Discerning the Spirits of Modernity and Postmodernity

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Dr. David H. Nikkel, Professor of Religion & Department Chair (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
Web Site: http://www.uncp.edu/academics/library

Abstract: I characterize controlling pictures or assumptions and concomitants of first modernity and then postmodernity. In brief, these assumptions are the possibility of absolute transcendence of one’s body, language, and culture versus the inescapability of some immanence in the same, of standing in the world. I trace the historical trajectory of the modern spirit and conclude that the move from modernity to postmodernity has been a long, gradual one that continues today. Modern thought increasingly recognized the historical relativity and conditionedness of everything human, yet held on to at least one version of absolutism. Recognizing that all of even one’s own thinking is always incarnate and conditioned is the decisive point for entering postmodernity. The critical and non-critical aspects of the postmodern spirit are described. I next offer an evaluative overview of modern theology, evaluate two movements in modern theology and philosophy—existentialism and process thought—with important postmodern elements, and commend liberation theologies for exposing absolutistic assumptions of modern theology. Finally, with some trepidation I evaluate three types of self-consciously postmodern theology (which can find possible or actual counterparts in all the disciplines of the humanities). Radical or deconstructive postmodernism hypothesizes total immanence in our representations of reality. It alternates between the relativistic standing everywhere of equally endorsing all interpretations and the standing nowhere of nihilism. In its hidden standard of absolute truth and its refusal to (claim a) stand in the world, radical postmodernism reveals itself to be modern rather than postmodern. Conservative postmodernism or postliberalism emphasizes the importance of enculturation in a tradition. Hypothesizing immanence in incommensurate worldviews, its posture is defensive. Protestant postliberalism, including Radical Orthodoxy, postmodernly claims Christianity as a self-authenticating context of meaning, but then incoherently shifts into the posture of modern or pre-modern absolutism and claims it as the one true religion. Only moderate postmodernism can adequately reflect the postmodern spirit. It charts a course between absolutism and relativism. It gives the critical aspect its due, affirming limited human transcendence. It grants that all persons are rooted in the world, that all are embodied and enculturated in some meaning.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2007
Absolutism, Relativism, Controlling Assumption/Picture, Critical, Postcritical, Acritical, Precritical, Modernity, Postmodernity, Deconstruction, Postliberalism, Theology

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