Brown, Delwin, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Kathryn Tanner, and American Academy of Religion. Converging on Culture: Theologians in Dialogue with Cultural Analysis and Criticism The American Academy of Religion Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

 The Editors

Delwin Brown
Dean emeritus of Pacific School of Religion (PSR), as a lay theologian equally at ease in academia and the public square, Brown was a leading national voice of progressive Christianity.

Sheila Greeve Davaney
Dr. Sheila Greeve Davaney is a Visiting Senior Fellow at American Progress. She is also currently a distinguished visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Kathryn Tanner
Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School

My Thoughts

This book is in line with David Kesley’s claim that theology is the task of looking at the concrete particularities of lived practices in the lives of congregations. God cannot be known directly, but only through the observation of secondary things. To Understand God Truly is not to construct abstract conceptual universalisms—the task of Enlightenment theology, and the inadvertant construction of idols—but to create thick descriptions of real people in real places and, thus, to see the Spirit at work in human culture. This celebration and investigation of diversity is due to the shift away from the reign of reason during the Enlightenment and the postmodern turn to socially constructed meaning and contextually situated truth.


“Gone are the universalisms of both Enlightenment reason and nineteenth- and twentieth-century theological liberalism. Over against notions of rationality and experience as ahistorical commonly structured, and temporally invariant, there have emerged assumptions of the located, particular, pluralistic, and thoroughly historical nature of human existence, experience, and knowledge.”⁠1

“Culture now is viewed as the dynamic and contentious process by which meaning, and with it power, is produced, circulated, and negotiated by all who reside within a particular cultural milieu.”⁠2

“The promise of cultural studies for theology lies in its potential to break down the fairly rigid boundary that has demarcated religion from its surroundings, contributing to the tendency to engage the ideational contests of this sequestered sphere in isolation from thier embodiment in the lived world.”⁠3


“Testimony demands that we see the particular in the absolute, or as Paul Ricoeur woudl say, that we see the absolute in the testimony of the particular.”⁠4

“Theology traces or discerns the Spirit in order to develop discourses of transcendence, not by uncovering a depth of God’s presence or revealing a substance or essence of God, but through negotiating spaces of solidarity, connection, and new creation. Theology continually engages in creating spaces, building bridges, and forming new discourses as practices of emancipatory transformation. One implication, a metaphorical one, is that instead of figuring theology as a courtroom, we will have to imagine theology as practices of negotiating between what is and what can be. Used increasingly in place of litigation in this country, negotiation involves listening, creating safe spaces, and reinventing relationships while remaining attentive to the self-determination of witnesses. (Negotiations do not work if one party cannot feel safe or find terms to express itself adequately).

Understanding theology as engaged in continual negotiation to sanctify life may enable us to keep theology more fluid and more multidimensional—more spiritual—and may allow us a way to combine poetics, rhetoric, and hermeneutics in theology. Imagining theology as engaged in negotiating practices to sanctify life by means of tracing the Spirit allows us to appreciate theology as a type of cultural intervention. Like one meaning of negotiation, theology may help us traverse deep waters in our swirling culture of diversity. Like another common meaning, theology as negotiation may help settle disputes in just fashion. And, like a third, theology may help us imagine new possibilities for our life together before the price of our cultural wars rises too high for us to pay. In all these ways of traversing, settling, and building bridges, theology does its work by speaking the truth about its own moral summons as it discerns the Spirit at work in a particular time and place.”⁠5

1 {Brown, 2001 #240@5}

2 {Brown, 2001 #240@5}

3 {Brown, 2001 #240@36}

4 {Brown, 2001 #240@67}

5 {Brown, 2001 #240@67-68}

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