“Navigating the space between the “ideology of expertise” and the solipsism of sectarian community - charting a path for practical theology in the 21st century”
I presented an invited paper as part of the “Futures of Public Theology Conference” this week. I was part of a panel on the future of practical theology and here’s the abstract I came up with for the session:
One dimension which is often not fully appreciated regarding Alastair MacIntyre’s groundbreaking study After Virtue, is his foray into science studies and his critique of what he calls an “ideology of expertise”. Like many other qualitative social scientists went on to suggest in the science wars in the 1980-1990s, MacIntyre is critical of the supposed neutrality (and ascendance) of the 20th century data-driven researcher and bureaucrat. Against anyone’s expectations at the time, the science wars seem to have been won by qualitative researchers – and we see a marvelous array of highly focused and grounded studies in contemporary practical theology (commensurate with many other disciplines such as education, business, anthropology and even with economics, sociology, and politics). This focus on practices and practitioners in the context of their local communities has come to be a hallmark of contemporary practical theology. I will suggest in this paper that this grounded focus may have ascended to a position of hegemony and argue that the discipline of practical theology, if it is to continue to work with “empirical data” now needs to develop more robust quantitative skills and studies in triangulation with qualitative studies. I will even attempt to test whether there may be a theological rationale for such a position, in light of the critique(s) which have been sustained by MacIntyre, Hauerwas and Milbank of social gospel and social science.
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