Dr. Shenvi has responded to my publication of Dr. Levinson’s critique of his supposed “core tenets of contemporary critical theory,” by essentially arguing that Dr. Levinson really does agree with him, as though Levinson did not clearly state,
These so-called tenets read to me as caricature. They carry minor grains of truth, but they simplify and obscure.
no, I don’t think they capture the “core” of critical social theories. I think the Intro to my book gets closer to doing that “properly.”
which is all that I set out to demonstrate. Further, the “Intro” Dr. Levinson references does in fact state clearly his understanding of the “defining characteristics” of critical social theories, namely,
- “value-rationality” rather than instrumental rationality. In other words, it is not neutral in reference to values and has a definite (though not teleological) conception of “progress” and the social good, often a utopian vision or concept of “liberation.”
- the assumed need to dismantle and critique taken-for-granted ideologies, to challenge the “false consciousness” (Lukács) or “misrecognition” (Bourdieu) that enables social domination.
- an understanding of domination as structural yet dialectically connected to agency in people’s “everyday lives.” (Beyond Critique, p. 11)
Again, specifically not Shenvi’s fourfold construction.
Given that neither Dr. Neil Shenvi nor I are experts in any critical theory (CT) fields, I’ve opened up some email conversations with actual CT scholars while in dialogue with Shenvi, in order to test our readings of their texts. Dr. Bradley A. U. Levinson has been particularly helpful and willing to offer clarifications and direction. Dr. Levinson is a professor in Indiana University’s department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, as well as the author of a fantastic overview of historic and modern critical theories, Beyond Critique : Exploring Critical Social Theories and Education, and is sourced throughout Dr. Shenvi’s own attempted reconstructions of CT. (Levinson’s many contributions to the field can be viewed in his twenty five page CV.) In addition, he has proven to be a gracious and generous person.
I presented Dr. Levinson with Dr. Shenvi’s fourfold construction of the supposed “core tenets” of modern critical theories as found in his, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 1,” as well as his, “Christianity and Critical Theory – Part 1,” wherein he attempts to answer, “What is critical theory and why should we care?” (Levinson was already aware of Shenvi’s review of Beyond Critique.) In addition to stating, “I thought you do a fine job yourself of challenging his ‘tenets’” (see HERE), Dr. Levinson offered his own response to Shenvi’s construction, printed by permission in full below.
Allow us to take stock. The original topic proposed by Dr. Shenvi was, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism?” Shenvi attempted to present the “yes” position by offering the “core tenets of contemporary critical theory” (“fourfold construction”), arguing that these are contradicted by Scripture (“threat” in principle) and are held by some evangelicals (“threat” as “currently negatively impacting”), offering four quotes to demonstrate the latter.
I responded by noting that,
If one is going to attribute CT to an evangelical’s beliefs in order to claim dangerous influence, one is required to attribute that which is distinctive to the tradition, not simply that which is included, though common to other and much earlier traditions….
The following is in response to “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 7.” Thank you again, brother!
Since the topic is now Shenvi’s fourfold construction, clarification is first in order:
T1: I don’t think anyone’s position is that, a priori, societies are divided into oppressor/oppressed, or that, a priori, “white” or “male” are dominant classes. The argument is that given a society structured to distribute advantages/disadvantages according to socially constructed group membership, dominant groups are in a structurally oppressive relation to subordinate groups, by virtue of said distribution. No one can doubt this was true of “white” and “male” throughout American history; and all should recognize that this is not true of societies structured along different lines. Whether one lives in such a society is an empirical, a posteriori, question, not a subject of armchair theorizing nor biblical exegesis.
First, Dr. Shenvi asks how I’ve been mischaracterized. I count three in his latest post:
I’ll state for the third time that there are many critical theories which have developed since the origin of Critical Theory in the Frankfurt School, which is what Brad’s sources are characterizing.
Again, this is false. From my very first post, I pointed to Sensoy/DiAngelo and Delgado/Stefancic to define Shenvi’s own suggested titles for his fourfold construction, and added Levinson and multiple other sources in my last post. Must we do this again? I’m willing.
The following is in response to Dr. Neil Shenvi’s second post, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 3.” Thank you again, brother.
I’m honestly disappointed to be mischaracterized so soon into this discussion. I simply did not criticize Dr. Shenvi’s supposed “core tenets” of CT by means of Horkheimer’s 80 y/o definition. I cited Sensoy and DiAngelo’s 2017 “Brief Overview of Critical Theory,” which contains no mention of Shenvi’s fourfold construction, but rather focuses on the socialization of knowledge, social constructivism, and social critique motivated by “the ideals of equality” (pp. 25-27). I cited Delgado and Stefancic’s 2017 answer to, “What is Critical Race Theory?,” noting again no mention of the fourfold construction, but instead the ordinariness of racialization, interest convergence, the social construction of race, differential racialization, intersection of identities and anti-essentialism, and the “unique voice of color.” And since Shenvi also suggested “Critical Social Justice” as a name which might represent his own construction, I cited Sensoy/DiAngelo’s 2017 definition, which, again, does not mention his fourfold construction.
I am thankful for the opportunity to engage with Dr. Neil Shenvi; may our Lord bless this conversation. Dr. Shenvi’s first post can be found here: “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 1.”
I was reticent to agree to this topic since I’ve likewise argued that Critical Theory (CT), as a total system of belief and practice, is anti-Christian. But given the constant claim that those actively confronting racism in the Church are “driven by,” “steeped in,” or “following” CT rather than the Bible, while simultaneously never presenting an accurate description of CT, I’m motivated to engage.
Dr. Shenvi rightly anticipated this response but seems to underestimate its import. If one is going to attribute CT to an evangelical’s beliefs in order to claim dangerous influence, one is required to attribute that which is distinctive to the tradition, not simply that which is included, though common to other and much earlier traditions (see, e.g., the entire history of the Civil Rights movement).