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SUBJECT: Theology and Education, Buber, Dialogue, and Metanoia
Alverson, J., Crossen, M. (2002). A Passion for the Impossible: How Theology Provides Insights on Education in General. Proceedings [of the] National Conference on Alternative and External Degree Programs for Adults, (pp. 44-59). Pittsburgh: ERIC.
The full conference proceeding can be found at this website:
Article Summary and Synthesis
This conference proceedings chapter proposes additional and different questions about the theological impact on the classroom and student where theology concerns itself with the direct subject of God and the discipline of the impossible/Unknown (Alverson, Crossen, 2002).
Human experience as related to theology concerns itself with reflection on how “a person as the one who is experiencing” or the person who is aware of themselves as the one who is learning learns where most other disciplines reflect human experience as object by studying the experiences human beings have. Here, a connection to the Senge description of dialogue and metanoia is made. A more subjective personal and changing experience rather than an objective advocacy based discussion. Here, the distinction between dialogue as communication suspending positional advocacy and discussion as the application or argumentation of positional advocacy is critical.
The authors explain that Denis Edwards, author of Human Experiences of God, describes two dynamics of human experience, encounter and interpretation. Encounters are routine and meaningless until interpreted and it is these interpretations that allow human experience. Experiential learning then requires reflection on our interpretive schemes and as such, suggests we are responsible for our experiences. Depending on what interpretive schemata we use to interpret the encounter allows us to shape our experience and choose emotions that improve the experience assuming we desire a positive and learning experience. Once we become more conscious of our interpretive bias, we can choose and enhance our experiences of work, learning, and relationships.
These systems of interpretation and “sense making” are known philosophically as hermeneutics. Where early hermeneutics limited itself to textual interpretations, more contemporary application expanded to include interpretation of the existential experience of the author. Consistent with the arguments made here by Alverson and Crossen, hermeneutics evolved to include an empathic connection between people, things, and their social environment; Max Weber was a key thinker in this school. It is interesting to note that some critical theorists have criticized traditional hermeneutics as being a barrier to social criticism and change. However, modern critical social theory includes hermeneutics as a key philosophy.
We are questioners in an existential sense. Here the author suggests God is the source of our questions and is also the answer only in the sense that the questions are possible and meaningful. For example: What is the meaning of my life? God is the unlimited and Incomprehensible Mystery and it is from this that rational enquiry seeking awareness results. This concept is also championed by Martin Buber, the modern “dialogic” philosopher.
Like Martin Buber, Karl Rahner, one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians and influential participant in the Second Vatican Council, suggests an open minded reflection or dialogue between the orthodox biblical interpretation and the realities of modern civilization. Here the encounter is tempered by interpretation allowing a new personal experience. In effect, what was desired was a new and different way of “seeing”, both outward and inward looking. In this chapter, Alverson & Crossen suggest that if we look hard enough and deep enough, “we will discover insights that will help us negotiate our existence in a meaningful way.” While Martin Buber as philosopher, psychologist, and theologian describes this same idea in the “I-It” and “I-Thou” context, Karl Rahner focuses on the mystery only from a theologians perspective. Interestingly, while the Second Vatican describes the source of truth as the church, it also recognizes many truths can be found outside the confines of the church. In this context, it seems to me that we, as secular persons, would be well served to explore within theology truths that allow an enhanced metanoic understanding.
This mystery becomes a central basis for the human thirst for knowledge and “openness to the mystery dimension of life immerses us more deeply in the practical realm of the world and of human relationships.” As Senge describes in his “systems thinking” discipline, it is this interconnectedness between ideas and things, subjective and objective, and denying an either-or choice, walking the Buberesque “rocky ridge of uncertainty” that gives antinomy (reconciling incomprehensible opposing truths) such power. The authors point out the primacy of mystery dictates an “authentic rational enquiry” and must not be about our own egos. The mystery possesses a teleological quality where our enquiry provides a forward thinking purpose leading to a desired action striving to “bring order out of disorder,” and understanding out of chaos
Senge explains his synthesis of dialogue based on the ideas of David Bohm in Chapter 12, Team Learning, Discussion and Dialogue. David Bohm, a nuclear particle physicist whose doctoral research provided pivotal new science to facilitate the manufacture of the nuclear bombs that ended the second world was denied defense of his own doctoral dissertation because he was deemed a security risk. This is relevant because this seeming covert “systems approach” to the US wartime and post war McCarthyism “group think” played a role in his development of what is now known as Bohmian Dialogue. It is the work of others like Senge, and indirectly here, Alverson and Crossen who have taken Bohm’s idea of dialogue and expand the “systems thinking” arena to include disciplines like theology. As such, the richness and meaning of dialogue have increased to allow a different way to understand the Incomprehensible Mystery. And, in turn, if we choose to accept the benefit of a theological interpretive scheme in our secular dialogue, understanding of the comprehensible mysteries will be less difficult.
Imagination provides another central basis for interpretation and new understanding because it has the power to re-describe reality. From a theological perspective, the “voice behind the voice” can provide new meaning and again depends on our interpretive schemata or perspective. Who is the voice behind the voice? How do their interpretive schemata affect our ability to understand? It is these interpretive imaginations that can allow dialogue to reach its full potential through asking “How can I see this in a different way not seen before by letting go of previous interpretations of reality allowing myself new possibilities of meaning?” It is there to see if we allow ourselves to think in radically new ways, systems thinking ways.