“Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction” by Anthony Elliott has become my favorite read for class so far. For some reason when we first received the reading list way back in August (seems like years ago in some ways) I was able to first obtain Elliott’s book and jumped in on the reading race early. Revisiting it this week, I was drawn pretty passionately into the Afterward entitled, “Social Theory Today and Toward 2025.”
At the heart of my passion raised I believe was the tension within me that I will call, “Why social theory and why not theology?” In the first paragraph of the Afterword Elliot writes:
“Indeed, so serious is the damage done to human life today that much social theory insists it is only by confronting the worst and most painful aspects of current global realities that we might hope to develop plausible alternative social and institutional possibilities. Hence the surprising innovations of recent years – post-feminist, queer, postmodern, risk and liquidity theories – which address anew why modernity leaves so large a number of the world’s population unsatisfied, displaced and outcast.”1
Why social theory? Why not theology? With such a claim as to address the “worst and most painful aspects of current global realities“ with “hope to develop plausible alternative social and institutional possibilities,” again, why social theory and why not theology? Maybe this is exposing great ignorance on my part, but why does it seem like there is more concern, thought, and understanding in “social theory” than in “theology” about the greatest challenges we are facing and greatest hopes that we hold as we head towards 2025 in our postmodern, individualized, and globalized society.
All the questions and issues Elliot poses through the Afterword seem like what theology ought to be posing and asking, but from my acute angle it doesn’t really seem like the “theology radar” is picking up any such “blips.”
This feels like it may be becoming a rant. I am thinking the rant has a great deal to do with a “sheltered” theological life, but I would hope a radical devotion to Jesus, a ruthless commitment to loving one another, and a relentless dedication to reaching our world would look like a theology and the start of theological conversations that sound much more like what Elliot is posing and thinking about in social theory.
Is it just me or as we read through the progression of “theology books” we in one sense went “deeper and deeper” in to “theology” but further and further away from talking about the greatest challenges our world is facing and how the challenges can be addressed with hope and possibility.
Maybe I am feeling much of this because of my dissertation topic and its underlying theme. I am hoping the Church can be a part of a the collaborative effort that helps to mine and imagine the tectonic plate shifts that are happening and are necessary in our culture, societies and world to right the greatest wrongs. I am feeling great angst these days about the current situation of my view of theology and its role in our world and the work social theory attempts. As Elliot writes social theory is thinking deeply about the “institutional units of society, from identity and sexuality, to the family and work, to the nation and politics.”2 Such themes of violence, suffering and death, disease and malnutrition, ever-rising levels of poverty and how they apply to our increasingly global world all seem like the are moving to the middle of the radar screen in social theory, but again, why not theology?
So friends, could someone help me out by answering this question. (Sorry for you, I am thinking of this as free counseling so allow me to lay back on the curved burgundy leather couch and take in your wisdom, encouragement, correction, and advice) So, why social theory and why not theology? Is it wrong for me to want to what our “theology” to be our “social theory?”
- Elliott, Anthony (2014-02-10). Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (Kindle Locations 8343-8346). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
- Ibid., (Kindle Locations 8415-8416).