Practical Theology and aesthetics

This will be the first in a series of posts from members of the APT executive committee over the next few months. Over time, we hope that other practical theologians will join us in the conversation!

I have often thought that practical theology is a modernist enterprise that functions primarily under the auspices of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Earlier, in The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant attempted to solve the problem of metaphysics once and for all, primarily on the basis of epistemology. In his second critique (The Critique of Practical Reason), he argued that an analysis of reason in its theoretical or pure mode brought into focus the fact that freedom is the driving force in the combinatory activity that is human cognition. When considered from another angle, it turns out, says Kant, that reason is a practical matter inasmuch as it has to do with freedom and the determination of the will in service to moral action. In its practical mode, reason brings God back into the picture as a postulate of morality. The net effect of the first two critiques is to shift God from the focus of the conversation to the margins (and as a necessary postulate of morality). The focus of the conversation then becomes human consciousness (with freedom at the heart of this subjective activity) and the moral action appropriate to the nature of our subjective awareness. These Kantian moves set up the conditions under which practical theology as a distinct academic discipline could occur.

With the Critique of Practical Reason conditioning the conversation in the deep background, practical theology tends to be relatively restrained or limited in what it has to say about God and theology per se. Concomitantly, it tends to focus on moral diagnosis and prescription in the micro, meso, or macro levels of human social interaction.

I wonder if there might be some value in (re)thinking the enterprise of practical theology in dialogue with Kant’s third critique, The Critique of the Power of Judgment. That part of Kant’s critical philosophy has rarely been a factor in practical theological theory and practice. To consider practical theology in terms of category like beauty, the sublime, and the underlying aesthetic character of all cognitive and social awareness might open up fresh lines of thought. Of course, we probably wouldn’t want to end with Kant even if we might begin with him on this matter. We might want to push forward from Kant into Dewey’s Art as Experience and Boudieu’s Distinction. My larger question remains: what would be possible for the field of practical theology if it were framed and practiced in the mode of aesthetics?

Gordon S. Mikoski

Princeton Theological Seminary

This entry was posted in From APT. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.