Details of Thesis

Title Bodies of Christ in Seas of Change: The relationship between ecclesiology, politics and practice in the conditioning of twentieth century Roman Catholic responses to violence
Author Tan, Matthew John Paul
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2009
Abstract This thesis examines how Christian interpretation is shaped by, and also shapes, the political contexts within which the Church is situated. The ecclesial identification of, and response to, sites of political violence serves as this thesis’ primary point of reference. It argues that ecclesiology, the imaging of the Church as the Body of Christ, constitutes the central node that shapes the Church's reading of the political signs of the times generated by other social bodies. Because the central investigation necessarily implicates both theology and social theory, this thesis begins by identifying frameworks of sociopolitical analysis that properly correlate the two fields. It will critique approaches shaped by the assumptions of Modern social science, whose obsession with autonomous and strategic self-maximization, together with what is only scientifically verifiable, lead to a deliberate a priori exclusion of “irrational” religion. It will also critique seemingly “postmodern” analyses that betray lingering Modern influences, and argue for a more thoroughgoing postmodernism in which individuals, communities, materiality and transcendence operate harmoniously with one another. It will then employ Graham Ward's cultural hermeneutics as the framework that not only exhibits this thoroughgoing postmodernism, but also engages all aspects of this thesis’ inquiry. Through the lens of Ward’s cultural hermeneutics, this thesis will show how ecclesiology emerges from practical engagements between the Church as a social configuration with other social configurations. It will explain the implication of corporeal practices and the imagination in the formation of such configurations, or social imaginaries. It will then demonstrate how the recruitment of bodies into communal practices in turn either weaken or strengthen one imaginary vis a vis another. However, in the course of these shifts in corporeal configurations around the Church, the thesis will also show how ecclesiologies themselves will slowly lose their persuasive power. This creates with the Church a need for communal reconfiguration to facilitate a reading of the contemporary signs of the times. The next four chapters outline how political change grounded in overlapping corporeal and communal practices conditioned three twentieth century Roman Catholic ecclesiological archetypes: the "Perfect Society", "Mystical Body" and "Nuptial Communion". This analysis will take place by reference to four key historical episodes: the European liberal and industrial revolutions, the age of the dictators in Germany and Italy, post-war Latin America and late-Soviet Poland. In each episode, this thesis will show how the image of the Body of Christ became conditioned by a specific combination of practices operating within political, intellectual and ecclesial sites of power. It will also outline how that image in turn conditioned the practices that engaged the sites of political violence, and show how and why each image, and the practices that sprung from it, eventually desiccated. The thesis concludes with a critical reflection, via a set of thematic constants, on the implications of the historical data for ecclesiology and the Church’s evangelical mission in light of its contemporary context. Focal points include the need for ecclesial vigilance in light of the imaging of the Body of Christ by reference to non-Christian contexts, attention to the recruitment of bodies as evangelical practices, the ubiquity of deference to authority and the stubborn allure of defining the political realm by reference to statecraft. It will then look to contemporary processes of "descularisation" and the increasing recognition of the salience of ritual and show how desire and liturgy can act as avenues for the emergence of new forms of ecclesial politics, where credible claims of the Gospel can be advanced without being beholden to the distortions that proceed from the assumptions inherent in Modern cultural forms.
Thesis 01front.pdf  329KB
02whole.pdf 2,107KB

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