Excerpt: “There is a wonderful invitational quality to Christian Scharen and Aana Marie Vigen’s Eth- nography as Christian Theology and Ethics. I admire the tone and the kinds of conversa- tions that the book has unleashed and that are so thought-provokingly assembled here. Borne out of a close and passionately engaged reading, the commentaries by Emily Reimer-Barry, Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Ted A. Smith (in the order I read them) are sympathetic, critical, methodical and creatively constructive all at once. In their generosity, the commentators restore a kind of infancy, a sense of potential and possibility, to the book’s call for a theology and ethics that is marked by knowledge of the ethnographic Other, present but also absent, both worldly and particular within the totality of history, struggling to belong but at the same time transcending Christian membership. In their own commentary, Scharen and Vigen advocate for holding various binaries (reflexivity and self-absorption, objectivity and subjectivity, etc.) in “dynamic tension”— living in them instead of trying to resolve them. The goal is to create “as nuanced a picture as pos- sible,” recognizing that there are always risks and complexities to be engaged when describing lived realities.
The trust here is that the granular study of how beliefs, attitudes and values are refashioned and molded, as people navigate messy constellations of power and knowledge and face the unex- pected, brings into view alternative ontologies that can widen our sense of what is socially possible and desirable, be it at the cost of lowering our ability, real or imaginary, to discern the true truth or universal laws and historical continuities. What is at stake is “to defend the right to a nonprojected future as one of the truly inalienable rights of every person and nation,” in the luminous and al- ways contemporary words of the late Albert O. Hirschman. Scharen and Vigen’s brave book and this powerful set of commentaries make a strong plea for our own right as thinkers, across faiths and disciplines, to break open the expected value of the future: to remain relentlessly empirical yet open to theories, constantly tinkering with stories and interpretations as we face the active embroilment of life, reason, ethics and hope and try to give it a critical, albeit unfinished form, on a blank page. ”