When reading the Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), as an undergraduate in the history of science, I stumbled upon a term—paradigm—that has been encroaching on my thinking about community development, diversity, multiculturalism, and reconciliation. Back then, after encountering what had become a “cocktail party” word, I began to rethink my understanding of the human mind, the growth of knowledge, and Christianity in general. Of late, I’m finding that Thomas S. Kuhn’s “paradigm" concept is informing my formative thoughts about the challenges that the John Perkins Center (JPC) and Seattle Pacific University (SPU) will face in walking out our commitment to “engage the culture, change the world.”
Kuhn, a historian of science at MIT, first appropriated the word “paradigm” in the 1960s. As a doctoral student in physics and Harvard Fellow, he became engrossed in Aristotle's work. Kuhn was helping James Conant develop a course on the history of science. During this period, Aristotle provided a conundrum for Kuhn. He was puzzled by how someone so brilliant could be so stupid when it came to physics. After thinking about the question for awhile, the young scholar had an amazing epiphany: Aristotelian physics made perfect sense for someone who had been born in Greece during Aristotle's lifetime.
Stated differently, Aristotle was operating under a paradigm that had been replaced with the emergence of modern physics. Kuhn's attempt to understand Aristotle, in absence of Aristotle's context, had led to his experiencing what he later would describe as "incommensurability." Kuhn was operating under a different "paradigm."
Is Kuhn's experience useful for thinking about community development and religious issues? Why? Why not?
How would you define the term paradigm in Christian Community Development context?
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