Dissertation Question and Description

I get asked about my dissertation a lot, and I’ve posted about it before (abstract here, and theological significance here).  I’ve definitely made some headway in the past six months, but things have been slow as I’ve been adjusting to a new full-time job and have taken on a few other small writing projects.  Those are done now though, so 2015 promises to be a very productive writing year…  Anyway, to get back into it, I rewrote a description of my topic for a fellowship application, and here it is.

Core Question:

Seen within the context of the phenomenon of globalization, I am examining the Christian understanding of salvation with respect to the violence and impunity that has occurred as a result of the U.S.-Mexico Drug War. To do so, I ask: what is the good news and hope that the Christian faith promises to those who suffer in this conflict, and what kind of engagement and response does such a promise demand from North American churches in light of the difficulty that our Mexican neighbors are facing?

Project Description:

Even though this project constitutes a theology of the church, as a political theology it nonetheless must begin with a study of the political, historical and cultural context in question. This requires a social-scientific look at the phenomenon of globalization as it has affected the U.S.-Mexico region in general and the drug war in particular. In sum, my argument is that several of the key features of globalization serve to exacerbate but not necessarily cause the drug-trade-related violence.

To fully appreciate the situation in Mexico, however, I will also rely on Latin American political philosopher, ethicist and historian Enrique Dussel to characterize the experience and viewpoint of the victims in this conflict. Accordingly, Dussel will help to sensitize the Christian doctrine of salvation to the specific concerns of what he calls history’s “colonial underside.” In this way, it is hoped that my North American perspective on this issue will be less colored by a eurocentric, modern or postmodern hermeneutic. Hence, the term “trans-modern” has been chosen to describe my approach.

With regard to the doctrine of salvation, I will draw on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, his aesthetic epistemology, and his depiction of history as a drama on the world stage of God’s redemptive performance. Furthermore, Balthasar provides an understanding of salvation from the social location of the church. Recourse to formal political avenues for ethical response by Christians may be considered, but the formulation of ecclesial identity and a theology “from below” will be operative from the start so as to guard against the risk of absorption by any state-centered or imperial program.

Finally, based on what is set forth by both Dussel and Balthasar — epistemologically, politically and soteriologically — I will construct an ecclesial ethic that is marked by neighborliness and resistance for a North American church engagement with this crisis.

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