crisis of Western modernity
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AbstractFor almost forty years the seemingly harmless term “postmodern” has sown discord and ruffled feathers in the intellectual world. Mere sight of the term has caused some commentators to see red in more than one sense: “postmodernism” for them embodies the utter degeneracy of the 1960s Left. For their part, more than a few commentators on the left have associated the term with the neoliberal climate of the 1980s, viewing its essence as an appeal to a kind of anything-goes-philosophy: you choose your truth, I choose mine, and neither of us can lay claim to a truth value beyond the endless droning of the market. When the formulation “postmodern theology” first emerged in American theological circles in the mid-eighties, eyebrows were understandably raised. Not least because for most people, inside as well as outside traditional religious boundaries, theology and religion stand for something that postmodernism would seem to repudiate: belief in some form of comprehensive and lasting truth. What is concealed by the term postmodern theology? To answer this question we need first to clear up a number of points relating to the caricatures of postmodernism just mentioned. Few if any of the commentators usually associated with the term “postmodernism” have made the sterile assertion that everything is relative. What an array of academics in different disciplines have sought to problematize, however, is our blind faith in the transparency of truth; that there exists a clear access to reality above and beyond our historical and cultural context. This deepened understanding of our socially and culturally conditioned existence is reflected in a series of dislocations in our view of what knowledge and language are, of how the human subject should be understood in relation to its environment, and of the significance of historical and scientific developments. A summary and preliminary definition of postmodern theology would be, quite simply, that it concerns the kind of theology which rests on the theoretical and methodological premises brought into being by those dislocations. But before examining the growth of postmodern theology in more detail, let us consider the constituent elements of these modernity-critiquing dislocations.