New Rhythmic Questions for 2018

It has been a long time since I have written. The reasons, however, are directly related to this project of rhythmic theology on which I have embarked. I am in the middle of making some decisions about my professional future and this has taken up large quantities of my capacities of imagination. In the midst of that, however, I have also been developing the next iteration of this rhythmic theology project.

Up to this point, I have been primarily focused on the role of rhythm in metaphysical and phenomenological questions – questions about the fundamental organization of reality, about the ways in which humans engage reality through rhythm, and about how our rhythmic propensities influence how we think about and engage God, creation, and salvation. These are the interests of my dissertation –> first book (the publication of which will hopefully be rolling soon).

However, something that became apparent as I was investigating these questions is that I was never able to separate out rhythm as a feature of reality from human engagement with reality and, as a result, I was also never able to separate out rhythm as a natural phenomenon from rhythm as a constructed phenomenon. One might be able to say something very general about natural rhythms, but as soon as we start talking about more specific rhythms that include some kind of meaning or significance for humanity, we also end up inevitably talking about social constructions. A good example of this is whether we conceptualize rhythm as an ordering phenomenon or a disruptive one. This judgement can be correlated with whether a society is drawing on rhythm for ordering or disrupting purposes.

As a result, my next project, which I have spent the last six months constructing and proposing, shifts from considering what rhythm is as a feature of reality in general to considering how rhythm functions socially. What kind of social work is it doing? My hypothesis is that rhythm is actually a significant channel through which space-time is organized. Humans live in and experience space-time in ways that are determined by cycles of movement through space at specific times that involve both pattern and variation. In other words, humans move through space-time rhythmically. However, this is more than a matter of personal routines. These personal rhythms always intersect with and are given meaning through their relationship to larger, social rhythms. For example, someone who works a 9-5 job experiences the social landscape very differently than someone who works the night shift. Personal rhythms are formed by and experienced through their confluence with or divergence from larger social rhythms.

So what does all of this have to do with theology?

In short, I think it may have a significant impact on how we think about the relationship between religion and wider society, particularly in the western, “secular” societies where this relationship is contentious (a tension that is nevertheless moving beyond those societies in unique ways). We often think about the relationship, negotiation, and tension between church and state in terms of ideology, symbol, or worldview – cognitive phenomena – but there has been an accumulation of research for over a century now suggesting that the really significant tensions are as much embodied as they are ideological (Mauss, Bourdieu etc.). If that’s the case, then the question of a relationship between church and state is, at least in part, a question about how each group is influencing how their constituents move through space-time. In other words, how do the rhythms of contemporary societies that we think of as western and secular intersect with religious rhythms? What happens at those intersections?

These are the questions to which I am beginning to turn my attention. So, I anticipate that, more and more, these are the sorts of issues to which the RTP blog will be turning from 2018 onward as well.


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