|Professor James K.A. Smith|
Erotic Comprehension: The Bodily Basis of Meaning - Lecture 1 (24th May 2012)
“love is a kind of erotic comprehension of the world—a way that we make sense of our world on a bodily register… a kind of understanding we carry in our bodies, an ‘incarnate significance’ that seeps into our bones, shaping how we perceive the world—and hence how we act within the world.”
He closed his talk by suggesting that Christian faith is more than just a set of beliefs and doctrines; rather, it is a mode of “erotic comprehension by which we imagine the world differently”.
Sanctified Perception: How Worship Works - Lecture 2 (25th May, 2012)
He began his second talk by suggesting that contemporary psychology and cognitive science have begun to appreciate what Christian spirituality has known for ages, that action flows out of our habits. Action is not the deductive outcome of individual decisions based on specific beliefs; our action and behavior reflect dispositions and habits that have become “second nature”. It is these actions that incline us to respond in almost automatic ways. Such good habits have been seen historically as virtues. These he suggested are no less than Christian and secular liturgies, that are embodied, enacted performances and that “…inscribe in us a faith that gets under our skin”.
Pierre Bourdieu to help us appreciate how our perception is shaped by communal practices that inscribe in us a “habitus,” which as Bourdieu describes it, is a pre-intellectual way of relating to and perceiving our world. This then, encourages specific action. As a result we need to be attentive to the way that cultural practices might be mis-shaping our perception.
In light of the above, Professor Smith suggested that the goal of Christian worship and Christian education should be to “sanctify” perception in order to shape us as Christians, and mould our habitual dispositions. We far too easily become habituated to ways of life that run counter to what God envisions for our flourishing. There is unconscious liturgical formation constantly at work:
"as we are unwittingly conscripted into stories that are rival tellings of what’s in store for the world. These narratives and their metaphorical power seep into our bones in such a way that they come to dominate our ‘background’ and thus begin to shape our very perception of the world. This in turn orients our habitual action.” We are pulled toward a different ‘telos’ rivaling the coming Kingdom of God. Through a complex repertoire of secular liturgies “…we are assimilated to the earthly city or disordered loves, governed by self-love”.
So if Christian formation is going to foster Christian action for the kingdom, such formation needs to be nothing short of a sanctification of our perception. We need to be moved ‘imaginatively’, not just convinced. Sanctification requires not just the conviction of intellect, but also the capturing of our imaginations and the conversion of our habits. This has great significance for our thinking about worship and education, each of which is used by God to form and shape us as image-bearers of Christ 'indexed to the Kingdom of God'.
You can listen to both talks by downloading
MP3 files of each lecture HERE.