In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Meeting the PhD Board

I have gone through my postgraduate review board this afternoon.
I was not as happy as I thought I would be. Only feeling relaxed. After all, that’s what the past 9 months of work is up to.
In fact I am pretty puzzled. I am still trying to digest what the board suggested / recommended, and over the last few hours I have developed a stronger and stronger feeling that it is going to involve a big shift – and that’s what I am afraid of. I am not sure I want that, or whether I can afford that in terms of time and energy. (But as Gtom says, it’s better to have happened now and not 2 years later.)

The session took almost 2 hours. From about 3:10 to 4:10 I was being questioned and had to ‘defend’ my proposal, then I waited outside the Senate Room for 5(?) minutes, then they told me their decision and recommendations. After everything it was almost 5pm.
Elizabeth Koepping was mainly concerned with my possible subjective bias as an insider and the methodology on reception context, as expected from an anthropologist by training.
Michael Northcott is truly a theologian. As expected, at several moments I found it hard to argue back at him though I did try to – well, maybe I was only clarifying my position and thinking. As I jokingly told Casey Barton afterwards, Michael was almost giving a half hour lecture – with some sporadic talking back from me. His were fair criticisms though, because the theological aspect is my self-identified dead point anyway. I agree with many (or perhaps even most) of the points he made, but I never thought of putting them in a thesis, and I am still not sure I should do so. They are big statements – about Chinese Christianity, about HK Christians, about the nature of Christian mission, or even the nature of Christianity, etc.
Yes, I surely have to do a lot more rethinking / reflection on these and related things. But I am not sure I should / can put it in a doctoral thesis. I was told by Jolyon early on that this is not to be my magnum opus, so throughout the months I have moved away from attempting to make any kind of ‘theological statements’.
Still, I am glad that I did clarify my refutation of Tillich’s method of correlation. That Michael reads that from my proposal means that I have not spelled out my theological perspective clearly. Niebhurian, perhaps a bit; but Tillich, no way.

They suggested the thematic focus of redemption rather than identity. (Michael says the whole idea of Christianity is about redemption, and has nothing to do with [ethnic] identity.) I can give it some thought, but I would prefer to deal seriously with the theological dimension / significance of identity. I need to argue a strong case for identity as a theological issue.
** Does Christianity really boil down to redemption? Should it not be the Reign of God? What then is the relationship between redemption and the Reign? Shouldn’t the Reign be the end & the redemption of all merely the means?
** If Christianity has NOTHING to do with ethnic or any identity, there is tremendous implications – e.g. there is no (or should be no) such thing as ‘Chinese’ Christianity. But does the Pauline notion of breaking boundaries of Jew / Greek, men / women, master / slave entail this? Then it would be a totally de-politicised and de-socialised version of Christianity. Am I misinterpreting Michael Northcott?

If my original proposal is lopsided toward cinema, their recommendation is making it lopsided toward theology. Certainly I want to do it from a theological perspective rather than a social scientific, cinematic study, or cultural studies perspective; and that is the whole idea why I ‘insist’ on doing it in the context of a divinity school. But as it is now going, with the board being dominated by Michael Northcott, it could be ‘just’ wrestling with important theological issues. And at present, I must confess that I don't have the faintest idea on how to incorporate the cinematic study part into this grand idea. Well, it's too early to make any real judgement, may be. I’ll let it cool off for a while, walk walk walk walk around, eat, sleep … and then approach it again with a refreshed mind.
Let’s hope that Clive Marsh’s Cinema and Sentiment comes out soon. I’d have to grab it and read it ASAP.

Talking really helps. In fact I am happier after talking to the Thai group about it after my post-dinner walk. Nice supportive people they are.

(from my personal journal > 29 June 2004)

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