Redeeming Critique: Resignations to the Cultural Turn in Christian Theology and Ethics
Smith, Ted A., 1968-
In this essay I begin by naming a "turn to culture" that marks a wide range of works in contemporary theology and ethics. I describe how the turn plays out in books by Stanley Hauerwas and Delores S. Williams and argue that their idealist versions of the turn uncritically replicate core features of the dominant cultures they try to criticize. I explain how their idealism in conceiving the oppositional cultures to which they turn constructs those cultures as "others" to the culture being criticized, wholes unto themselves, and symbols that directly participate in some ultimate good or truth. I then gesture toward a more critical, self-conscious performance of the turn to culture. I argue that turns to culture should not obscure but rather thematize the role of the critic in making the turn. I use the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Walter Benjamin to argue that self-conscious critique will involve a set of resignations to reflexivity rather than otherness, to a hodgepodge of highly mobile practices rather than a single, unified tradition, and to regarding cultural artifacts as mixed allegories rather than pure symbols.