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Essential Difficulty: Faith, Secularity and Transformation

IRWIN, CAROLE (2021) Essential Difficulty: Faith, Secularity and Transformation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The recent phenomenon of Christian interest litigations instantiates a wider difficulty. This difficulty involves the theological political problems of secularity and religious identity, as these find expression in the everyday aporiae of practiced Christian religious conviction. The core argument of the thesis is that these problems need to be understood and dealt with as difficult. It asks what resources can help articulate these problems, and their difficulty, as a feature of late-modern Western democracies, but without sliding into forms of culture war. Oliver O’Donovan and John Milbank are two key figures for political theology, but their work tends to set Christianity in an oppositional relationship to secular late modernity. The thesis argues that some contrasting but key decisions in their theology mean that they do not deal with the aporiae of that relationship. Rowan Williams is the key conversation partner in the thesis. He uses the notion of ‘difficulty’ frequently but enigmatically in his theology, including his political theology. The thesis undertakes a sustained engagement with Williams over two chapters, to propose that his understanding and use of the notion of difficulty produces an account of political action as an invitational and dispossessive negotiation of difference. The thesis suggests that Williams’s concept of difficulty offers a means for critical, dialogical engagement with secular perspectives and commitments from a position of Christian faith. It provides resources for faithfully negotiating Western political settings, particularly in the context of everyday aporiae, in ways which are potentially transformative but ultimately without guarantees.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Political theology, Rowan Williams, Post-secular societies, Difficulty, Faith in Daily Life
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Jun 2021 09:55

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