Mennonite Metaphysics (Update)

November 30, 2013
Max Kennel |

Recently the Conrad Grebel College newsletter and the Canadian Mennonite have lent some publicity to the fact that myself and a fellow MTS student have received SSHRC research grants. In light of this I feel like a summary of my research direction is called for, on the medium of this blog. And so, as I look to the coming year and as I contemplate my thesis topic, my hope is to seek answers to the following question: what philosophical view of ontological identity (identity at the level of being and existence) could be derived from, and developed out of, the theology of the Anabaptist Mennonite tradition?

I think it's important to begin by establishing the necessity of interdisciplinary interaction between philosophy and theology more broadly, and then I hope to argue that the two unique voices of Mennonite theology and Continental philosophy are worthy of a more sustained conversation. At some point I hope to examine three possible perspectives on a specifically Mennonite and pacifist view of the concept of identity, each from a particular discipline in the humanities: Reformation theologies, contemporary Mennonite philosophical theologies, and contemporary Mennonite views on literary criticism.

After this I feel that it will be important to situate the theological call for pacifism and nonviolence within philosophical domains of metaphysics and ontology. Being convicted that true pacifist practice must be informed by a nonviolent way of thinking, I hope to develop a concept of identity as being-sacred (whether in persons, objects, institutions, or ideas). After this I plan to suggest several nonviolent ways of thinking about identity which are non-reductive and which do not violate the essential sanctity of identities.

The tensions and paradoxes of nonviolent identity can be seen, in some ways, in the work of two prominent Mennonite theologians: A. James Reimer and John Howard Yoder. In the tension between Reimer's emphasis on dogmatics and even metaphysics, and Yoder's political and social pacifism, I hope to articulate a Mennonite metaphysics avoiding any reduction to dogmatism or politicization, and yet which enriches both the metaphysics of nonviolence in the broader philosophical tradition, and the pacifist tradition. In all of this I plan to employ a method of study which mediates the religious perspective of theological study with the secular lens of philosophical inquiry. I hope to write in such a way that is open to interdisciplinarity and yet committed to ecclesial and denominational traditions than the sociology of religions.

In the context of philosophical theology or the philosophy of religion, I hope to address historical resonances between philosophy and theology in the Anabaptist tradition, and to focus on the contemporary engagement of postmodern and continental philosophers (Derrida, Levinas, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Bourdieu, Gadamer, etc.) by Mennonite theologians (Heubner, Blum, Pitts, King). This very recent engagement between seemingly disparate thinkers in two very different fields of study shows a lot of promise, and yet these connections call out for deeper and more detailed scholarly work. My thesis work aims to contribute to this need in the discourse, and to advance this very rich connection by drawing further connections between thinkers and re-examining those which have already been drawn.

(This post is an update to this post, which is now a year or so old. Also, this post may help with context.)

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