Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Autobiography and Empathy

Brian Alger at the Experience Designer Network says this in a post entitled, "Learning is a Global Phenomenon":
"We can best explore the multiplicity of learning by bringing ourselves into close proximity to the stories of people's lives that in some manner inform our own. This notion seems strikingly obvious and deceptively simplistic. I do not mean that we focus our intention on mere biography or developing the ability to mentally recall the facts associated with the lives of those we consider to be famous in some way. One problem with our idea of story is that it easily denigrates into armchair entertainment. Often, stories of people's lives come to us via print media and even the most literate among us struggle to connect and actualize the essence of inspiring lives into our own. In other words, we can recall a story in great detail yet not be influenced by it in any significant way. Stories too often remain in the mind and are confined to an act of memory.
From another perspective, the story of one person's life can be a powerful force for fundamental and permanent change in another person's life. These stories are the living "curriculum," if you will, of learning. They are imbued with a sense of reality and mystery that, when read with an open spirit, can cause us to re-think and re-act in our own lives."
I gave a paper some time ago on "empathy"; I think I'll have to dust it off & see if I can rework it & submit it somewhere for publication.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mind, Brain, Conversation

Fascinating interview with Dan Sperber; I've just finished Philip Clayton's Mind & Emergence (and most of the essays in In Whom we Live & Move & Have Our Being). I'll have to take some time to reflect on how emergence in the process of thinking and Sperber's theory of conversation come together--perhaps via Etienne Wenger's idea of knowledge residing not only in individuals' minds (identity) but in the community (learning systems).

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Theological education

I've been reading David Kelsey's and others' (including Peter Hodgson's) work on theological education and coming to appreciate some of the nuances re: the difference between the goal of education as paideia and as social transformation—interesting in the light of the difference between personal and social constructivism. Kelsey contrasts the university as a place for the cultivation of virtue (Athens) and as a research facility leading to professionalism (Berlin). Telford Work provides an excellent sidebar to Kelsey's "Between Athens & Jerusalem" in his "Education as Mission: The Source as the Sign of the Kingdom," available online at

Constructivism in Christian education

David Knowlton (2002, with James Thorne and Harry Harriss 2002, and with Suzanne Shaffer 2004) argues that a constructivist philosophy and pedagogy is not inconsistent with the principles and practice of Christian education. What Knowlton and his colleagues do not do in these articles is put forward criteria whereby such a claim can be judged against Christian theology. What is missing here is covered more than adequately, however, in Amos Yong's (2000) article on what evangelicals can learn from the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce. Yong does not address constructivism directly, although scholars describing the foundations of constructivism refer to Peirce's pragmatism as seminal. I would like to propose that Yong's work—supplemented by Donald Gelpi's essays on Peirce and theology—provides the background for the practical application made by Knowlton, et al. Speaking of revealed and transmitted truth is not popular among constructivists, but when Thielicke's method is combined with and shaped by the insights of Peirce, the results interface remarkably well with constructivism as a philosophy and pedagogy.

Research ideas

Gabriel Fackre talks about 3 poles of authority in theology: Scripture, tradition, & experience. Astute observers will notice the correspondence with the so-called Wesleyan quadrilateral, with the omission of reason as a source of authority. It is reasonable to assume that reason, especially if it includes what Michael Polanyi called personal or tacit knowledge, undergirds each of the other three sources of authority. Stanley Grenz and John Franke follow a similar schema, substituting "culture" for "experience" without specifying exactly how culture can be authoritative for theology.Helmut Thielicke, using the lens of Jesus' "Prodigal Son" parable, suggests (revising Barth's rejection of natural theology and particularly the analogy of being) that Christians/theologians ought to pursue (and maintain active conversations with those who pursue) what could be described as cultural knowledge—in philosophy, science, social policy, the arts, and so on. His claim is that, at the point where such pursuits inevitably come up against data that cannot be explained in terms related to ordinary human knowledge, God in grace is able to "break into" human experience, supplying from outside what cannot be known otherwise.Amos Yong, drawing on Irenaeus's metaphor of the ubiquitous Spirit and incarnate Word as the "two hands of God," proposes a pneumatological approach to appreciating the contributions of what I have called above "cultural knowledge," particularly as regards world religions. He notes the way Lints divides contemporary theologians who are exploring this subject into postliberals (such as Lindbeck, whose method is primarily about hermeneutics/narrative) and postmoderns (who use the categories of epistemology/metaphysics). Those divisions may now be somewhat artificial.In the philosophy of science, I find Nancey Murphy's work—drawing on Imre Lakatos—most interesting, along with Alister McGrath, T. F. Torrance, and Philip Clayton, whose work on emergence and panentheism includes what he regards as a helpful dualism that is coherent with Thielicke’s position as I have understood it.In philosophy, particularly metaphysics, I really like what Donald Gelpi does as he compares/integrates the insights of Charles Sanders Peirce and Bernard Lonergan, particularly as he updates Lonergan's categories of conversion as funding what Lonergan identifies as foundational (public) theology.In sociology, Peter Berger has taken some very interesting turns, and Luke Timothy Johnson uses sociological categories in New Testament studies.Re: world religions, I appreciate Amos Yong's "research programme" (to use the term as Murphy captures it from Lakatos for theology). The central points in the above seem to be the interface between theology and other disciplines and a theology of conversion. I want to explore this through the lens of one particular philosophical/epistemological position: how does all the above inform a theologically sound use of constructivist theory/practice in education, especially as it relates to distributed learning and the use of technology?