Christian Theology and Tragedy: Theologians, Tragic Literature and Tragic Theory

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Christian Theology and Tragedy: Theologians, Tragic Literature and Tragic Theory. Edited by Kevin Taylor and Giles Waller. Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011. 259 pp. $99.95 (cloth).

This collection of essays plumbs the deep well of tragic literature, and from it brings forth nourishing water to stimulate and sustain the enterprise of theology. With insight and creativity, the authors probe how and where tragedy may illuminate Christian thought. The introduction, written by the editors, gives a general description of the goals of the book and some of the issues involved, as well as providing a brief description of the controversy over how exactly one should define "tragedy," such that its resources can be utilized for the sake of theology.

In the main text, first, several examples of literature, both secular and religious, are analyzed from the specific perspective of Christian theology: Judah, Samson, Saul, and Jesus (Ben Quash); Agamemnon and Abraham (Jennifer Wallace); Primo Levi and Dante (Vittorio Montemaggi); and Timon of Athens and Job (Robin Kirkpatrick). Second, attention is paid to theologians who have addressed tragedy in their work: Donald MacKinnon (Giles Waller); Simone Weil (Adrian Poole); Hans Urs von Balthasar (Kevin Taylor); and C. S. Lewis (Michael Ward). Third, future directions for the interaction of theolog)' and tragedy are sketched: Craig Hovey discusses the place of the Dionysian in Christianity by way of a close reading of Nietzsche; Larry Bouchard addresses the implications of the "juxtaposition" of contingency and culpability in the world, looking at Waiting for Godot and Denys Arcand s play Jesus of Montreal; Douglas Hedley explores the definition of tragedy through the thought of Schopenhauer, Wagner, René Girard, and the concept of sacrifice; and David Cunningham writes of the importance of taking into account actual performances of drama when analyzing tragedy theologically. Finally, David Ford, the current Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, provides a kind of epilogue, appraising some of the contributions and noting that a theological engagement with tragedy also has the benefit of moving theologically not only past its usual disciplinary borders, but indeed across the divide between sacred and secular study. …