Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

After Postmodernism: Perspectivism, a Christian Epistemology of Love, and the Ideological Surround

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

After Postmodernism: Perspectivism, a Christian Epistemology of Love, and the Ideological Surround

Article excerpt

Postmodernism liberates the integration of psychology and Christianity from the domination of modernism, but also leads to a vertiginous relativism. A movement beyond postmodernism seems essential. For Christians, such a movement might build upon the "future objectivity" of Friedrich Nietzsche's postmodern perspectivism. Writings of the French social theorist Rene Girard suggest how this "objectivity" might be assimilated within a Christian metanarrative about Truth. His theory more specifically implies that the Bible commands an epistemology of love that is non-authoritarian, critical, and integrative. Methods compatible with an epistemology of love have been developed within an ideological surround model of the relationship between psychology and religion. An epistemology of love supplies a metaperspective for seeing and then telling a coherent metanarrative about the challenges of integration after postmodernism.


Christian scholars increasingly claim that "the ideological engine propelling the movement of modernity is broken down irreparably" (Oden, 1995b, p. 35) and is being replaced by a postmodernism that has ambivalent implications for Christianity. For Oden (1995a), this historical process signals the beneficial decline of the chauvinistic domination of modernism. "Modern chauvinism," he asserts, "regards modernity as the intrinsically superior ethos by which all premodern views are harshly judged as primitive, misogynist, or artless" (Oden, 1995a, p. 27). Perhaps more than anything else, this presumption of being "intrinsically superior" is what has "broken down irreparably."

Modernism originated in the early Enlightenment quest for an "objective" rationality that could overcome the religious violence of 17th Century Europe (Stout, 1988; Toulmin, 1990). Along with improving life through science, this objective rationality was presumed to be innocent of ideological aspirations of its own and could thus supply a value-neutral process for mediating religious conflicts. Postmodern critiques have argued, however, that all rationality is the simultaneous product and producer of power (Foucault, 1980). Enlightenment rationality, in particular, was a powerful construction of emerging democratic and capitalist social structures and was not more "objective" than the premodern "subjectivities" it replaced (MacIntyre, 1988). The power arrangements of one regime of understanding simply overthrew the power arrangements of another. The "rationality" of modernist "objectivity" was itself culturally relative and hence chauvinistic in its presumption of intrinsic superiority.

Postmodernism radically changes the relationship between psychology and religion. Psychology can now be seen as a modernist construction that, among other things, used "objective" rationality to explain (and often explain away) religion (O'Connor, 2001). Postmodern critique means that modernist psychology can no longer be described non-controversially as a value-neutral enterprise capable of judging religion in terms of an "intrinsically superior ethos." Psychology instead can be characterized as a modernist invention that worked toward the overthrow of religion. "Psychologists of religion," Carrette (2001) recently argued, "have to be aware that to some extent they have served to provide a disciplinary apparatus for 'psychologizing' religion, making religious ideas more responsive to a Western, individualistic and capitalistic regime" (p. 120). Today, a postmodern framework makes it possible to see how psychology had origins in religion, how it attempted to replace religious with more secular norms of conduct, and how it sometimes preached a new faith based upon self-worship (Kvale, 1992).

By leveling the relationship of religion with psychology (and with science more generally), post-modernism exerts a potentially positive influence on Christianity. But negative consequences appear as well. Radical forms of postmodernism reduce all worldviews to power arrangements (Rosenau, 1992). …

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