Sandra Schneiders: “I suspect that the reason the self-implicating character of the study of spirituality is problematic for those of us in the discipline is not that we are uncomfortable with our concerns and commitments, but that they place us in an ambiguous relationship to the three periods of western intellectual life, leaving us, in a sense, intellectually homeless . . .To our medieval holism the academy tends to say, “You’re old fashioned.” Our own modern training whispers accusingly, “You’re not sufficiently critical.” And our post modern contemporaries look at what we are saying and say, “If it is exists you can’t study it, and if you could, it would be irrelevant.”
I was thinking about this quote and was initially going to reflect on the nature of self-implication, especially in regards to the class I’m co-teaching on comparative theology. In the class, Dr. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski and I are teaching comparative theology as a spiritual practice, where the comparative moment occurs when we return to our home tradition, in light of our study of an outside faith tradition.
However, as I’ve been experiencing my first AAR/SBL conference, I’ve been ruminating on this quote and a new meaning has emerged for me that I’d like to share. It may be a slight departure from the author’s intent, but this author (Sandra Schneiders) has taught me enough Ricouerian hermeneutics for me to that that is ok.
In Sandra’s quote on the challenge of the self-implicating nature of the study of spirituality, she sets up potential opponents and then projects voices of sharp critique onto them: “you’re old fashioned,” “you’re not critical enough,” “what you’re studying is irrelevant” (my paraphrase).
I’ll be vulnerable and say that, as I’ve been experiencing my first AAR/SBL and listening to a variety of presentations, I have found myself setting up my own imaginary opponents upon whom I’ve been projecting my own voices of critique, except they’re saying stuff like “You’re too young” or “you’re not smart enough” or “you’re not going to get a job” or “you’re not going to be able to contribute to this field.”
Although nobody is actually saying any of these things to me (except myself), I find myself wrestling with these voices of critique as I navigate my way through the conference and through academia in general. I actually find comfort in knowing that Sandra also appears to wrestle with voices of critique as she navigates her way throughout the self-implicating nature of spirituality.
I also find comfort in the John S. Dunne (not John Donne) quote that Janet K. Ruffing shared in her presidential address yesterday about spiritual identity and narrative. Being attentive to my identity and my narrative involves “listening to God tell my story through time.”
In the midst of all the voices of critique, I’m encouraged to listen to God, who is singing my story. In a sense, that means my story is deeply connected with God’s story and is part of the Sacred Tale. And owning that encourages me to keep wrestling with all those voices of critique (real and imaginary) in the attempt to hear more fully God singing my story and then to share that Sacred Tale with others. And instead of hearing the conference presentations as sources for my anxiety and insecurity, I am encouraged to hear them as other people’s stories and therefore hear God singing to me through them.
 Sandra Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline” in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality. Edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark Burrows (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005), 18-19.