I’ve had papers accepted at two more conferences this year. The first, the Truth Matters conference hosted by the Institute  for Christian Studies in Toronto, will be held at Victoria University at the University of Toronto in August. Below you can read the abstract I sent. The paper is entitled “Truth as Far as the Story Goes.”

Narratives provide the supporting rationality for all of life. They make life intelligible at every level, even accounting for what might be considered unintelligible, by making room for mystery or anomaly. Narratives, or what are sometimes referred to as traditions (e.g., in MacIntyre) constitute what has been called the “cultural imaginary” (see Ward, but also Taylor, Ricoeur, and others)—the very fabric of life in society in which actions and interactions are both driven and understood through a “magma” of images, metaphors, myths, and signs.

This paper will explore the phenomenon that truth is carried and constructed, in and by stories. Through a conversation with some of the figures noted above, as well as others, the paper will highlight the situational nature of truth as intimately connected to the narratives and traditions of local contexts. From within these local contexts, particular practices of treating the truth and reflecting on it emerge. Every context has a particular hermeneutical tradition, one which both conceives of truth and provides a normative guide for judging truthfulness and pursuing truth through, for example research and learning. In other words, every context or community has a sense that it knows what it is looking for when it speaks of truth, and it also has some way of judging whether or not it has found the truth.

Yet the above construal raises a serious question. If truth is bound by the limits of narrative or cultural imaginary, and if additionally, each society, community, or tradition has a unique way of construing the truth as well as a means of getting at the truth, then how might we deal with the general assumption that there is an underlying, singular truth definitive of all reality? Certainly, modernistic rationalism and empiricism, which rely so heavily on certain procedures or methods of argumentation, have failed in the endeavor to arrive at a universal conception of truth or any sort of universal method for arriving at definitively truthful conclusions—various sorts of postmodernism make this critique, both Anglo-American and Continental. Some have feared, then, that on this basis we must conclude relativism. But we need not conclude such an “anything goes” perspective.

That truth is carried in narrative is the assumption of this paper. But we are not left to concede that every narrative has an equal corner of the market on truth. As Charles Taylor and others have noted, there are good reasons for accounting for reality in some ways rather than others. Or to speak more in line with the present argument, there are good reasons to believe that certain narratives carry the truth account for reality better than others. This is not to say that these reasons are not up for debate—in fact, Taylor’s argument assumes they are debatable. It is only to say that in the pursuit of truth narratives, traditions, and cultural imaginaries are all semper reformanda. Through debate, conversation, epistemic gain, and persuasion, narratives are both formed and reformed. The paper will pursue this reasoning regarding the plurality of both narratives and truth, as well as how narratives might change.

The paper will also offer suggestions for further reflection: What might these conclusions offer to a new conceptualization of truth? One possibility is the encouragement of a much deeper analysis of our how cultural practices both communicate truth as well as how they form persons of a particular kind to the extent that they are truthful reflections of the narrative which underlies their identity as members of a particular society or people.

Another possibility is a deeper exploration of how individuals come to take certain narratives to be their narrative. Is it a process of indoctrination? What are they deep mechanisms of production which are at work in forming individuals to be particular people? It seems there is also another very important question here: to be aware of these processes, mechanisms, or systems of indoctrination is of value on the epistemic level of understanding, but how does such awareness do further work in forming and informing practices? In others words, what is the point of simply knowing about the phenomena at work in cultural production, as opposed to putting that knowledge to work?

The second paper is entitled “Narrating the City from a Sacred Refuge.” I’ll be delivering that at the Religion and Modernity in a Secular City conference, hosted by the Katholische Academie (Catholic Academy) in Berlin, Germany in September. The abstract is below.

Jaques Derrida has advocated for cities of refuge for writers who were persecuted and silenced in their local contexts of authorship. Might this concept of cities of refuge and the focus on writing and writers be of great importance for a consideration of religion in the secular city? As a refuge from the city but still within the city, the church can bring the marginalized and persecuted voices of private citizens into the public sphere, effectively blurring the line between the realms. These voices write the story of the city as its citizens—not just with words, but with ways of being. Without such voices—voices which have been silenced publicly—the city does not exist, for as Graham Ward has noted, writing and the city are so inextricably linked. The church is the very place which can best write the narrative of the city, from the very beginnings of the city and cities to the narrative of the city as it should be—an image of the eternal city. The church can best narrate the story of the present and local city for, as a place of refuge it is a place which houses the stories of the city in the voices of its people. In so narrating, might not the church offer a transformative politics through the story it tells? This is the story which represents the city as it is and the vision that calls to it, that haunts and has haunted its being since the first city—the story of the eternal city. This paper will argue for such a view of the church in the secular city. The church is a community of refuge which can narrate the city’s present and its future through practicing the citizenship of the eternal city in modern times.

I’m hoping to meet Graham Ward at this conference. I have been particularly influenced by his work. He’ll be the keynote speaker.

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