Curtis L. Thompson, Senior Fellow

Project: "Dancing in God: The Relevance of Ritual for Conceiving the Divine Today."

This year as a Martin Marty Senior Fellow I hope to do research and write a manuscript on the theme “Dancing in God: The Relevance of Ritual for Conceiving the Divine Today.” Dancing in God is a metaphor for participating in the divine. Such dancing gives expression to free form, which can be considered in both its individual and communal dimensions. I want to deliberate on this theme of dancing in God while working further on understanding the God-world relation by means of a framework that embraces pantheism, panentheism, and pantransentheism. Investigated will be the validity of analyzing religion’s emergence in terms of its progress from a pantheistic stage affirming that all things are God through a panentheistic stage affirming that all things are in God to a pantransentheistic stage affirming that all things are being transformed in God. While the first two stages are embraced as expressing essential elements of religion, they are also regarded as sublated by the third stage. Within each of these stages of religion a different relation between rationality and irrationality obtains, and I am interested in seeking to identify ways in which religion’s irrationality, including the blissfully irrational fruits of dancing in God, can contribute to relating positively to others. Conceiving the divine can be abstract and deadly, and the desire here is to consider concretely different modes of participating in God. A turn to ritual will move the focus beyond merely conceptualizing to experiencing the divine. Ritual studies will help to breathe life and passion into the conceptuality, since ritual is a primary means by which the divine work of creative transformation is carried out. In sum, my venture for the year desires to make sense of the claim attributed to St. Paul in his Athenian speech, that God is the one “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

I am honored and excited to be able to do my work during the 2010-2011 academic year at the Martin Marty Center. Set within the context of the Divinity School and the University, the Center is the perfect setting with the precise set of resources for providing maximum support for carrying out my project. I have benefited greatly from having as conversation partners Kierkegaard, Hegel and Whitehead who are dead, but I also enjoy exchanging ideas and experiences with living folks, and the seminar sessions and symposia will offer wonderful opportunities for exchanges with lively, knowledgeable interlocutors, and the Senior and Junior Fellows in particular. Chicago is a little bit bigger than Greenville, PA and will afford cultural and social experiences that cannot be had in a more confined setting. The year is a tremendous gift that has been given to me, and if I am able to deliver on my end of the tasks, it should prove to be one of dancing.

Professor of Religion at Theil College in Greenville, Pennsylvania