The essays in this Zygon issue on social-science interpretations of religion can stand on their own and need no special introduction. But a few remarks explaining the genesis of the issue may be in order.
The essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, David Tracy, Robin Scroggs, and Robert L. Moore were delivered at a special session of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Chicago last November. This session, entitled Psycho-Social Interpretations in Religion, was organized by a working group affiliated with the American Academy of Religion. It was planned and chaired jointly by Lucy Bregmann, chairperson of the working group, and me.
In his Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity John G. Gager attempts an analysis of the early history of Christianity, using an approach which he says is both comparative and theoretical: theoretical in the sense that I will make use of explanatory models drawn from the social sciences, and comparative in that much of the evidence for these models is based on studies of non-Christian religious movements.¹ He does not work out a comprehensive theory of the sociology of nascent religious movements. Neither does he present an exhaustive picture of the first three centuries of the Christian movement. Rather he draws on several specific (and diverse) studies from the social sciences and applies these studies as models to several specific (and diverse) phenomena in the rise of Christianity. …
¹ John Gager, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975), p. 2.
David L. Bartlett is associate professorial lecturer in New Testament at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, 1025 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637.
Too Much Kingdom, Too Little Community by Jonathan Z. Smith
Although John Gagers Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975) has not received the major reviews it deserves within academic religious circles, journals, and societies, it is not an isolated work. It is rather representative of a wide and growing interest among Biblical scholars and historians of early Christianity in sociological and anthropological approaches to their subject matter. Such topics have not been stressed since the so-called Chicago School of New Testament studies in the first decades of this century. While Gagers work lacks both the imaginative daring and theoretical brilliance of some of the emerging leaders in these studies (particularly the various articles by Gerd Theissen), his more modest contribution, designed for classroom use, is of greater value for our discussions precisely because it is so representative. Because of this I should stress that the critical stance I shall take toward Gagers book is a thoroughly friendly one. I shall argue that Gager does not go far enough, that, despite his intentions, he has remained too wedded to that remarkable nineteenth-century synthesis of historical and theological concerns that has dominated New Testament and Early Church studies for far too long. I can summarize my critique with the title of this paper, which plays on Gagers own, Too Much Kingdom, Too Little Community. …
Jonathan Z. Smith is William Benton Professor of Religion and Human Sciences and professor of history of religions, Divinity School, University of Chicago, 1025 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637.
A Theological Response to Kingdom and Community by David Tracy
The widespread discussion of John G. Gagers Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975) is ample testimony to its contribution to the social-scientific study of early Christianity. Gager seems correct to me in his claim that his work advances upon the social-scientific study of Christianity of the past (especially in this country by the Chicago School of Shirley Jackson Case), for the more recent work of several American scholars—Wayne Meeks, Jonathan Z. Smith, Gager himself, and others—has over its predecessors the distinct advantage of more sophisticated social-scientific theories and of course more historical and archaeological evidence to test the theories.
I join therefore with Gager and his social-scientific colleagues in the hope that my fellow Jewish and Christian theologians may learn to take more seriously these social-scientific studies of Christian origins. Since I share Gagers admiration for the work of Van Austin Harvey in The Historian and the Believer (New York: Macmillan Co., 1966), I presume I speak for both of us when I state that Harveys careful analysis of how theological beliefs can interfere and have interfered with the scientific study of early Christianity in the recent history of Christian theology may serve as a model of the same kind of analytical and methodological study needed on how theological beliefs can interfere and have interfered in many studies of the social world of early Christianity. Although Gagers brief Introduction does indicate these difficulties in a suggestive but very abbreviated fashion, there remains a need for a full study on a par with Harveys, perhaps entitled The Social Scientist and the Believer. Such a study obviously would demand someone whose professional competence includes both social science and modem theology. …
David Tracy is professor of theology, Divinity School, University of Chicago, 1025 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637.
The Heuristic Value of a Psychoanalytic Model in the Interpretation of Pauline Theology by Robin Scroggs
For many people, both in and out of the church, the apostle Paul has a decidedly bad odor (so already Nietzsche). Seen as personally irascible and rigid, Paul bequeathed the church, so this view goes, a dark and pessimistic theology which consigned outsiders to damnation and insiders to a stultifying, pietistic life-style for the sake of rewards in some vague and future eternal life. This world is totally sinful and those in the church do not seem to be much better. Still he implies an elitist position; believers at least have hope that they will be saved.
Pauls theology, furthermore, seems hopelessly mythological. Sin and Satan, Jesus as a divine Son of God, the magic waving of the wand which excuses sin under the phrase Justification by grace, the very notion of salvation itself, eternal life in heaven—all these seem irredeemable in todays scientific world. And while there are good reasons to be pessimistic today, one can be pessimistic only in scientific terms. Thus Paul is dismissed without really being listened to.
A more positive approach might see Pauls mythology as a giant symbolic network in which Paul, and those he convinced, felt very much at home, so much at home, in fact, that with regard to most of the symbols Paul never had to explain what he meant. Now for all the sympathy we may have it is very difficult for most of us to be at home within that symbolic world. If we wish to understand Paul we in some ways have to translate him into language compatible with our own, perhaps equally mythical, world. At the same time we need to keep always in mind that one can never translate symbols; at best one can explain enough of a symbol so that it can come alive. Thus the inevitable tension: We must translate, yet we cannot. All our attempts to understand Paul need to be qualified by that tension. …
Robin Scroggs is professor of New Testament, Chicago Theological Seminary, 5757 University Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637. He says: This paper of necessity is only a sketch of the thesis which I am struggling to bring to adequate expression in a full-length book manuscript. I am painfully aware that both from the psychoanalytic and the exegetical disciplines my thesis in this sketch remains relatively unprotected from important objections which might be raised by sympathetic readers, let alone by skeptics and opponents. My basic interpretation of Paul, while classical, is certainly not the only one, and many eyebrows will be raised by my stubborn use of Norman O. Brown as an interpreter of Freud. Here I can say only that in my judgment these thinkers concur in important ways in their interpretation of social and religious realities. In other ways, of course, they are miles apart. As a New Testament scholar, I intend ultimately to present a coherent and, if possible, persuasive view of Pauls thinking. I hope that readers will take the title of my paper seriously; if I use this particular interpretation of psychoanalytic theory, it is only because it has come to have for me a profound heuristic value in reaching a deeper understanding of Paul. The interested reader will find some issues touched on here explored in slightly greater depth in my little book, Paul for a New Day (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
Pauline Theology and the Return of the Repressed: Depth Psychology and Early Christian Thought by Robert L. Moore
Richard Rubensteins career as a religious scholar began in the midst of controversy provoked over a decade ago when he rejected traditional Jewish theology and began to formulate his own psychoanalytic hermeneutic of Jewish culture and thought. With the publication in 1972 of his My Brother Paul, Rubenstein broadened his inquiry to include the roots of Christianity.¹ To date this book not only has failed to provoke controversy but in fact has received very little attention. My choice of the book as a focus for our attention is based on my belief that Rubenstein has succeeded in raising some of the most basic issues in the psychosocial interpretation of early Christianity. These issues include: (1) What dynamic transformations underlie the birth of Christianity as a religious movement? (2) How are the dynamics of early Christian thought and ritual different from those manifest in the life of competing religious systems? (3) And finally what normative judgments, if any, can be made with regard to the dynamic infrastructures of the new movement?
That a scholar would raise these questions will seem reckless to some—yet Rubenstein has been so bold as to seek to answer them. The thesis underlying the entire book is a radical one: The birth of Christianity embodied no less than a psychological revolution, essentially progressive in nature and facilitated by the religious genius of Paul. In order to retrace the steps of Rubensteins argument let us begin by sketching his view of the Judaism which nurtured the apostle. …
¹ Richard Rubenstein, My Brother Paul (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).
Robert L. Moore is assistant professor of theology and personality, Chicago Theological Seminary, 5757 University Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637.
Reductionism and Redundancy in the Analysis of Religious Forms by Volney Patrick Gay
In this paper I should like to discuss a problem common to social-scientific analyses of religious forms vis-à-vis the concepts understanding and redundancy. The problem can be stated in the form of a question: Can science ever discover something in the nature of religious forms which would destroy fully the possibility of rational religious belief or activity? All those people who take discoveries in geology, astronomy, carbon dating, or psychoanalysis as refutations of religious claims would answer in the affirmative. This typical answer, however, raises the curious problem for the social scientist interested in the nature of religion that his subject matter, unlike other subject matters (e.g., economic activity), must disappear finally when confronted by the truths of science, history, and logic.
If we were to accept this conclusion, as Sigmund Freud did for instance in his later writings on religion, we would find the object of our inquiry, like any error, dissolving into its component parts (e.g., the motives, needs, or perceptions that created it). Thus our subject matter eventually would disappear, fully reduced, into the sea of errors from which it arose.
But this has not happened. Even after a century of rigorous sciences, religious forms flourish. In an initial attempt to account for this fact I will argue that religious forms are reducible and redundant but not, on that account, dispensable. …
Volney Patrick Gay is assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University. Hamilton, Ontario U1S 4K1, Canada.