Theology in Place: Religion, Geography, and the American South
Burrows, L. Patrick
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CitationBurrows, L. Patrick. 2021. Theology in Place: Religion, Geography, and the American South. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractChristianity is a place-less religion, so the story goes. This dissertation argues, on the contrary, that Christian theology, far from having put an end to spatial thinking, has found ways to take place literally over the course of its history. Theology has long engaged with concrete, material places, as well as imagining an array of fantastical topographies of its own. Much of this has been forgotten in Western Christian theological reflection, either from undue focus on time or from a misplaced desire to speak universally, from nowhere, inheriting the intellectual legacy of colonialism. Drawing on the geographical theory of Yi-Fu Tuan, Henri Lefebvre, Katherine McKittrick, and Michel Foucault, I develop an account of the relationship between theology and place that manifests both in places of theology (places of which theological reflection routinely avails itself), and in theology of places (theologies that both form and are formed by geographical situations).
Because place is specific and demands analysis of the place of the theologian, I apply this methodology to the American South, and to my own places within it, a set of theological experiments exploring how South functions as a theological category and a source of theological reflection. It proceeds though a series of geographic scales (the body in Decoration Day, the rural attraction of Dollywood, the urban neighborhood of Hayti, the imagined region of “the South”), genres of writing theology (narrative, taxonomy, oral tradition, systematics), bodily orientations (bodies I never knew and my own body, fantastical bodies, bodies that are not mine, imagined bodies politic), and theological topoi re-geographized (ritual and forgiveness, mysticism, demonology and myth, heresy).
Through these explorations, this project argues for an expansive vision of the utility of theological reflection in the consideration of the social, cultural, and political dynamics of place, particularly concerning race, gender, sexuality, and class. This broadness entails not only the necessity of engaging with place in theological terms, but also a loosening of the strictures of scope around the places of theology and a reconsideration of reductive visions of the relationship of place and Christianity in the American South.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370028