living through death

"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death.” –Leo Buscaglia

In Process: “Paul Tillich, Salvation, and Big, Unnecessary, Crazy, Travel Adventure”

with 3 comments

Tillich ConferenceThis past year I’ve dabbled a bit on the relationship between adventure and salvation (here and here), but I have now been given the opportunity to do a more focused treatment of these ideas. I was recently informed that a proposal I submitted to a conference in Oxford, England called, Paul Tillich: Theology and Legacy has been accepted. I had basically written off the possibility of going due to the expense, but at the last minute I decided to toss together a few of these crazy ideas and see what happened. Below is the proposal I submitted. I’ll be flying over in July to present the paper which I am currently working on. I’ll be sure to post the full paper once it’s finished. Stay tuned.

Update: I’ve since uploaded this talk to my academic papers page. You can also read some of my post-conference reflections that were hatched while hiking Iceland’s Fimmvörðuháls Trail here.

Paul Tillich, Salvation, and Big, Unnecessary, Crazy, Travel Adventure

Paul Tillich emphasized that salvation has a paradoxical form. Among a growing community of people, the cultural quest for salvation has recently taken just such a turn. Rather than keeping the evils of death and meaninglessness at bay via the comfortable promises of a technologically manipulated environment, some have taken it upon themselves to, instead, quit their jobs and embark upon incredible journeys in some of the harshest environments of the planet. They thrive on rather minimal preparation, entrust themselves to the kindness of strangers, and frequently change their plans. From bicycling 30,000 miles home, across Siberia—in winter, as Rob Lilwall did, to more humble “micro-adventures” as Alastair Humphreys encourages, these adventurers have at least one thing in common: They encounter an intensity of life that the normal mode of technologically-dependent life systematically subverts.

What I hope to argue is that this movement points to the experience of salvation in our time. Tillich’s thinking on salvation was often framed by the ideas of what he called structure and depth. These were the terms he was thinking in when he described culture as the form of religion and religion as the depth of culture. The basic problem that he identified is that religion has been artificially separated from culture and that culture is then ever in danger of losing its depth. Thus, if salvation is the dynamic encounter of the depth of being within the structure, and if the structure has lost its grammar of depth, then it is understandable that people will go looking for depth elsewhere. And we might expect that they will do so precisely by spurning empty cultural forms. I hope to show that these individuals represent a theologically interesting enactment of the fragmentary overcoming of estrangement in our time.


Written by Alex

April 17, 2014 at 11:14 am

3 Responses

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  1. Hi Alex,
    Fantastic idea for a presentation! I’m excited for you.
    A couple of readings that might interest you, since both “religion” and “culture” are notoriously difficult to define. Walter Kaufmann (in “Critique of Religion and Philosophy,” 100-103) challenges whether “religion” can be successfully defined, beyond specifying which religions one has in mind. It’s a well known challenge, among old farts like myself, but maybe not with you kids… And second, If you haven’t read T.S. Eliot’s “Christianity and Culture, you might want to take a look at it too–especially Chapter I of “Notes Toward a Definition of Culture” (The Three Senses of “Culture”–the book contains two related essays: “The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes…”). There Eliot writes that culture is “the incarnation…of the religion of a people.” So, a couple of old war horses that might still be of service.

    Tracy Witham

    April 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm

  2. Tracy! Sorry this has taken me awhile. Thanks much for these recommendations. They look like some very fine reading in their own right! I’m not sure I’ll have time to dig into this paper, however. My main purposes will be zeroing in on the terms “adventure” and “salvation” by way of the structure that Tillich gives to us, so hopefully nothing critical will be lost in the absence of an independently worked out theory of culture and religion. Thanks so much for passing this on, I’m quite sure I’ll return to it someday!


    May 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm

  3. Reblogged this on Deep in the Burbs and commented:
    Tillich represents the theological tradition that resonates with the immanence of God. God is the ground of being from which being springs forth. My colleague, Alex Blondeau, is doing his doctoral work in Tillich and I love the way he expresses it. I wonder how this might connect to the relational ontology and the technological disembodiedness that we are exploring in Deep in the Burbs.


    July 8, 2014 at 12:12 pm

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