A View From London And Bangor Encouragement For Multi Disciplinary Enquiry

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Pentecostal Theology, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005

A View from London and Bangor: Encouragement for Multi-Disciplinary Enquiry

William K. Kay

Conversation? Well, yes. This book is a civilized discussion rather than an argument or a thesis or a manifesto. And it is a conversation that takes place within a broad Western tradition, in the senior common room per- haps, with a window that overlooks the landscape of the past and another that gives glimpses of the future.

One theme that stands out to me, and one that is not fully unpacked in the general summary given earlier in this issue, concerns the definition of Christian scholarship in the direction of epistemology, especially the epistemologies of Christianity and of science: it may be that modern sci- ence “could be shown to rest on a theological base” (p. 72) or it may be that the notion of objectivity should be thrown away and perspectivalism embraced (p. 109ff.). Or perhaps what is needed is epistemological humil- ity that allows the “imbrication” or overlapping of disciplines—an archi- tectural concept offered by Crystal Downing—to foster “Christian service rather than intellectual coercion” (p. 41).

I work at two institutions and will consider both.

King’s College, London

This is a large and prestigious Department of Education and Professional Studies situated within a school of Social Science and Public Policy in the federal University of London in one of the major capital cities of the world. Staff carry out applied research favouring social science paradigms and, in practice because this is where research funding is directed, seek to work at the interface between government policy and theoretically sophisticated understandings of the school curriculum or the educational process as a whole, including its social implications.

As part of its remit the department employs staff whose research will focus on religious education and church schools. These twin con- cerns are driven by public policy as well as by denominational priorities. This is because most church schools in England and Wales operate in what is called the “dual system,” which incorporates church schools within the state system and has done so since at least 1902, if not

© 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden pp. 148–155


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1870.1 Church schools relate both to their diocesan authorities and to local education authorities and are maintained by public money, even though denominational religious worship and denominational religious education may be offered in them. This arrangement is not as odd as it sounds. The church schools have long learnt to carry out the educational policies of central or local government while, at the same time, offering a distinc- tive extra dimension as part of their provision to pupils. Most of these schools are either Anglican or Roman Catholic, since these were the ones in existence when this legal framework was set up. About 25 percent of primary school pupils and 10 percent of secondary school pupils are edu- cated in church schools. There are, however, a few more recently founded Greek Orthodox, Muslim, and Seventh Day Adventist schools that func- tion on the same advantageous basis.

Anglicans consider their educational provision to be at the heart of their mission to the nation while the Roman hierarchy continues to see its parish work in this light although, increasingly, Catholic teachers find themselves facing children who, though nominally Catholic, are ignorant of the precepts and practices of Christianity.2 The question at issue is how Christian scholarship of the kind discussed by Jacobsen and Jacobsen might make an impact on the self-perceived role and internal organiza- tion of church schools and hence on their curriculum, especially their reli- gious education. And this question might then be extended to all the schools in the maintained (or state) sector, those that have religious foun- dations and those that do not.

So how might all this be reflected in the department? There are numerous possibilities best illustrated by a concrete example. An interdisciplinary research project needs public funding, and it can only receive this when a set of scholars, Christian and non-Christian, collaborate in the writing of research proposals on which they can all agree. Once the proposal is written, it is peer reviewed by another set of academics but, within the higher education system in Britain, an overtly faith-based proposal would be unlikely to receive support. So a Christian psychologist, philosopher, or educationalist might find his or her contribution submerged by secularity.


There were Education Acts in 1870 and in 1902. Technically, Local Education Authorities came into existence in 1902, but before this there were local boards that did much of the work later done by the Local Education Authorities. There were many boards, perhaps more than 1,000, and they were amalgamated into about 150 Authorities.


G. Grace, Catholic Schools: Missions, Markets and Morality(London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2002).



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Two years ago, after hearing a Christian headteacher speaking about her most needy pupils, I tried to set up a research project on the educational deficits of young pupils with a family member in prison. While my own concerns were driven by a Christian conscience, more secular colleagues were interested in the intellectual challenge of differentiating pupils with a parent in prison from pupils who had been bereaved by death; and government agencies were driven by the realization that children, partic- ularly boys, who have a father or brother in prison are themselves likely to turn to crime unless steps are taken to break the cycle. But it would be wrong to oversimplify the interests of the different parties, because secular colleagues also feel compassion for disadvantaged children and Christians may enjoy the intellectual challenges of disentangling the effects produced by diverse causes. And even government officers are not heartless!

In this instance, the integration of Christian commitment and research lay concealed in the choice of subject matter, in the initiation of the pro- ject, and in the choice of research methodology. In relation to the latter, there is an arguable compatibility between the rationality of Christianity and the rationality of social science methods. The reasoning that justifies holding a set of variables steady so as to isolate causal chains is conso- nant with a general account of Christianity that emphasises its theologico- historical evidence base and its philosophical coherence.

But how might Christian scholarship make an impact upon studies of church schools or debate about religious education? Here the difficulty of obtaining scholarly consensus may lead to political paralysis, and so make research appear to be irrelevant. Scholarly consensus concerning church schools needs to be formed not only between Christian and secular author- ities but within the Christian community itself. There is a diversity of views about the role of Christian schools. Some people think they should be largely evangelistic or, failing this, be suitable places for the nurture of young Christians. Others press the case for Christian schools to be employed only in the educational service of the community, particularly when catchment areas contain huge numbers of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or other pupils whose religious commitments are clearly not Christian. As a result, debate about Christian schools may include those, like humanists, who wish to abolish them altogether, those, like middle-class nominal Christians, who wish to preserve them merely in order to allow them to reproduce middle-class values, and those, like liberal Anglicans, who wish to retain them while leaving few vestiges of Christian distinctiveness intact. Conservative governments will reflect middle-class values and



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Labour governments (though Tony Blair is an exception) will tend to reflect secular ideologies. Christian scholarship can bring accuracy and perhaps impartiality to the debate but, in the end, is likely to find itself being used to support one political position or another. It is this politicization of scholarship to which I would like our conversationalists to respond.

Religious education is an equally hot potato, although it has managed to remain largely outside the political arena. One may see the history since 1944, when Christianity was by law embedded within the curriculum of the dual system, as being the story of retreat led by liberal Protestantism from confessional Christian teaching towards neutral pan-religious studies— and all this in the name of social justice. Here, again, this is where Christian scholarship turns upon questions about the kind of scholarship involved. The liberal Christian position that emphasizes commonality between reli- gions and de-emphasises the uniqueness of Christ is comfortable with the relativization of Christianity, whereas a conservative commitment, whether it is Anglo-Catholic, Catholic, or Pentecostal, finds this a betrayal of his- toric faith. Can our conversationalists shed light on this polarization?

University of Wales, Bangor

The Department of Theology and Religious Studies is set within the School of Arts and Humanities in the University of Bangor, situated on the coast of north Wales. The University of Wales, of which Bangor is part, is a federal university that comprises six campuses and has, since its inception in the late nineteenth century, affiliations with the theological colleges serving the different denominations within Wales itself. The strengths of the department are in the older traditions of biblical studies and church history and in newly formed research centers, including one dealing with religious education and another with Pentecostal and Charis- matic Studies.

The big question here concerns the way that Christian scholarship as a whole might make an impact upon theological and biblical studies. Here is the paradox: Christian scholarship has been characterized by Jacobsen and Jacobsen either by reference to the personal commitments and qualities of scholars or by a concern for Christian truth in its relation to other dis- ciplines or branches of knowledge. Yet, how can such scholarship explore its own traditions, history, or epistemology without changing its identity? In other words, the defining features of Christian scholarship may them- selves be changed by the process of scholarly activity. This appears to be a problem that occurs whenever theology and Christian scholarship are



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brought into the dialogue and regardless of whether debate occurs within a theology department or not.

Like education, theology is too broad in its scope to be defined as a discipline. Rather, it is made up of many disciplines that overlap with its central concern for God, or the experience of God, as reflected in the life of religious communities and sacred texts. The disciplines of philology, hermeneutics, historiography, philosophy, and so on all find a home within a theological department and bring their own gifts to the theological feast. Within a theology department I would wish to make a sharp distinction between Christian scholarship that comprises proficient contributions made by Christians to their disciplines (e.g., in Semitic philology) and Christian scholarship that, out of mature reflection and living faith, shapes the many accounts that might be made of the beliefs or practices of Christian com- munities both now and in the past. The one requires no personal engage- ment with faith and, so far as its technical results are concerned, might just as well be carried out by an atheist. The other, a form of perspecti- valism, not only requires engagement with faith but helps re-express faith—indeed, it goes some way to deconstruct the paradox mentioned earlier: engagement with the normative features of the faith can lead either to a reformulation of the faith (as in the case of Karl Barth) or to a cor- rosion of it (as in the case of the Lux Mundi collection).

But what of the development of the Centre for Pentecostal and Cha- rismatic Studies? Three points come to mind. First, the aims of Christian scholarship are varied and cannot be reduced to polemics or the ever more complicated defence of variant nonmaterialistic worldviews. Second, Christian scholarship may operate in the service of the Christian com- munity rather than in a coercive or adversarial manner. Thus, it would be reasonable to see Christian scholarship that makes use of the tools of prac- tical theology to uncover the dynamics of Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations in relation to spiritual gifts, evangelism, leadership, youth work, worship, or missions. In this way Christian scholarship can enter into dialogue with congregational leaders or missionary strategists to help them reach their goals more adequately and without recourse to ill-con- sidered and lopsided fads, whether these come from the world of busi- ness or from more apparently spiritual sources. In this respect Christian scholarship functions as a corrective to short-termism, and academic insti- tutions may offer a platform from which a critique of malpractice may be mounted against over-mighty preachers, particularly in a populist age that glorifies pragmatism and argues “if it works, it must be right” or “if it is big, God must have blessed it.”



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Third, the idea of “imbrication” or overlapping discourses and multi- ple vocabularies is new. It offers a fresh approach and one that is sepa- rate from interdisciplinary or intradisciplinary enquiry. It allows two disciplines, or two discourses, to explore different sides of a topic or prob- lem without interfering with each other. Interdisciplinary inquiry can imply that each discipline directed at a common focus of enquiry must satisfy the criteria of the other: that, for example, social psychology has to be as convincing to the sociologist as to the psychologist.3 Intradisciplinary enquiry implies that different disciplines are included within each other so that, for instance, theological topics might be sociologically explored and then resubmitted to theological reflection.4 Imbrication implies that separate discourses are not necessarily brought into coordination and are allowed to shed their light without being forced to cohere.

Assemblies of God in the UK

I doubt very much whether ordinary pastors will read this book. The impact is more likely to be transmitted indirectly through educational institutions and in-service training. The interest of congregational minis- ters and denominational superintendents relates to leadership, evangelism, mission, and spiritual gifts rather than to knowledge, scholarship, or church history. Educational processes within Assemblies of God are largely focused on biblical studies, the history of revival, and the practicalities of min- istry, including preaching, counselling, and church planting. Yet, as a preparation for engagement with the world into which they will speak, most younger students will probably have to write an essay on a topic like “the impact of postmodernism on contemporary culture,” and it is here that this book will help to provide a more mature outlook and a more lasting analysis than the latest paperback.

Pentecostalism as a Whole

For the implications for Pentecostalism as a whole that this book car- ries, I wish to return to two themes: the politicization of scholarship and the value of multidisciplinary enquiry.


W. K. Kay and L. J. Francis, “The Seamless Robe: Interdisciplinary Enquiry in Religious Education,” British Journal of Religious Education 7, no. 2 (1985): 64–67.


J. A. van der Ven, Practical Theology: An Empirical Approach(Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1993).



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Within the United States my impression is that where battles between science and religion, or creationism and evolution, have shaped public consciousness, provoked televised protest, and fuelled famous legal bat- tles, scholarship may become degraded by being pressed into the service of political factions. Within the United Kingdom the science/religion debate is more muted although, as implied above, debate over education is politicized and church schools have, in the past, been on the verge of being dragged into it.5 In such circumstances, the finer points of scholar- ship—the caveats and nuances—are forgotten. Yet, in such circumstances, too, scholarship can all too easily betray its high calling to truth. It can pretend that it presents the strict and neutral findings of dispassionate sci- ence while secretly advocating its mean-spirited prejudices. I think of Bertrand Russell’s famous History of Western Philosophy, which, for all the alleged glacial logic of its author, is grotesquely mocking in its depic- tion of those with whom Russell disagrees.

In the end, politicization leads to polarization and polarization can harden into prejudice. The great boon of this book is that it ought to enable Pentecostal and Charismatic studies to flourish by making use of various models of cooperation, integration, and imbrication that can be summed up in the civilized word conversation without degenerating into bad-tem- pered squabbles and over-inflated rhetoric.

Multidisciplinary inquiry appears to offer the best way forward, pro- vided that each discipline is allowed to operate according to its own canons and without being swallowed up by its partners. It is the cross-checking that can take place when the various perspectives are combined that appears to offer the best hope for preventing prejudicial use of research findings. As a Pentecostal Christian it is highly significant to me that the Pauline injunction “not to quench the Spirit’s fire” is followed immediately by the command to “test all things” (1 Thes 5:19–21). If, within the church, we are expected to know the free-ranging power of the Spirit within the life of the congregation, we are also equally to test the manifestations of the Spirit and to judge the charismata. This double movement of expres- sion and testing, of divinely inspired creative freedom and subsequent communal weighing, offers a general epistemological model that can be elaborated utilizing the many resources of our intellectual heritage. In essence, though, it is a model of individual illumination and articulation,


W. K. Kay, “Political Perspectives on Church Schools and Religious Education: A Discussion of the Period from Thatcher to Blair,” Educational Studies 28, no. 1 (2002): 61–75, and Priscilla Chadwick, Schools of Reconciliation: Issues in Joint Roman Catholic- Anglican Education (London and New York: Cassell, 1994).



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followed swiftly by a process of assessment—and, again following the Pauline model, the assessors of prophecy are the other prophets (1 Cor 14:29)—which means that we have both a peer-review model and a model that allows for nonrational assessment of nonrational insight; though, pre- sumably, because of the communal nature of the assessment context, ratio- nal assessment of nonrational inspiration is also possible.

In the end, then, our civilized conversation in the senior common room will have to move out into the rougher public spaces within Western society.



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