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Imagination: A survey and analysis of Dr. Jason Clark’s use of the word

Written by: on February 11, 2020

The imagination is a powerful spiritual faculty. It allows humans to evaluate what is and envision what could be. Alternate future realities (what could be) exist only in and because of our prophetic imaginations. Furthermore, imaginations provide individual identity and construct social connection, communities, and orient our spiritual formation. For CS Lewis, the imagination is the “organ of meaning.” 

Given the power for a formation of an individual and a community, it’s no surprise then that Dr. Jason Clark relies on a heavy engagement with imagination in his dissertation, Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. As he seeks to propose a future of Evangelicalism that is congruous with doctrine and practice in lieu of capitalistic forces, the schema and mapmaking of the imagination hold value to Clark. 

I hope to show how Clark embodies Lewis’s definition of imagination as a faculty of meaning and briefly leverage that for imagination as a faculty of innovating from that locus of meaning making.

A Survey of Clark’s use of “Imagination”

As Clark introduces the problems he intends to tackle, he ponders, “That which funds the imagination for life, and in particular the Christian life, seems to have become captive to something other than a Christian, and claimed Evangelical imagination” (3).

Considering Dr. Clark’s use of “imagination,” I observe the following:

Perhaps the best way to approach “imagination” is through the inspection of Clark’s understanding of imagined communities, market imagination, the social imaginary, and a habituated imagination. 

Imagined Communities

Clark begins weaving together his thesis by a consideration of imagined communities. He relies on Benedict Anderson, who considered collective identity through the social constructions “imagined” by community members and propagated through print media. Clark notes, “Anderson’s concern is for how ‘imagined’ political communities are culturally constructed, rather than about the validity of any such emerging identities. He suggests that people are able to see themselves as part of a shared community, imagined through the advent of print media, within an ‘imagined community’” (112).

It’s not only how nationalism is formed as an imagined community, but also how imagined communities are formed with the Christian tradition that Clark finds useful for his argument (119). Through collective thought and the transmission of sermons and print media, Christianity possesses the resource to form a cohesive and substantive imagined community. Pertinent to this survey is how Clark lays the foundation of imagination as the power to form a collective identity.

Market Imagination

As Clark’s concern is about the power of capitalism, he moves to the competing imagination that capitalism assumes. He’ll eventually argue that the doctrines of assurance of salvation and Providence “smuggled” in a market imagination that replaced a Christian imagination (247). While Clark might have been more explicit in his use of the term “market imagination” I can infer he is discussing a set of beliefs and practices the self-regulating market embodies (like commodification) that took Evangelicals’ imagination captive. Clark forecasts his argumental logic like this: “Within this [Weberian ‘imagined community’], I show how the providence of God becomes located in market imaginations, and how those imaginations are instantiated through the practices of the market” (122). It’s this market and its artifacts that form a community’s imagination to inform an identity both for self and community.

The Social Imaginary

According to Charles Taylor, “social imaginary” describes “the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (Clark 156).  Clark summarizes it as “the notion of how communities imagine, and then act out those imaginations allow us to comprehend how economic life is embedded within cultural and social systems” (152-153). With that definition, it is obvious how Clark strengthens his case with the entanglement of market imagination in Evangelicals as well as the call to form a new (or renewed) social imaginary without a marriage with capitalism.

I’d be curious (not necessarily critical) of why Clark didn’t continue up Charles Taylor’s “family tree” not only to Benedict Anderson, but also to Cornelius Castoriadis and Jacques Lacan in his construction of the social imaginary argument.

Habituation of Imagination

Next, in pursuit of investigating the connections between affection, imagination, polis, formation, faith, and practice, Clark turns to Calvin College’s most notable philosopher, James K. A. Smith. Smith is known for his thesis that practice forms imagination and imagination affects practice (228). With that in mind, Clark posits, “It is through that worship that beliefs and imaginings take shape, and desire is habituated into concrete expression” (216). He uses this to call for more intentional formational practices that shape the desire and imagination in Evangelical churches. He will later assert that competing liturgies aren’t sufficient enough in the formational practice, but do play a large part. At one of his most optimistic moment, Clark suggests, “Only a form of worship with a whole-of- life social imaginary can begin to compete affectively with the social imaginary of the market. Again, I suggest that Evangelical worship carries this affective possibility” (224). It’s particularly the Christocentric worship as a tenant of Evangelicalism that contains this potency for change for Clark.. 

Imagination as faculty for Innovation

I take Clark’s thesis, along with the voices of Taylor, Anderson, and Smith, one step further to dream of the types of fresh thinking and innovation that can occur when a proper Christian (and even Evangelical) social imaginary is restored. I embrace the same optimism of Clark, that  an “antidote to the deforming forces of life in capitalism” (244) exists and can fuel an imaginative and restorative force of innovation, not fueled by market imagination, but by the “imagined community” of a redeemed people. As we labor between the gap of “what is” and “what can be,” the imagination is a faculty for meaning making, but also for invention – for innovating – for providing fresh ideas for the common good that transcend the forces of the current market and its ideals. 

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Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. 2018.

About the Author

mm

Shawn Cramer

12 responses to “Imagination: A survey and analysis of Dr. Jason Clark’s use of the word”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Shawn,
    Your last paragraph echoes Clark’s optimism. I wonder though how you see this “imaginative and restorative force of innovation” playing out in a non-consumeristic way? It seems any innovative endeavors taken on by evangelicals usually utilize the tools of consumerism to leverage their innovativeness to reach the masses. And as soon as the masses see it, what was once innovative, becomes a market-place commodity. It’s a vicious cycle. How do you envision breaking it?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Very true. George Lucas admits he’s gone to the “dark side” where as a young man carried disdain for large, institutionalized studies, but now he leads that kind of institution now. I suppose, it is a group of people oriented around a different cultural imagination and committed to something other than the ultra-commodification of an innovation. Isn’t a catalytic imagined community the answer to most of the problems we’ve been discussing?

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Shawn, what would you see a Christocentric imagination for innovation looking like, particularly within the context of the greater Christian community? What would it mean or look like to be restored?

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    We’ve talked previously about the challenges of dreaming (and imagination) in a world where we struggle to sit at a stoplight without checking the phone. What might happen if we took seriously the impact of deep reflection and intentional imagination and sought to help others learn this discipline and practice as well?

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    You wrote, “Alternate future realities (what could be) exist only in and because of our prophetic imaginations.”

    Let me ask you, “who is eligible for this condition?” If you say it is for everyone then what inhibits that realization? And, if that is true, then, why would some say that when people reach a certain age or economic state, or position that it no longer applies?

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Nice work on the analysis of imagination throughout the dissertation. Here’s what I wonder: If capitalism germinated within evangelicalism (or if evangelicalism was uniquely positioned to accelerate capitalism because of an alignment of values) then would it stand to reason that capitalism is a manifestation of evangelical imagination? As the principles and values of capitalism differ (perhaps antithetically?) to the values of Jesus, then what do you suppose shaped the imagination of Evangelicalism? And if values more consistent with capitalism than Christ shape Evangelical imagination, then are Evangelicals capable of innovating our way out of the global conundrum that we find ourselves within?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      People only change with the presence of great pain or the potential for great pleasure/joy. Until Evangelicalism finds itself at a loss of power, I find little hope for change unless one can really paint a vivid picture of restoration. It is those outside of power and those without a voice that I believe have the most innovative solutions to our current problems.

  6. mm Greg Reich says:

    Shawn
    Interesting unfolding of Dr. Clarks usage of imagination. I always find your posts thought provoking. What would be the key differences in market innovation and an innovation fueled by community? Part of the intent of market innovation is to build a community of followers so how does innovation fueled by community differ?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      I’m not necessarily saying community should be the largest impetus for innovation. I am saying that innovations stemming from imagined communities oriented around Christ should differ greatly from those communities oriented around the market ideals.

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