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Robin Koning, SJ
Clifford Geertz's Understanding of Culture as an Anthropological Resource for Theology: A Lonergan Reading


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ThD ; Regis College in the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto
Date: 2005
Pages: ?
Advisor: Robert Doran, SJ


Abstract: This thesis examines Clifford Geertz's understanding of culture and how its usefulness for theology might be enhanced by dialogue with Bernard Lonergan's account of meaning and knowing. The first section of the thesis offers an interpretation of Geertz's position. It situates him within the history of the culture concept, particularly in relation to Boas, Weber, and Parsons (Ch 1). It goes on to analyse his account of culture as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols" (Ch 2). The thesis then examines Geertz's proposals for how culture is to be studied (Ch 3). Negatively, it contrasts his approach with functionalist, structuralist, and reist approaches. Positively, it examines key elements of Geertz's approach, particularly his concepts of local knowledge, thick description, and culture-as-text. Further understanding of his account comes through an exploration of some major critiques, especially the claim that his interpretive approach is not adequately empirical (Ch 4).

The second part of the thesis turns to an engagement with Bernard Lonergan. Considerable overlap between the two thinkers is discovered in relation to the public, shared aspects of meaning, while a major discrepancy is found in relation to meaning's personal aspects, which are downplayed by Geertz (Ch 5). Lonergan's distinction between ordinary and original meaningfulness helps pinpoint the roots of Geertz's neglect of personal meaning in an empiricist epistemology undergirding his account of 'public meaning' (Ch 6). Lonergan's epistemology, which critically embraces the data of consciousness, is shown to provide a better grounding for what Geertz seeks - an account of culture which takes meaning seriously and is at the same time empirical. The conclusion points to ways in which theologians using culture as a general theological category might draw upon this suitably reoriented Geertzian approach.


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