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