Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Essential Tension II

Kuhn went on to appropriate and deploy the paradigm concept to encapsulate the various collections of beliefs and shared agreements, about nature, that allow scientists to solve problems. According to Kuhn, "No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological beliefs that permits [problem] selection, evaluation, and criticism” (16-17). In my thinking, Kuhn's argument has repercussions for how we choose the social problems we seek to address, the strategies we develop to address them, and the kinds of arguments that we construct to justify and gain support for our decisions.

Initially, historians and philosophers of science found Kuhn's thesis problematic. Later, in the seventies, during a time of social turmoil, graduate students embraced Kuhn's relativism and made him a rock star. His arguments justified the impulse towards social change. Today, decades after the initial publication, SSR has sold more than one million copies and influenced generations of academicians.

As a Christian interested in the American church and reconciliation, Kuhn's thesis seems useful for thinking about our ability to make sense of and act in the world. While Kuhn was concerned with the advance of scientific knowledge, his psycho-sociological approach informs my perspective on the JPC’s reflection upon the origins of its mission and subsequent activities. Kuhn seems to suggest the need for developing new approaches to elaborate its mission. I would ask the following questions: How are SPRINT trips informed by the thinking of individuals like Josiah Strong? What are the consequences? Have we recognized the connection between urban involvement and the Social Gospel and progressivism? If not, how do these religious and social theories make a difference? How do ideas about redistribution reflect the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Essential Tension I: social construction and racial reconciliation

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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