A great event if you will be in Durham, NC on March 5: James K.A. Smith, a man equally at home discussing Derrida and St. Augustine, pop culture and Reformed dogmatics, is giving the annual Distinguished Lecture in Theology and the Arts at Duke Divinity School. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom is an excellent introduction to a “positive theology of desire,” even as manifested in places as godless as the American shopping mall; recently I have benefitted from reading his translations of Jean-Luc Marion. His academic home is Calvin College in Michigan, but he also has links to Trinity College and ICS in Toronto.
His upcoming lecture at Duke, entitled “Beyond Creativity,” sounds very interesting, especially for myself as I am in the midst of exploring the relationship between “theology and art” and the phenomenological tradition (Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer) in continental philosophy:
Over the past decade there has been an encouraging growth in the conversation between theology and the arts, often centered on the imagination. Often this is bound together with the theme of creativity, which tends to treat imagination as a largely romantic mode of expression.
Drawing on the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, will present a public lecture Mar. 5 at 6:00 p.m. articulating a philosophical account of the imagination that is less romantic, suggesting that this yields new frontiers for engagement between theology and the arts.
I think the retrieval of Merleau-Ponty is very interesting – naturally, I don’t know what Smith will say, but for me Merleau-Ponty’s thought is important for theology as it draws attention to an often neglected aspect of “art” and the “aesthetic,” namely its somatic, ie. embodied, nature.
Hopefully Duke will eventually make the lecture available online. In the meantime, however, another great lecture on theology and the arts – by the equally erudite, equally Merleau-Ponty-friendly Richard Kearney (Boston College) – is available as an audio podcast through TVO and iTunes. This is his lecture, “Narrative Imagination and Catharsis,” which was given as part of the Institute for Christian Studies/Toronto School of Theology event last October entitled Imagination’s Truths: Re-Envisioning Imagination in Philosophy, Religion, and the Arts. Happy listening!