blog (easily accessible through the previous blogpost) and in the journal issue will find further life, growing into further thoughts, comingling with other lines, taking up other forms and shapes. But even more, we hope that these threads of thought might find ways to correspond and comingle with lines of life, nurturing these towards a more sustainable world. Our hope is that theological anthropology in the 21st century will be a discipline with a critical agenda, in line with Joel Robbins’ characterization of theology and anthropology as critical disciplines nourished by O/otherness, and that, in line with Tim Ingold’s characterization of anthropology, it becomes shaped by a method of hope.

Relation, vulnerability, love






Posted in Being human, Brian Brock, Elina Hankela, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Liz Gandolfo, Love, Markus Muhling, Michael Banner, Paul Fiddes, Relationality, Vulnerability

The conference blog: review, overview


040For those of you who would like to explore the previous blogs chronologically, below you find an overview. The blog posts, with excerpts from the keynote speakers, respondents and other relevant authors, show a richly textured subject matter, which you can easily access through the categories-list. We also would like to draw attention to the contributions from Jacques Baeni Mwendabandu and Gakwaya Remy, both residents in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. Through skype they were directly involved in a session at the conference.


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Gathering in relation to allow new beginnings in our world

On the 15th, 16th and 17th of September 2016 the Anthropos ‘Con-ference‘ took place. We gathered and were gathered by a shared topic, a meshwork of threads of theological anthropology in which ‘relation, vulnerability and love’ were further explored as key notions, not only to talk about ‘what it means to be human’, but also to talk about ‘what it is to talk theologically about what it means to be human’.

In the words of Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, philosophers of education at the KULeuven, we can characterize this academic conference as a moment in “the invention of school as a particular space-time-matter arrangement that actually operates in a very specific way as a kind of gathering that makes things/the world public or common”, “a ‘form of gathering’ that makes ‘free time’, a time of study and exercise where things are ‘on the table’”.(1)

Understanding education, and thus also our academic gathering, as public space, as a gathering in relation, in vulnerability, attentively exposing oneself to the present, seeing more clearly with the eyes of love (rather than understanding it as an event and instrument in the workings of the university as institution that is to connect people individually to talents, to performances and to positions), might be necessary to be able to think ‘a new beginning in our world’, as Masschelein and Simons state it with the help of Hannah Arendt.(2)

In a world that is to welcome refugees, that is to see the humanity of the stranger, we must take up responsibility for the world, accept the world as it is, accepting both child and stranger as becoming part of the common world. This is to put the world at their disposal to expose the world, to deliver it. That is, we must love the world as well as young people, people joining us from elsewhere, people looking for a way out, allowing them to be newcomers and strangers. That is, we must assume responsibility for them, for them to have a chance for a new beginning, a participation in the renewing of the common world. In the words of anthropologist João Biehl, it is to grant them their right to a non-projected future, a future of which we become a part in unexpected ways.

… people’s own struggles and visions of themselves and others – their life stories – create holes in dominant theories and interventions and unleash a vital plurality: being in motion, ambiguous and contradictory, not reducible to a single narrative, projected into the future, transformed by recognition, and thus the very fabric of alternative world-making (Biehl 2013:4).(3)

With thanks and appreciation to Remy Gakwaya,  student at Regis University through Jesuit Common Higher Education at the Margin in Dzaleka, who provided us with his story of new beginnings:

See you in Leuven!

(1) Author Interview: Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons

(2) Masschelein, J.; Simons, M. (2010), “Schools as Architecture for Newcomers and Strangers: The Perfect School as Public School?”, Teachers College Record 12(3), 533-555.

(3) Biehl, J. (2013), “Roundtable on Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics: The Right to a Nonprojected Future“, Practical Matters, 6, 1-9.

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On Political Compassion

Excerpt taken from Compassion; Loving our neighbor in an age of Globalization (2009), written by Maureen O’Connell (Orbis Books, p. 194-196)

globalcompassion1Loving our suffering neighbor in an age of globalization entails the ability to perceive self-critically both ourselves and our connections as the causes of others’ suffering. (…) Several values wreak emotional havoc on first-world persons and hinder us in responding to others in need on the road to Jericho. For example, individualism isolates us from others, self-sufficiency rejects vulnerability, consumerism creates an anxious insatiability, competitiveness pits social ‘winners’ against ‘losers’, and fear perpetuates a defensive posture toward the world. (…)

The reflexivity of political compassion gives privileged persons the courage to turn and face those who are less privileged in order to perceive the unearned or unfairly distributed resources we have at our disposal. (…) By sparking this critical self-awareness, political compassion empowers us to interrogate the dangerous values that stem from and reinforce the oppressive dynamics of privilege. But it also offers counter values that reinforce a more authentic self-understanding and animate a more socially responsible engagement in the world. These values can be of real use in strategies that continue to be articulated by those with privilege. For example, suffering with persons with this kind of reflexivity gives us the courage to embrace the inherent vulnerability that all human beings share, and it awakensglobalcompassion2 a deeper concern for those who experience it more acutely than others. It cultivates the value of deep relationality with others that motivates us to embrace rather than avoid the dangers and mysteries of difference. It values the messiness and beauty of human embodiment so that we risk asking people how they actually experience different strategies of development – physically and emotionally – and not just safely seek perspective of other privileged persons. (…)

Political compassion privileges the perspective of suffering persons or the moral authority of their experiences. Therefore, it empowers those who travel down to Jericho without excessive privileges to identify the causal relationship between the ease of our passage and the difficulties in their journey. This kind of compassion gives unjustly waylaid travelers the ability to name their experiences of exclusion, or of living as persons of color in a world controlled by a colorblind elite, or of acquiescing power and authority to outsiders, or of being dissatisfied with privileged person’s notions of what it means to flourish. The ability to name the cause or source of their suffering is an important step in resisting it.




(*) Orange quotes are taken from ‘Who is My Neighbor? Compassion in the Age of Globalization’ by David G. Addiss (2016).


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Nowhere to escape if God does not make a way: a reflection out of an African refugee camp

By guest blogger Jacques Baeni Mwendabandu, student at Regis University through Jesuit Common Higher Education at the Margin in Dzaleka

“Then they cried to the Lord in their troubles, and he delivered them out of their distresses” (Psalm, 107: 6. American King James Version). Despite the hospitality of host people and humanitarian assistance, refugees and asylum seekers face challenges in their daily life. They believe that their vulnerability is no different from Israelites’ sufferings at the time of Moses. It is true that God hears and delivers his people from their suffering. However, God’s intervention took a while. Humans’ life is not only made of happiness. There is always a time of troubles. This allows people to grow up through the experience. When the time of troubles appears and an individual is forced to be far from his family, heritage and friends, it is absolutely painful. Difficult is as well that relief intervenes at an unexpected time. During the painful period, refugees and asylum seekers do not have another option than to wait for the time of relief.

Suffering in a refugee camp, turning to God

dzaleka1Refugees and asylum seekers face many challenges in their everyday life. Even though humanitarian organizations provide assistance, they cannot replace properly the comfort which refugees had in their home countries. Comparing life in the home country to life in a refugee camp, it seems that living in the camp feels much like living in a prison. In fact the Dzaleka facilities, the accommodation where I stay as a refugee in Malawi, had served as a political prison in the past. It was established as a refugee camp by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994.

Finding employment here is a dream. Refugees and asylum seekers can work only as volunteers. So what they can receive is only a premium. Their movement is also limited. Before leaving the camp, people have to request an exit authorization document. Isolated in Dzaleka refugee camp and far from their biological family and friends, most refugees live solitary lives in clay-brick houses covered by thatch. However, refugees do not have the choice of rejecting this situation of distress because they cannot go back to their home countries.

Individuals who have lived through violence, heartbreak, and persecution in their home countries face new challenges when seeking for asylum. People forcibly displaced, people fleeing genocide, violence and wars, would rather suffer in a refugee camp than be persecuted or killed at home. Consequently, they restore their hope in entrusting their life to God.

They have no option but to cry unto God and wait for being saved out of their troubles. They evangelize. They also make their effort to obey God’s commands. Established on a surface area of 456 acres, Dzaleka refugee camp has a population of more than twenty-five thousand people. This population attends more than sixty churches and one mosque. People believe that distress cannot separate them from God. Rather, for many their attachment to God grows stronger. They believe in God’s promises within the Bible. Nevertheless God does not respond exactly when someone calls him.

God always responds at the right time according to His own will. But an individual who is in troubles needs quick relief. For some displaced people, quick relief represents a lifting of the cdzaleka-integrity-family-churchross, the moment they are no longer refugees, their time of salvation, or perhaps more appropriately, of resurrection. Leaving the camp is their daily prayer. For them, the third country is the Promised Land. Others pray God to help them to speed up their social integration in the host country as citizens. But refugees and asylum seekers observe that God’s response to their suffering takes too long.  Even though living in a refugee camp is painful and temporary, refugees live a real life. Some are born in the camp. Some get married there. Others find their faith in the camp, while others live bad lives. Waiting for relief, they wonder whether God will deliver some of these people.

Lazarus, or salvation in God’s time

Maybe the story of Lazarus can throw a light on this? Mary and Martha watched their brother dying. They waited for Jesus but he did not come and they wondered why. Then Lazarus died. Jesus came when Lazarus was buried four days ago. Martha ran to him and then she cried “Lord, if you had been here, you could have healed him. He would still be alive but you are four days late and all hope is gone” (John 11: 22). They did not understand why Jesus waited so long. But later, Jesus brought Lazarus to life.

Lazarus’ situation brings hope not only to refugees but to all people who need relief. God responds at his time. As says the Bible in Isaiah 49:8; “In the time of his favor He will answer you, and in the day of salvation He will help you; He will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances.” God had never ignored people. The problem is that people want to speed up receiving relief from God. In this way, they sometimes make a big mistake when they believe the word from some people who disguise themselves as men of God. They do not develop the faculty of thinking critically. Some clergies ask them to offer more than what they have. They do it ignoring the budget of their homes. Additionally they cannot offer to God in their respective churches in the same way they do with the prophets.

These prophets organize prayer sessions. They invite people to pray with them. In searching for God’s response, some individuals come even though they were not invited. They not only come to the prayer session, they also go to visit prophets to their homes. Impatiently waiting for salvation, some refugees are willing to offer more than what they have if the command comes from a self-proclaimed prophet. Some decide to contract even a debt. They believe that this can be the right way in which God may talk to them about their situation. Refugees and asylum seekers are used to this kind of practices in the camp. If a prophet comes, some are ready to follow him and to abandon their churches and their pastors who are not prophets. However, when they prophecy them about God’s anger related to their sins, they are disappointed and hopeless.

Love is God’s way for salvation

God answers at the appropriate time, according to his own will. The prophecy is only a foretelling of what is to come. Hence, what is to come is God’s plan. The only way which leads people to experience God’s greatness is love. The parable of the Good Samaritan talks greatly about love (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’s answer to the lawyer who asked him who his neighbor were, had two parts.

Firstly, He talked about love towards God.

No one has ever seen God. Showing love to God is to obey his commands. Humans should consecrate their life to God. Some refugees see their way of salvation in God, others are turning to wrongdoing. Once hopeless, some think that their relief can be found in alcohol and drug-taking; while others consider prostitution as the easier way of finding incomes.

Secondly, Jesus insisted on the love towards his neighbor as himself.

When the lawyer asked Jesus who is my neighbor, he would like to limit the extent of his neighborhood. According to this parable, someone’s neighbor is an individual who needs someone’s help. Saying that you should love your neighbor as yourself leads to the concept of compassion. Showing compassion is to feel someone’s suffering and to overcome it. Of course, people out of the camp should show compassion to refugees, and indeed, Malawians are hospitable people. But also, refugees as well should be united, showing compassion to one another. Refugees should gather according to neither their countries nor the tribes. God has a wonderful plan for human beings. The first and highest command is love. By loving one’s neighbor in the camp, people might be able to wait together for God’s response in His own time with stronger hope and faith.

In sum, God response may come through people’s compassion. Some people, who are in a safe and comfortable position, would have to do something to help alleviate the situation of refugees or other people needing relief. God acts through other people. In a refugee camp some people try to speed up God, which is a way of trying to control God through payments to a prophet. But might not a similar error or sin be committed by those people in comfortable positions who rather slow down God by not doing what they are able to do, because they rather keep their comfort and control instead of participating in God’s plan. For instance a political leader, who holds on to his position of power and who says “refugees will be helped by God in His own time, I don’t have to do anything”.


Jacques, at the right, with two brothers refugees like him.

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Evolutionary love


Excerpts taken from Markus Mühling’s Resonances: Neurobiology, Evolution and Theology: Evolutionary Niche Construction, the Ecological Brain and Relational-narrative Theology (2014).

Peirce’s Agapasm

Whereas in Medieval times love was seen as a cosmological principle and in the theology of the Reformation it expresses the rule of created beings, since the rise of evolutionary biology the question arises whether this expectation can be met in any meaningful way. In 1889 Charles Sanders Peirce analysed the problem in a way that is still helpful for understanding the problem today. Peirce, an unusual monist who regarded the mental as basic and material as the derivative, explained his understanding of love as follows, with the love commanded in Christian ethics meaning:

Sacrifice your own perfection to the perfection of your neighbour. […] Love is not directed to abstractions but to persons; [… “Our neighbour” […] is one whom we live near, not locally perhaps but in life and feeling. (Peirce, ‘Evolutionary Love’)

But apart from being an ethical principle, love is also a law of development:

Everybody can see that the statement of St. John is the formula of an evolutionary philosophy, which teaches that growth comes only from love, from I will not say self-sacrifice, but from the ardent impulse to fulfill another’s highest impulse. […] The philosophy we draw from John’s gospel is that this is the way mind develops; […] Love, recognizing germs of loveliness in the hateful, gradually warms it into life, and makes it lovely.(Peirce, ‘Evolutionary Love’)

In this statement, love has a creative function reminiscent of Luther’s famous explication of the distinction between the love of God and the love of humans in the 28th thesis of the disputatio heidelbergensis:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Human love comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

However, what Luther attributes solely to God, creative love, is attributed by Peirce to love as a creative principle in evolution. This kind of evolution is called ‘agapasm’; and its principle, that Peirce regards as being in concord with the gospel, is the following:

The gospel of Christ says that progress comes from every individual merging his individuality in sympathy with his neighbors. […] Yet the strong feeling is in itself, I think, an argument of some weight in favor of the agapastic theory of evolution […]. Certainly, if it were possible to believe in agapasm without believing it warmly, that fact would be an argument against the truth of the doctrine. (Peirce, ‘Evolutionary Love’)


… What is the counter theory to agapasm? Here Peirce is perfectly clear: It is the economic perversion of love, i.e. the opinion that development is driven by self-love, the love of a limited class with shared common interests and love of mankind as a species. (201)…

Agapasm, niche construction and niche reception

The question for us is, then, is it possible to revisit Peirce’s question about the possibility and actuality of agapasm in evolution under the present circumstances? … Unlike Peirce we would argue that being convinced ‘warmly’ of a kind of agapasm is not a real possibility for the fallen, but only for the restored; therefore, perceiving love in evolution presupposes the personalistic attitude and cannot be restricted to the naturalistic one. Furthermore, not any personalistic attitude can be a presupposition, but only the restored one that is necessarily culturally and communally formed. … under a naturalistic attitude it is not love itself that is perceptible, but only something vaguely compatible or a restricted kind of love. And at this point we would opt for the claim that whereas classical Neo-Darwinism does not meet these expectations, an extended theory of evolution and niche construction does. A slightly altered and revisited kind of ‘agapasm’ is at least compatible with niche construction. Love is an internal relationship including mutuality, but not necessarily symmetry; niche construction is also a relationship in which the relation between a species and the environment (including other species) is seen as an internal relationship. Furthermore, cooperation alters and increases the models of evolutionary theory in a decisive way – this is something one would expect in light of the gospel. One would also expect that not only different species, but also particular living beings are bound together in ways that resonate what can theologically be called love. The importance of pair-bonds in anthropology and primatology meets this expectation in a very clear way. (201-202)

… Creatures are also niche constructors, but only in a manner that resonates the ultimate niche construction of the triune God. If one remodels the classical doctrine of the imago dei, one has to say that being made in the image of God does not mean a representational relationship, but a resonating one: humans resonate God in co-creating their own created niches on the basis of niche reception.(219)

Evolutionary love by WD street art.



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“After the wind came an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” *

Repost of a reflection on the times of the Earth and the meaning of life by Luigino Bruni, worldwide coordinator of the Economy of Communion and keynote speaker at the conference, who happened to be in the region, so familiar to him, during the earthquake.

Amatrice_clocktowerThat clock tower on Amatrice church indicating 3:36 am is a powerful image for what happened this night. That minute was the last minute for many victims, it will be a minute forever remembered because it is written in the flesh and hearts of their families. And it will be remembered by our country, whose recent history is also a series of clocks stopped forever by the violence of men and of the earth. I will also remember it forever, because this cry of the earth also reached the house of my parents in Roccafluvione, around twenty kilometres from Arquata del Tronto, where I am visiting them. It was a long night of fear, suffering and thoughts for Amatrice, Arquata, Accumuli, towns of my childhood, close to where my grandparents come from, villages where I would accompany my father as he went about his business selling chickens. And then there were thoughts, thoughts we never have, because you can only have them on these terrible nights.

I thought about all the time that clock had measured right up until 3.36. It stopped there, dead, but it was only one dimension of time which the Greeks called ‘kronos’: the surface, the soil of time. In the world there is our managed time, domesticated, constructed, which live by. But beneath it there is a another time: the time of the earth. This non-human time, and at times inhuman, and commands the time of men, mothers and children.

And I thought that we are not the masters of this other time, which is deeper, abysmal, primitive, which doesn’t follow our path, and at times is against the paths of those who walk above. On such momentous nights we become aware of this different time, on which we walk and build our homes, and that we are ‘grass of the field’, watered and nourished by the sky, but also swallowed up by the earth.

AmatriceThe earth, the real one and not the romantic and naive one of ideologies, is both mother and stepmother. The hummus generates man but also turns him back into dust, sometimes in a good way at the right time, but other times it is bad, and too soon, with a so much suffering. Biblical humanism knows this very well, but for this has fought a lot with the pagan cults of local peoples who wanted to make a divinity of the earth and its nature: the power of the earth has always fascinated men who have tried to ‘buy’ it with magic and sacrifices. Whilst I tried in vain to go back to sleep, I thought about the tremendous books of Job and Qohelet, which you can understand on such nights. Those books tell us that no God, not even the real one, can control the earth, because He too, once he entered into human history, became a victim of the mysterious freedom of his creation.

God cannot even explain to us why children die squashed beneath the ancient pillars of our towns. He can’t explain it to us because if he knew why he would be a monstrous idol. God, who today looks on the land of the three As – Arquata, Accumuli and Amatrice – can only ask himself the same questions as us: he can cry out, remain silent, cry together with us. He can perhaps remind us with the words of the Bible that all is vanity of vanities: everything is breath, wind, mist, waste, nothing, ephemeral. Vanity in Hebrew is written Habel, the same word as Abel, the brother killed by Kane. Everything is vanity, everything is an infinite Abel: the world is full of victims. This we know. We know it, we forget it too often. These terrible nights and days make us remember.

* 1 Kings 19:11


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Where liberalist method and ethnography meet

Excerpts taken from “Ethnographic Research Through a Liberationist Lens: Ethical Reflections on Fieldwork” written by Elina Hankela. (Missionalia, 43(2), 195-217)

The condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak. It doesn’t mean that those who suffer have a monopoly on truth, but it means that the condition of truth to emerge must be in tune with those who are undergoing social misery – socially induced forms of suffering. – Cornel West

UbuntuMigrationMinistryEHankelaThe liberationist method highlights, on the one hand, critical social analysis and, on the other, the choice of structurally marginalised people as interlocutors. The condition of truth, …, then necessitates identifying those who suffer and allowing them a space to speak. To allow someone to speak, in turn, requires the skill to listen, and to do so ethically.(p.196)

On personal relationships and particular stories

… If commitment to the option for the poor at the structural level indicates a political commitment, at an interpersonal and ethnographic level I read it to imply commitment to these particular young people as human beings (see also Scharen and Vigen 2011:21-24). The full humanity of the interlocutor, whom the system maybe wants to strip of his humanity, becomes central in the face-to-face encounter. Marginalised people and groups are then not just those who can expose the cruelty of the system through their experiences. They are people who live, think, fight, love, pray besides struggling to survive and make ends meet; no one’s reality is exhausted in the tragic structure but is rich in its complexity (Gutiérrez 2003:125, Gutiérrez 1988:xxi quoted in Noble 2013:20, see also Noble 2013:22, Maduro 2009:21).(p.206).

Methodologically the personhood of this young man who sits opposite me in an interview translates into my careful listening to him as the one who ought to command me as a scholar (see Noble 2013:81). “How can I dialogue if I consider myself a member of an in-group of ‘pure’ men, the owners of truth and knowledge, for whom all non-members are ‘these people’ or ‘the great unwashed’?” Paulo Freire (2000:90) asks poignantly. Instead, “at its best, ethnographic work … reflects an engaged dialogue with others” (Sharen and Vigen 2011:21-22)… If an interlocutor offers a conflicting view, it needs to be addressed as more than a proof of the power of the system to indoctrinate. Denying respect for the otherness of the interlocutor, and his or her intelligibility and intelligence, soon lands one in a space where the otherness is simply a commodity to be capitalised on (see Scharen and Vigen 2011:22, Smith 1999:82, 88-90) – here as a means to a liberationist end. As a stance this is, of course, self-evident to many, but at times we as critical scholars do not seem to actually be willing to truly listen. (p.206)

This does not have to mean that the researcher lets go of her or his commitment to the theology or politics of liberation. Methodologically a creative mutually enriching, perhaps corrective, balance between a critical biased liberationist social analysis at the structural level and truly listening to people at the personal level could be sought through a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (Fulkerson 2012:137) directed towards the systems that shape society, as well as towards the liberationist tradition itself, and “a hermeneutics of generosity” (Farmer 2013a:18) towards what and how people describe and define their reality. When both are respected, the former can at times explain the latter, and at times the latter can challenge the former.(p.207)

On invested interpersonal dialogue as action

I sat on the stairs in front of a building in the township. We were to discuss the research project with those participants who stayed there. One of the younger youths came to greet me and asked why I had come there that day: “Are you doing another programme?” The ease at which she paralleled this research project with the youth group project that she too had participated in the previous year – as had the older youths, who now were involved in the research – caught me off guard. She might well have made the comment in a context of not having heard much about the research project from the older youths, but nevertheless she got me thinking. (p.208)

… Influenced by Paulo Freire’s (2000) writing, in my current research setting I have come to think of dialogue (both formal and informal), in which a scholar invests herself or himself, as one form of liberationist action. Dialogue as ‘action’ and mutual consciousness-raising is related to navigating the creative tension between critical social analysis and carefully listening to one’s dialogue partners. I share with the young people – in various ways, verbal and other – my faith in social justice and the insights that I have gathered in my studies about unjust systemic realities. They continue to open my mind to understand what life, dreams, the world and challenges actually look like from where they stand. (p.209)

… The teenager’s comment on the ‘programme’ in the opening story continues to challenge me to think of research methods that would be based on a joint journey the same way as the youth group sessions are, namely to be more explicitly a space of thinking and growing together from the outset. (p.209-210)

… invested interpersonal dialogue [is] one possible way of living out the commitment to social transformation, and to the interlocutors, in the context of long-term (research) relationships. (p.214)

On the messiness of monetary and material exchanges

.. As Blessing, a young man whom I know from the same community where I do research, instructed me once, material exchanges are not the key to being human to the next person.  … a liberationist reading of research ethical questions around material exchanges involves more than the material things, as Blessing too pointed out. In the preferential option for the poor “we find … a profound reflection on what it means to be human and to create a more humane world” (Gutiérrez and Groody 2014:3). Indeed in a relationship one party cannot simply be an ATM without that affecting both parties and the relationship, very likely negatively. Often money might not be the best, and surely not the only, way of ‘serving’ the next person. Moreover, the expectation of being human to the next person – treating the other with dignity – applies to both parties if the research participant is respected as a human being capable of humane conduct (see Hankela 2014a:370-371, Metz 2012). This can of course mean different things in different instances, but also cautions one to think of money in a broader context of humane interaction. … In a complex social reality an exercise book can at times be a natural aspect of a humane relationship in our inhumane world, while at other times some material exchanges could become a hindrance to a humane relationship.(p.211, 212,213)

… instead of emphasising the implications of material exchanges on the quality of the data, the emphasis in making ethical choices should instead be based, first, on a social analysis of inequalities and one’s choice to inhabit the given context, and second, on the implications that these exchanges might have for the research participant as well as the relationship between her or him and the researcher.(p.214)

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Second person neuro-science, risk and vulnerability

questioningthehumanExcerpt from Oliver Davies’ chapter ‘Neuroscience, Self and Jesus Christ’, published in Questioning the Human. Towards a Theological Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Lieven Boeve, Yves de Maeseneer and Ellen van Stichel, Fordham University Press, 2014, pp.89-90.

Second-person neuroscience” invites us to see our hardwired exposure to biological complexity as the price of being able to make an effective judgment about the other through open interaction. This judgment, in the face-to-face, is always open and process; and it is always personal in the sense that we ourselves are to some degree put at stake in this social cognitive process. … in the ethical act, we are seeing a similar or comparable process in the way that we accept the obligation to take seriously the perspective of the other… both states entail vulnerability, empathy, discernment, and decision, and both find a common praxis in the way we reason in complexity.

That leaves open the possibility of a further conclusion. Who we are as body and who we are as mind are the same. This is the fundamental principle of the new science. To assert sameness here does not exclude difference, however. In our self-awareness we are free, while in our biological embodiment we are not. What comes into view here is the paradox of the human as “emergent” embodied consciousness, and this paradox is not without consequences: The first of these is that we have to be concerned with how this paradox is lived and resolved: How do we come into unity as both body and mind at the same time? This cannot be the same as our subjective instrumentalization of the body for purposes of pleasure, or even of well-being. This is a kind of unity of course, when the body suits or fits our intentionality seamlessly, and we are able to access the world around us without constraint and as we wish. But it is in fact only the semblance of a real unity in that it will fracture the moment the body fails us through weakening, ailing, and finally, dying. Moreover, instrumentalization is a “unity” that can work only for as long as we can banish from our thoughts the certainty of death, and indeed of our own vulnerability and contingency. …

The contrast with the unity that accompanies our ethical acting is clear. This is not predicated on the successful realization of our self-centered intentionalities (however benign) but is specifically grounded in the personal acceptance of the complex reality of the other, whose own needs, or “point of view,” will now disrupt our personal mechanisms for reducing complexity in life and making it manageable. Ethics understood in this sense requires a deep trust in life, sometimes seemingly against the evidence or at least in a condition of what mediators call “safe uncertainty.”  Entering as free subject into the structure of our own hardwired neurobiology is in effect a difficult human journey into our own interdependence, vulnerability, and contingency. First and foremost, it is the embrace of our own creaturely personhood. It is not just that we have to let in complexity – the complexity of the undiluted real – but that we have to do this at the point where we also assume responsibility for coming to judgment about what to do in a complex situation. We express our creaturely personhood when we resolve to reason openly in ways that resist simple closure and reduction through self-interest (or any secondhand or textbook answer), for the sake of the other with her distinctive perspective and needs. This is to come to judgement in a way that explicitly accepts the risks of causing unwanted effects (or of finding that we have made things worse rather than better), the risks of being fallible and limited, and the risks of acting rather than not acting. In sum, the risks associated with being human.

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‘Joint Security Area’: glimpses of jeong

Excerpts taken from Wonhee Anne Joh’s Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology, Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Jeong is a Korean way of conceiving an often complex constellation of relationality of the self with the other that is deeply associated with compassion, love, vulnerability, and acceptance of heterogeneity as essential to life. It not only smooths harsh feelings, such as dislike or even hate, but has a way of making relationships richly complex by moving away from a binary, oppositional perception of reality, such as oppressor and oppressed. …Jeong is the power embodied in redemptive relationships. It can even be argued that redemption emerges within relationality that recognizes the power and presence of jeong to move us toward life. (p. xxi)

… While noting the importance of emancipatory praxis from structures of oppression, a theology of jeong will argue that it must be done along with a praxis of jeong – a form of relational living that daily encounters the otherness of the self in relationships…. Jeong allows us to reimagine love on the cross not as self-abnegation or sacrifice but as a radical inclusive love that is both transgressive and emancipatory. (p.xxvi)

Jeong resists easy translation into the Western vernacular categories precisely because of its many complex layers of meaning. Because of its multifarious complexity, [Wonhee Anne Joh analyzes the film Joint Security Area that unfolds] the layers of ways that jeong expresses itself relationally… what makes this film interesting is that presences of jeong seem not only to counter such han-filled ideology but also overcome a powerful militaristic ideology. Thus, in the interstices of Joint Security Area we find neither clear heroes nor clear villains. The only clear and powerfully redemptive aspect of the film is the experience of jeong, which changes the lives of those who come into it relationally through their recognition of mutual vulnerability and humanity. The power of jeong allows for a particular kind of audacity, as characters risk the consequences of disobedience by crossing militarized and ideological boundaries and as they risk their hearts by becoming vulnerable relationally. (p.31)

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