Kenneth Reynhout's "Interdisciplinary Interpretation": Introduction

Over the next month or so I want get back into blogging on DET by working through and reflecting on a couple texts that appear to be important for what I want to do in my dissertation. One of the books I will be taking the DET audience through is Dr. Kenneth Reynhout's book Interdisciplinary Interpretation: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Theology and Science. I have a real interest in the work of Paul Ricoeur, and since my dissertation will likely be interdisciplinary in nature, this seems like a great book for me to blog. In this first post I want to briefly cover the book's introduction (ix-xviii).

Reynhout begins by briefly discussing his audience. He is writing "on behalf of theologians who are looking for guidance as they seek to engage the natural sciences," but cautions against seeing this "narrow focus" as negating the importance of his book for other relevant areas of thought (ix). According to Reynhout the "religion and science dialogue" has been resisted by religious, scientific, and theological academics, a reason for the latter's resistance being a concern that the dialogue "seems by and large to trade authentic theological reflection for abstract discussions about a generic theism that is less like theology and more like philosophy of religion" (ix-xii). Thus Reynhout wants to help theologians "engage the sciences and other disciplines... as theologians" (xii).

Providing that help centers on "the interdisciplinary question" (xii). In what appears to be the fundamental statement of his argument for the book (I've done some reading ahead), he writes:
Stated succinctly, the interdisciplinary question is: What is the character of theology's interdisciplinary engagement with the natural sciences? My equally succinct answer will be that theology's interdisciplinary character is fundamentally hermeneutical, that is, theologians engage the natural sciences primarily as interdisciplinary interpreters. (xii)
He is going to argue for "hermeneutics as an interdisciplinary paradigm," knowing that he will also need to clear up misconceptions about hermeneutics to do so, and this is where Paul Ricoeur comes in, though using Ricoeur will also bring some challenges (xiii-xv). Rather than write about these misconceptions and challenges in this post, we will return to them in future posts, as they are only summarized in the introduction.

The introduction concludes with several paragraphs on what each chapter hopes to achieve. Chapters one and two appear to set up the next three, in which one of "three guiding questions" will be answered (xv-xvi). From the chapter overviews it is clear that "Ricoeur's dialectical process of understanding through explanation" is crucial for Reynhout's argument, so in future posts it will be important to keep track of this component (xv-xvi).

I want to conclude this introductory post by offering a little observation. I was excited to see the discussion about the problem of generic theism in interdisciplinary work. Like Reynhout, my concern to engage other disciplines as a theologian "is not driven by a kneejerk fundamentalist orthodoxy" (xi). My concern with generic theism in interdisciplinary work (and in general) comes from the work of Michael Welker, and I'm excited to learn how Reynhout's solution gets one out of this problem. This is just one of many things I look forward to learning from him.



Evan said…
I'm interested in seeing how the critique of "generic theism" in interdisciplinary interpretation plays out in this series... mostly because I've become less and less concerned over time about "abstraction" or "generalization" in theological or philosophical considerations of God. I get the what the original concern is, and I used to share it more than I do now, but I've come to think that often the concern isn't valid. Why, exactly, can't we usefully talk in non-specific terms about a god in a way that coalesces with more concrete trinitarian or christological references? I don't see anything in itself about a more abstracted theism that prevents us from it. I'd definitely grant that philosophical theism can and has tended to invalidate concrete confessional claims about God, but I don't see why it needs to do so in principle.
Like I said, this leads me to a particular interest in how your posts play out... not trying to invalidate any of your claims from the get-go by saying this!
KenR said…
I am grateful that Derek has offered to do this series on my book. I told Derek I would follow along and try to be helpful, without, hopefully, discouraging good critical conversation.

Given Evan's comment I think an immediate clarification is in order. After this introduction "theism" is never mentioned again. I have opinions about such things, but this book has no skin in that game. However, the comments to which Derek refers are directed at people who may have strong opinions about such things, especially those who may avoid interacting with other disciplines precisely because they fear that theology will necessarily be forced to capitulate its uniqueness.

In fact, I am advocating for more engagement with philosophical (and scientific) forms of thought. (And if I wasn't my engagement of Ricoeur would be deeply ironic.) And, similar to Evan's point, my argument is an "in principle" argument.
Derek Maris said…
Hey Evan,

Glad to hear that you'll be following this series, because at this point my response would come from sources other than Reynhout's, and I don't want to pull attention away from his book. I look forward to having this conversation later!
Derek Maris said…
Hi Ken,

Your post showed up after I had already responded. Thanks for clarifying. I'd also like to add that being wary of "generic theism" doesn't require giving up what you're "advocating for," at least for the sources I'm working out of. Thanks again!
Evan said…
Thanks for the clarification/thoughts! I'm looking forward to reading on, and heartily approve of turning to hermeneutics... would that it become a more common approach in theology as well as other disciplines!

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