3 thoughts on “A Critical Caricature? Response to Dr. Shenvi on Dr. Bronner

  1. Joe Eisenbraun October 6, 2019 / 5:14 am

    Hi Brad

    I just read your 4-part series on Critical Theory from May/June for the first time. It’s really helpful and clear and beautiful in so many ways. Your closing 3 paragraphs make so many good points!

    I’m sympathetic to and appreciative of your writing after reading this. But I’m having trouble understanding how this thing with Shenvi became so far-fetched.

    You seem caught up on this point of the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy not rightly characterizing CT. You make some good points showing that this lens is clear throughout the Bible, as well as other ideological traditions. But didn’t Shenvi in his Gospel Coalition article qualify the novelty, the critical theory application, of this dichotomy? Wasn’t he clear that the moral language of oppression is now being applied in new ways?

    The particularity is not the use of oppressed/oppressor, but the application of that paradigm to cultural expressions. This means that cultural expressions are given moral weight. New morality creates tiers and purity culture. In my own studies I call this a new fundamentalism. I would love to show you this if you’re interested. To put it in your terms, anti-essentialism creates new essentials.

    Let me say the same thing again in a different way: To the untrained observer like myself, Gramsci’s teaching on social control through culture by the dominant society could almost pass as a workable introductory definition of critical theory. His suggestion of multi-disciplinary social action (application in gender, sexuality, ethnicity) could be the fundamentalist response I’m tracking.

    In this way I think of your disagreement with Shenvi paralleling how some postmodernists say they’ve rejected modernism, and others say they’ve extended it. But of course the synthesis in a Hegelian dialectic is also itself an antithesis as well as a new thesis.

    Again, I think there are good qualifications to be added to Shenvi’s definition. But I see you two as really mostly agreeing and I’d love to see you two working together. Please let me know if you want to talk through any of this.

    Joe Eisenbraun
    St Louis, MO


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