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This volume demonstrates the importance of reflection on the emerging concept of social constructionism in the social sciences by scholars of practical theology. Implications of Social Constructionism for. Conversion as Social Construction A Narrative. Religious Development as Discursive Construction.

Postmodern Theology. Human Discourse and the Act of Preaching. Organising and Changing the Church. Personal Religion.

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Social Construction of Moral Identity in View of. Reflecting onwith my Companions. Author Reference. Names Index. It is a process that involves epistemology and hermeneutics. For practical theology to be transformative, a postfoundational theological framework that allows interdisciplinary work and interpretation of experience in a given context is essential.

Research in postfoundational practical theology can be conducted using narratives and social constructionism to obtain meaning from events or situations and to construct preferred realities. This article examines and argues for postfoundationalism - transversal reason, interdisciplinarity and interpreted experience - as a viable theological option against rigid foundationalism and relativistic nonfoundationalism.

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Also discussed are the process and the interdisciplinary nature of practical theology. It is suggested that narrative research and social constructionism should be part of the research paradigm of postfoundational practical theology. Keywords: Postfoundationalism; practical theology; narrative; social constructionism. In practical theological research, a postfoundationalist approach over against rigid foundationalism and relativistic nonfoundationalism is vital for meaningful theological inquiry.

Foundationalism and nonfoundationalism. Epistemologically, foundationalism at all times implies the holding of a position in an inflexible and infallible manner; invoking ultimate foundations on which to construct the evidential support system of various convictional beliefs. Foundationalism is the 'thesis that all our beliefs can be justified by appealing to some item of knowledge that is self-evident or indubitable' Van Huyssteen Schrag states, 'Foundationalism finds its mission in a quest for certainty.

Unimpeachable knowledge-claims is what it is after'.

These foundational systems of knowledge are called 'first principles' Thiel or 'aristocratic beliefs' Rescher , which are intrinsically credible. Such basic givens can be anything from sense data to universals, essences, and experiences, including religious experiences. Philosophically, the foundationalist views transform the narratives by which we live into the typical grand metanarratives of modernity Van Huyssteen Lyotard refers to this as 'grand narratives' or 'master narratives'.

In the natural sciences, the implication of foundationalism gave rise to a positivist empiricism or scientific materialism that, per definition, renders all religion, theology and theological reflection subjective and meaningless Barbour Theologically, foundationalism implies biblical literalism, or positivism of revelation, which isolates theology from other reasoning sciences in that it denies the crucial role of interpreted religious experience in all theological reflections Van Huyssteen , thereby leaving the theologian to speak a language that may be internally coherent but powerless to communicate its content because it is cut off from all nontheological discourses Green Nonfoundationalists, on the other hand, reject the traditional rationalist or empiricist definition of truth as an isolated correspondence between the self and the world, as well as the concept that sense experience or ideas are privileged as the authoritative basis of human knowing Thiel They 'offer a picture of human knowledge as an evolving social phenomenon shaped by the practical implications of ideas within a larger web of beliefs' Van Huyssteen Thus, meaning is never fixed objectively or apprehended in context-free theories, but is always local or contextual Quine Nonfoundationalism also denies any alleged strong foundations for belief systems, and argues that all our beliefs form a groundless web of interrelated beliefs.

Nonfoundationalists emphasise the crucial epistemic importance of community, that every community and context has its own rationality. Nonfoundationalism or anti-foundationalism is one of the most important roots or resources of postmodernism Cahoone The term 'postmodern condition', which was coined by Lyotard xxiv , was used to reveal the incredulity of all metanarratives of modernity.

We find the most significant postmodern challenge to epistemological foundationalism in Rorty's neopragmatism Van Huyssteen For Rorty our language, conscience and community are the products of time and chance, and the justification of any claims to knowledge is a matter of social practice only. Like Rorty xli-xliii , Joseph Rouse views natural science as social practice, as well. Thus, science is no longer viewed as the paradigm of rationality, but as one genre of literature. In this kind of postmodern culture, religious inquiry can coexist peacefully with scientific and all other forms of inquiry, since there would be no need to find metanarratives or an encompassing theory of rationality.

This nonfoundationalist claim, that no authoritative givenness exists, is incompatible with theological claims of reasoned attempts to understand the authoritative givenness of God's revelation in the Scripture, or its interpretation in sanctioned religious traditions. Van Huyssteen asks, 'Is there a positive and constructive way of appropriating postmodern nonfoundationalist critique for theology without succumbing to the epistemic hazards of nonfoundationalism?

Having found both foundationalism and nonfoundationalism inadequate for theological discourse, Van Huyssteen proposes a postfoundational theology that fully acknowledges the role of context, the epistemically crucial role of interpreted experience, and the role of tradition in shaping religious values. Theological reflection in postfoundationalism also points creatively beyond the confines of the local community or culture toward a plausible form of cross-contextual and interdisciplinary conversation.

Over against the alleged objectivism of foundationalism and the extreme relativism of most forms of nonfoundationalism, postfoundationalism emerges as a viable third option that allows cross-disciplinary conversations with our beliefs intact, and the shared resources of human rationality in different modes of reflection. A postfoundational space is created between modernity and postmodernity as we reconsider postmodernity's farewell to reason, the disparagement of logos, and the celebration of difference, plurality and multiplicity Schrag Rationality in postfoundationalism is 'an awareness of the shared cognitive, pragmatic, and evaluative dimensions' Van Huyssteen It is able to give an account and provide a rationale for the way one thinks, chooses, acts and believes Van Huyssteen This rationality describes the dynamic interaction of our various disciplinary dialogues with one another - as a form of transversal reasoning that justifies and urges an acknowledgment of multiple patterns of interpretation as one moves across the borders and boundaries of different disciplines Van Huyssteen Through transversal reasoning, this rationality provides a common ground for communication between people who have different beliefs and cultures.

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Transversal reasoning, as mentioned above, originated from and was used by Shrag to describe the way in which reason exists at the point of intersection between various disciplines, paradigms and social practices. Shrag continues,. Schrag This transversal reasoning was also called 'shared rational resources' or 'the resources of human rationality' by Van Huyssteen , 40 , and 'universal intent' by Nicholas Rescher For Van Huyssteen , rationality takes many different forms, allowing us to integrate our multi-faceted lives; understand ourselves as individuals and communities; and relate to one another within and across complex socio-cultural structures.

It is the most important 'epistemic goal' in shaping the way in which we interact with others. Postfoundational rationality is based on our own experience, but is capable of reaching beyond. It starts with an individual and extends to community. It acknowledges personal commitments; identifies the shared resources of rationality in different reasoning strategies; and reaches beyond the boundaries of our own epistemic communities in cross-disciplinary conversation. This rationality differs from community to community; there is no trans-cultural rationality.

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Therefore, postfoundational rationality is context-specific and embedded in tradition. At the heart of the nature of rationality, there is a never-ending quest for intelligibility - a quest for optimal understanding - that is expressed in our ability to solve problems through an ongoing process of personal judgment and intersubjective accountability Van Huyssteen ; Van Huyssteen also differentiates theological rationality from scientific rationality, stating that 'There are no universal standards of rationality against which we can measure other beliefs or competing research traditions'.

Rationality should never be reduced to scientific rationality, and scientific rationality should never be reduced to natural scientific rationality. Furthermore, scientific rationality is different and should be treated differently to theological rationality because of a different object, language and method Van Huyssteen , However, these different reasoning strategies in intellectual inquiry do not mean that they do not share the same resources of human rationality, overlapping epistemic goals and similar interpretative procedures.


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The practical embeddedness of rationality in social, historical, and cultural contexts justifies its interdisciplinary claims to epistemological adequacy Van Huyssteen , Rationality is alive in the concrete world of human thought, discourse and action, whether it is sought in the domains of science, philosophy or theology Schrag In postfoundational theology, the focus will be the relentless questioning of uncritically held crypto-foundational assumptions. It engages in critical theological reflection in order to evaluate the roles of experience, tradition and the classic Biblical text.

We explore our beliefs experientially and interpretatively. It allows the creative fusion of hermeneutics and epistemology. A postfoundationalist theology, therefore, acknowledges context and the epistemically crucial role of interpreted experience Van Huyssteen Just as all scientific observations are theory-laden, so all religious experiences are interpretation-laden.

This interpretation provides valid religious meaning Van Huyssteen Agreeing with Van Huyssteen, Schrag asserts that 'interpretation is called upon both in scientific discovery and humanistic inquiry. It cuts across the culture spheres of science, morality, art, and religion'. Don Browning , presenting a similar picture in his Afundamental practical theology , proposes differentiating common human experiences into three poles or foci, 1 interpretations of the practices, inner motivations and socio-cultural history of individual agents, 2 interpretations of relevant institutional patterns and practices and 3 interpretations of the cultural and religious symbols that give meaning to individual and institutional action.

These three poles of interpretation make up a model developed from James and Evelyn Whitehead's two poles of reflection, that is, 'personal' and 'corporate'experience, which is based on David Tracy's 'common human experience'. Tracy critically correlates two principal sources of theology, 1 Christian texts and 2 common human experience and language.

Josiah Royce's idea that interpretation always proceeds within a community, and Charles Peire's argument that reality can never be known adequately by an individual, share the same social constructionist idea Browning Van Huyssteen's argument encapsulates it well: 'Our search for legitimate knowledge always takes place within the social context of a community Interdisciplinary conversation.

A third major strength of postfoundationalism lies in interdisciplinary possibilities. A postfoundationalist notion of rationality in theological reflection claims to point beyond the confines of the local community or culture towards interdisciplinary conversation Van Huyssteen Van Huyssteen argues, in particular, for interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and science, although the domains of rationality of these two disciplines are different.

For interdisciplinary dialogue between disciplines, paradigms and practices to occur, transversal reason, as mentioned above, is employed. Van Huyssteen writes:. Van Huyssteen Interdisciplinarity is further supported by the following arguments. Philip Clayton , proposing three types of religious explanations - private, communal and transcommunal - defines transcommunal explanation as an intersubjective explanation that transcends the boundaries of the individual or the religious community.

Gelwick states, 'Interdisciplinary study itself is a paradigm shift'; for an interdisciplinary conversation to occur, epistemic humility is required and the willingness to learn is primary. Don Browning also stresses the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue by saying, 'It is extremely important for theology -especially practical theology - to have a strong and positive relation with the modern human sciences'. As we have seen above, the creative fusion of hermeneutics and epistemology in postfoundational critical theological reflection occurs through the processes of interpreted experience, use of rationality and transversal reason, and interdisciplinary conversation.

All of these elements of postfoundationalism are critical to a practical theological process.

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Traditionally, theology started from the text and the text provided the norms of practice. Practical theology, therefore, has been treated as an inferior form of theology. However the whole theological process should be practical from the beginning, because theology that is irrelevant to life in its abstract forms is not meaningful. Theology starts with the concrete and ends with the concrete.


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Browning's view makes sense when he says that theology begins in present theory-laden practice and develops through a retrieval of normative theory-laden practice to the creation of more critically held theory-laden practices.