Augustine, Rosenstock-Huessy and Intercultural Theology

In a recent post Peter Leithart draws attention to Rosenstock-Huessy’s analysis of Augustine’s De Magistro. As Leithart writes, “One of the key moves in Augustine’s dialogue, Rosenstock-Huessy says, is the challenge it poses to dialogue itself, for Augustine insists that the true dialogue cannot be merely dual, but must include a third, the Divine Teacher, who takes dialogue out of our hands.”

Augustine’s move is similar to the idea of triangulation in intercultural theological dialogue: “What happens in such an intercultural theological conversation can be understood with Kevin Vanhoozer and with reference to the analytic philosopher Donald Davidson as a process of ‘triangulation’. An intercultural theological conversation is not just an exchange in which we pay attention to each other. This is a conversation that aims — in the language of cognitive psychology — at ‘joint attention’, joint attention to a third reality, to God in Christ as we have come to know Him in the canonical Scriptures. Intercultural theological dialogue is therefore in principle a trialogue, a three-way conversation between representatives of the global church in which the third or rather the first voice is the voice of God who Himself in the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit addresses His church.”[1]

Intercultural theology could benefit from exploring the implications of Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of teaching as a paradigmatic social relationship. Perhaps a deeper understanding of this relationship can help to deal with the problem of Western dominance in theological conversation. Western theologians need to be prepared to become students in the conversation rather than always being teachers.

On the other hand, Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of the social construction of time in relation to teaching could be further enriched by a consideration of the social construction of space. To paraphrase Leithart’s summary, the problem is that we can’t examine space because our thinking about space involves being in a certain space. There is no way to step aside and examine space in an non-spatial way. Further, teaching requires space, and the teaching space is a particular kind of space. Teaching requires a coordination of the locations of students and teachers; they have to show up in the same space. But they don’t show up as “locals” but “travellers.” The teacher is always “more well-travelled,” if not in the actual journeys he’s made at least in his exposure to the material; the student is always “less well-travelled” because he has never been exposed to the material or because he has not been exposed to it so deeply as the teacher. (May I suggestively comment that “more” and “less well-travelled” are not physical but social facts?)

[1] Benno van den Toren, “Intercultural Theology as a Three-Way Conversation: Beyond the Western Dominance of Intercultural Theology,” Exchange 44 (2015): 141-2.

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