Catherine Keller




"In Spirit: Trinity, Ecofeminism and the Pneumatological Turn"
(THEPH 718)

God is spirit and those who worship God worship God in spirit and in truth. John 4.23

Is the Spirit still "the Cinderella of Western theology," or  an  "embarassing appendage" to systematic theology?   Do we still,  with Rudolf Bultman,  and other modernists  find "what the New Testament has to say about the ‘Spirit' (pneuma) utterly strange and incomprensible? Within  the mainstream of Christian faith and practice, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit  has long suffered from a questionable status,  an unconvincing equality within the trinity and  a high degree of ecclesial control.   Do we live more generally amidst what  Joel  Kovel  calls a "despiritualization" of culture, "engaged in doomed,  endless spiritual quests?" Is the very Spirit of the creation threatened by mounting ecological mayhem?

Or are we in the midst of a turn toward the Spirit—in theology,  in  the churches and beyond, in an immense, prolific diversity   of spiritual practices and political aspirations?   Do we live amidst  "new advents of the Spirit"?   In the void of despiritualization,  writes Peter Hodgson,  "winds of the Spirit are stirring, and people are discovering that, far from being vapid and dualistic, Spirit is the clue  to the energy and wholeness of life. Feminist, ecological, and charismatic-Pentecostal movements  have been harbingers of this rebirth, reinforced by the spiritualities of Native American, Latin American,  African and Asian peoples,  newly encountered through interreligious dialogue and the ecumenical movement "(Winds of the Spirit 277) .

This course explores the tension—at once creative  and confusing,  invigorating and alarming—between "the spirit that blows where it will" and the  dispiriting forces operating within and outside of Christian theology.   The doctrinal locus of the Holy Spirit provides a conceptual space for  one possible adventure in theological thinking: it allows us to strengthen our understanding of the theological tradition, to explore and practice spirited critique and creativity of and within that tradition.




"Theory and Theology: The God of Postmodernity" (THEPH 393)

This doctoral seminar examines recent deconstructions and reconstructions of the doctrine of God, with an eye toward alternative symbolizations of power, sex, truth and image.

There you have the abstract and the promise.  Concretely, participants read together certain recent texts that contribute vividly to the matrix for theological thinking today. For lack of a better term, that matrix and these texts may all be called "postmodern."   Most are explicitly theological texts, but some are not.  The texts comprise a mainly but not exclusively poststructuralist range of theory potentially supportive of fresh notions of the divine. We will be especially engaged in the constructive work of a Christian theology attentive to the edges of God-talk in the wake of modernity.


"Decolonizing Theology: Gender, Empire, & Postcolonial Theory"
(THEPH 718)

To live in the Borderlands means to
            Put chile in the borscht,
            Eat whole wheat tortillas,
            Speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
            Be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints...
                                                --Gloria Anzaldua

            "'I' is, itself, infinite layers."  Trinh T. Minh-ha

Political theology represents a  broad current of developing and contested schools or movements of thought. What is called postcolonial theory represents a recent resource for thinkers committed to theological participation in processes of decolonization--and to the the decolonization of theology itself.

 In its struggle to find an emancipatory voice rooted in the prophetic heritage and adequate to their living situation, Christian activists and thinkers have drawn  upon a wide array of political theories and resistance movements. Its critical engagement with Marxist class analysis in Latin America and Black Liberation's race politics in the U.S. made possible the emergence of liberation theology, while feminist theology arose in proximity with feminist theory and the women's movement.  These initial oppositional discourses of identity--quite Black/white in every sense-- have gone through dramatic processes of  complexification, spurred by mutual engagement, external obstruction, and the difficulty of forming effective coalitions across different movements.  The confrontation with a proliferating and shifting range of issues -- especially of sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture, and in all-inclusively, the earth's ecology -- has called for theory of greater complexity. 

Gyatri C. Spivak's call for "transnational literacy" correspondent to a transnational feminism, and Homi Bhabha's  commitment to "negotiation rather than negation" are intensifications of  this call. Postcolonial circumstances pull  their vulnerable constituencies toward regional traditionalisms on the one hand and a neo-colonial global economy on the other continue to exacerbate the difficulty of a stable emancipatory discourse. The disparate group of diasporic thinkers dubbed "postcolonial theorists" represent one set of responses to this complexity,  especially in relation to the tricontental context.  In conversation with French posttructuralists as well as with a full range of progressive political theory and with "native informants," they practice a hybrid and cosmopolitan discourse that is proving a provocative resource for a growing number of scholars in religion and theology. They have worked at the cutting edge of a shift beyond both "fundamentalist identity politics" (Susan Friedman) and the mere substitution of a deconstructive "difference" for identity.

This course is an examination of the theological implications of postcolonial theory.  We will begin by setting our present theological context as one of domination by and resistance to a global empire.  From there we will proceed to examine the "trinity" of postcolonial theory, namely, Edward Said, Homi K Bhabha, and Gyatri Chakravorti Spivak, with an eye to the impact they have made on religious studies and theology.  In the last part of the course we will read some representatives of "postcolonial theologies" – theologies that are being produced by way of self-conscious and full critical engagement with postcolonial theory.



"Process, Reality, and Postmodernity" (THEPH 718)

The worship of God is not a rule of safety--it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure. A. N. Whitehead Science and the Modern World 192

For Whitehead...bifurcations, divergences, incompossibilities, and discord belong to the same motley world that can no longer be included in expressive units, but only made or undone according to prehensive units…. In the same chaotic world divergent series are endlessly tracing bifurcating paths. It is a "Chaosmos."   Gilles Deleuze 
The Fold 81

      In this seminar we explore key texts of Alfred North Whitehead, the progenitor of process thought and the conceptual wellspring of a major school of contemporary theology. Theology does not exist in independence from philosophy, however troubling each new generation of theologians may find the former dependency. The model borrowed from Whitehead comprises a rigorous critique of the history of western substance metaphysics in favor of the priority of a radically relational becoming."Every actual occasion exhibits itself as a process: it is a becomingness. In so disclosing itself, it places itself as one among a multiplicity of other occasions, without which it could not be itself." [WhiteheadSMW175f]

Whitehead's sense of the prehensive connections between emergent events was in part stimulated by the relativity and quantum theories  revolutionizing physics as he wrote. Yet he was also inspired by a variety of spiritual and poetic sources , notably his own Anglican background.  But the evolution of  process theology would draw upon many other sources--from scripture onward--to emerge in the systematic form promulgated especially by John B. Cobb Jr and the Center for Process Studies [].  Characterized by its leadership in the dialogues of religion with science, of Christianity with other world traditions, process theology has also now a long heritage of engagement with social movements, especially those of ecology, feminism and progressive democratic politics.  The theological movement --a delicately robust planetary web-- remains at once suspect to the orthodox and resilient in its outreach. Yet in the meantime philosophy itself has undergone multiple permutations, the cutting edges of which have for most of the same period disabled all descriptive metaphysics or speculative cosmology.

      The question that lurks behind our seminar's return to the philosophical source  is this: what is process theology to become in  the 21st century?  Will the tensions between an early 20th century philosophical cosmology, admittedly ontological and theistic, and the more  current theory, based on the late 20th century deconstruction of "ontotheology", prove  fruitful--or terminal?  David Griffin has made the case for the postmodernism avant la lettre of Whiteheadian thought--noting also Cobb's use of the letter of the term well before it was used of French thought. He argues through a series of books that "the continuation of modernity threatens the very survival of life on our planet."[Series Introduction]. He proposes a  "reconstructive" worldview vs the deconstructive postmodernism, worried about the "eliminative" or "relativist" dynamism of the latter, with its "anti-worldview."  He advances the "revisionary" synthesis of the best of both the modern and the postmodern offered by the process worldview.

      The strategy of the present seminar will build upon this debate while attempting a less oppositional method--one consonant with what Whitehead called "creative contrast." We will undergo first of all an  immersion in two major works. Science and the Modern World (1925) displays the evolution of his philosophy from the engagement with the new physics--and the prominent place of the question of religion in his thought. Process and Reality (1929) is his daunting magnum opus, at which we will make a valiant first pass. Then we will turn to The Fold (1988) of Deleuze, the constructivist philosopher associated with Derrida and Foucault in the salute to difference and event, whose contribution to the postmodern mood is only recently being widely received. We will examine the surprising impact of Whitehead on Deleuze, and thence on certain potentials--especially as practiced by Roland Faber of Claremont--for postmodern theology. The Whitehead-Deleuze "rhizome" will enable us to read Whitehead differently. But he will of course shape our reading of the constructivist lineage.  Modest Witness@FemaleMan Meets Oncomouse (1997) Donna Haraway's constructivist approach to the philosophy of science will allow us to come full circle--to the question of science in the postmodern world. 

      Through such engagements,  we may find of Whitehead--as of the drowned mariner of Shakespeare's Tempest--that "nothing of him doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change to something rich and strange."  At any rate the immersion in the sea of these questions, with the help of each participant in the seminar  and the resources of  each changing perspective, should yield a transdisciplinary matrix for subsequent theological enquiry.



"Process Theology" (THEPH 334)

The worship of God is not a rule of safety--it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure.

A. N. Whitehead Science and the Modern World, 192.

What is "process theology?"    It is a relational matrix of metaphors about God and the world; an international movement of ecumenical Christian theology and practice; a major player in the dialogues between the world religions and in the rapprochement between  religion and science; a resource for activism on behalf of ecological, economic, social and sexual justice. Historically, process theology is the school of thought inspired by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).  Charles Hartshorne explicated its theistic implications; John B. Cobb, Jr.,  with his students, first of all David Griffin and Marjorie Suchocki, have developed the implications of his cosmology for theology.  In their dozens of volumes and their leadership of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, CA, they have stimulated and sustained a multi-dimensional, radically ecumenical theological network. The influence of their key ideas far exceeds what is formally recognized as "process theology." 

Here is the process idea in a nutshell:  all creatures are events of relatedness.  We come to be, here and now, in a universe of events interrelated in a process of becoming. As John Cobb writes, "we need to perceive all things as bound together, participating in the being of one another, constituting themselves mutually through their relations."   This open-ended, perpetual process unfolds within God, who unfolds within every process.  God does not control but lures each creature into becoming.  God, in Whitehead's language, is the "poet of the universe," the "fellow sufferer who understands."

Process theology has profound roots within oldstream Christian traditions, with marked affinity for Wesleyanism.   It takes the historic Christian doctrines with utmost seriousness—that is, as living and therefore open processes rather than as closed and terminal traditions.  It shucks rigidified assumptions even as it proposes contemporary answers to the ancient questions that spurred the doctrinal formulations in the first place. Process theology remains in process.

In this seminar, we develop a fundamental grasp of the key ideas of process thought, especially in the theory and practice of Christian theology. Students are expected to master the basics of the process vocabulary, to explore its ramifications through the variety of assigned and supplementary texts, and to deploy that discourse as a resource in their own contexts. Particular transdisciplinary interests are strengthened, as between theology and ecology, feminist theory, politics, natural science, or religious pluralism. The course attends at the same time to the wide range of process resources for the multiple practices of the ministry.  Also, the course partakes through visitors and websites in the wider universe of process theology and practice.



"Systematic Theology" (THEPHE 301)

"All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'" Acts 2:12

Theology, or "God-talk," is a presumptuous notion. Can we talk--"in truth"--about that which surpasses all understanding? When we talk too knowingly about "God," does the mystery begin to fade into a faith-formula, an in-group shibboleth, or a political hammer? Yet Christian theology at its best does not lose its perplexity. It does not claim to know God. Long ago, theology was defined as "faith seeking understanding" (Anselm). It is still seeking. Much has been found. Much can be shared. We can perhaps even talk meaningfully, if uncertainly, of the divine. We can study the ancient and the contemporary language-- the Word --of this quest. We draw up theological itineraries of the Way. This course offers an initiation into the theological process today, sometimes perplexing, sometimes amazing. Ministry amidst the birth pangs of the third Christian millennium calls for courage, it calls for Spirit, and it calls for a multiplicity of burning tongues.


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