Research

Current projects include three articles, two book proposals, and a qualitative survey.

The first book proposal has the working title: Embodying Creaturely Freedom: Bodily Autonomy In Christ

The second book proposal is based on my dissertation, and is tentatively titled: We Who Listen: A Participatory Hermeneutics for Practical Theology

Dissertation Title:

Listen to the Word that God has spoken: The study of Christian Communities in Christian Ethics

Dissertation Abstract:

Through discernment practices, Christian congregations act corporately to recognize God’s presence and address. From participant observation in three Mennonite congregations in the midwestern United States, this dissertation offers thick description of such practices. In these practices, the participants in each congregation collectively listen and respond to scriptures and one another in regular gatherings for worship and in the forms of governance by which they author and enact the shape of their common life.


These collective practices are both materially and theologically formative of the individual practices of discernment participants engage in, both in acts parallel to and in acts “contributory” to congregational discernment. The interdependency of the practices of individual participants and their congregation in these particular congregations as well as the high levels of engagement reveal the fittingness of a participatory hermeneutic to Christian life when that life is believed to include a mandate to both a just distribution of formative care and the just (re)distribution of other shared relational goods of life together.


Preliminary to the discussion of this qualitative research, the first two chapters situate this project, a kind of practical moral ecclesiology, within the field of Christian ethics. In these chapters, this project is aligned with existing constructive, social-science engaged, qualitative studies in order to avoid the limitations of existing works in Christian ethics which articulate the formative role of quotidian practices from excessively speculative heights or engage in strengthening the unity and coherence of tradition-ed communities through sententious reproach or pristinating reproductions of ideal practices.


Returning to advocating for the value of deep cross-congregational studies to Christian ethics in the concluding chapter, this thesis argues that exposing emergent norms in an ethnographic theology of discernment, even with such a narrow sample size, is proper to the role of the theologian. In this activity, the theologian acts as a witness to how Christians are concerned with the formation of a common life, a concrete common good, in movements that draw from the specific to supply internalized generic concepts in a constructive “dialogue” of words and acts and reflection which often never hits the page.


Finally, this project concludes with re-articulating the purpose of every church as developing a new humanity. It suggests that each congregation manifests its perception of the distribution of God’s concern through the forms of discernment the congregation uses. As a part of corporate accountability to God, practices of discernment can prioritize religious specialists, Tradition, or full participation. A participatory hermeneutic embodies in form the work of the congregation to become more attuned to one another and to cultivate a life-together with all God’s creation. By creatively riffing on the life and teachings of Jesus, the shared life of the congregation is replete with recognition of God’s presence as the actual condition of one’s life— where the presence of the Holy Spirt is visible bridging the spaces between us. It is the visibility of this presence which makes possible a life together with others in which differences are celebrated, visible, and embodied concretely in the sharing of relational goods.