Friday, March 02, 2007

Imagination, Creativity, Artistry, Fantasy...and Theology?

On my blog TheoFantastique I recently posted an interview with Paul Teusner on religious identity and how this can be negotiated and formed through media culture with reference to horror films. There are several interesting items that come through in this interview, but I thought the questions relating to festivity, creativity, and artistry in relation to theology and cultural interaction were significant to post here for the reflection of readers. In reflecting on this it makes me wonder where the church's equivalent of the Disney Imagineers and Dreamworks folks are:

TheoFantastique: In the late 1960s Harvey Cox spoke of human beings as homo festivus, given to festival and revelry, and homo fantasia, the "visionary dreamer and mythmaker." He also spoke of Western culture at this time as being fantasy deprived. This may still be true, and with special application to the church. In your paper you select nine films and then us them as a means for engaging in a theological conversation as to how they impact religious identity. Do you think there is a significant place for fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres to inform the theological imagination, conversations, and reflection of the church in the West?

Paul Teusner: In the third year of my undergraduate studies I took a course titled Theological Reflections in Ministry, where a couple of weeks was spent talking about the nature of theological imagination, and the place of imagination in theological inquiry. I have to say the conversations surprised me, in a college that had placed so much importance on rational, theoretical approaches to theology. But it was a liberating exercise - to appreciate how the human mind can imagine future possibilities, and the responsibility of those in ministry to respect them and things of God. I was reminded that God has spoken to many in the Bible in dreams, and that Isaiah calls all to hope where dreams and visions thrive. So I definitely believe there's a place for fantasy in theology, but I believe it's been surpressed by mainstream Protestant institutions where only the academes survive. I would contend that any endeavour to engage in mission in contemporary media culture will necessarily involve embracing imagination as a tool of theological inquiry.

TheoFantastique: In your discussion of theology and religious identity you state that "visual and performance arts, over time, became a secular pursuit, away from the sanctions and supports of the Church." How might the church begin to embrace these missing facets of expression and do so as part of the sacred realm?

Paul Teusner: Oh, man. If I knew I would be getting fat off the royalties of my book! Taisto Lehikoinen has written much on how different churches have engaged with contemporary media, and all have failed in some way. I would say at this time all endeavours are experiments, and most would cause tensions with those who hold to the tried-and-true ways of doing things. Essentially I believe it will really only be successful in the local setting, whether that be the small community church, Internet chat room or out the back of your local pub or coffee shop. What "the church" will do will depend on how well "the church" listens to the rebellious, curious, tentative and timid expressions of itself on the cusp between religious institution and local culture.

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