Research ideas

OK folks, so I have two-and-a-half reasonably clear ideas of what I could do for my next research project. That is two more than I had two weeks ago, so I am pleased. However, it’s clearly also one-and-a-half too many. So, what do you think; which should I do?

A. Book of which at least half the title is “Theology in Quaker Terms”. In which I take some key “terms” and phrases for Quaker thought and practice – terms that carry the weight of tradition and of ongoing reflection and action, and that also link us to wider traditions of thought and biblical interpretations –  unpack them descriptively (what is the “weight”, in terms of thought & practice, that they carry among Quakers; how do they illuminate what Quakers are about), and discuss how they relate to more familiar/conventional (for non-Quakers) theological “terms” – and hence how they, and the community that values them, represent a distinctive contribution to theological thought and indeed a distinctive interpretation of scriptures. (Preliminary list of terms includes: [the] Light; testimony; right ordering; answering that of God in everyone; Friend[s]; concern; etc). This doesn’t aim to be “a Quaker systematic theology”, nor “an explanation of why Quakers are an OK sort of Christian really”, nor a “history of Quaker thought” (the former two are I think deeply problematic, the latter is done better by other people). But with a bit of work it could be useful both for Quakers who are interested in understanding themselves, and for non-Quaker theologians (and people with an interest in theology).

B. So I wrote this book about “theological ethics for future generations”, and I think it’s OK but hardly anyone will read it.  Meanwhile I’m still getting quite bored with the kind of ecotheology that says “we should all look after the planet and here’s why”.  In the book I suggested that the interesting question is not “why should we look after the planet?” nor “is religion green?” but “when we all know there’s a problem, why is it so difficult to do anything about it?” (Theologically, the interesting issues on environmentalism are, in my humble and possibly unread opinion, not about creation but about sin). I have since added to that the question “where are the religious resources to deal with guilt, powerlessness, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it terror, and other human side effects of the environmental crisis? How, really, do we cope with this, and what in our religious inheritance lets us look it properly in the face? Not “what tells us to go and Do Something?” but “what enables us to cope with what we can’t Do?” ” And I don’t see a lot of theologians addressing that question directly – though I think there are some; but I am aware of responses emerging among people of faith who are environmentally concerned. And I’d like to do some work that develops some ideas from the book (eg about how to read “end of the world” texts and why they might be useful), and engaging in dialogue with people who’ve thought about this a lot (eg through the Good Lives project at Woodbrooke) and ends up perhaps by writing something more people would read.

C. Half an idea – I have a bit of a book already written, on rethinking theology through motherhood. It’s the maternity leave project that never happened. Perhaps I should go back to it before my children grow up… but it was never going to be an “academic” book, so, sadly, there are disincentives to spend too much time on it.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alison on 16 November, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    B I reckon. In so much as theology is ever that tangibly ‘useful’, I think it’s got a fair track record on helping people cope with being helpless.


  2. Posted by Alice on 16 November, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I want to read the Quaker book quite a lot. But I want to read the motherhood bok most. Just stick lots of footnotes in and people won’t know it’s not supposed to be academic.


  3. Posted by Margot Lunnon on 18 November, 2009 at 8:20 am

    As with Alison it’s the motherhood book that excites me. Being a philosopher by training I wd be wanting to ask, of this sort of soft theology (I am NOT being disparaging) “What’s the difference between doing it well and doing it badly?” But if you would like any sort of support group I wd be privileged…


  4. Soft theology. So that’s what I do. What’s the difference between doing it well and doing it badly? I quite like a hardish/realist-ish version of a pragmatic criterion; it’s been “done well” if it’s found to work in the long run. By their fruits, etc. Bearing in mind that you can make some pretty instant judgements about what isn’t going to work, even in the short run (eg: it makes no sense within any known framework of sense-making; it relates in no way to anyone’s existing understanding of God and the world; it leads directly to repugnant conclusions; it’s very boring and stimulates no thought or reflection in anyone else…).


  5. I just realised something else; this is partly a decision about whether Gavin or the children have to wait longer to get a book dedicated to them (because (a) is obviously his, and (c) and to a lesser extent (b) are obviously theirs)…


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