What Standpoint Theory/Epistemology Is and Is Not
Contrary to much current demagoguery, Standpoint Theory (or, similar, “Standpoint Epistemology”) is in fact rooted in empiricist, evidentialist, epistemology. The epistemic relevance of Standpoint Theory has to do with evidence and justification, not the nature of truth, its objective character, nor its public accessibility. Rather,
The claim is that members of marginalized groups are more likely to have had experiences that are particularly epistemically salient for identifying and evaluating assumptions that have been systematically obscured or made less visible as the result of power dynamics. (Kristen Intemann, p. 791)
Or, in Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo’s words,
Minoritized groups often have the widest view of society, in that they must understand both their own and the dominant group’s perspective—develop a double-consciousness—to succeed.” (Is Everyone Really Equal?, p. 70)
As Christians, we should be very aware of the pathological nature of both individual and social ills. That is, social ills are not just easily individualized and conceptually isolatable bad actions, ideas, practices, policies, or stereotypes. Rather, just as a pathological liar lies habitually and without even taking note of it, or just as a disease can infect a whole body with looming death yet appear perfectly healthy, so economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and the like can be embedded within whole social systems, producing symptoms that may even seem quite normal and ineradicable, though we feel the existential burdens of their bitter fruit. And this pathology affects even reason itself, both individually and collectively.
We call it sin, and we recognize its far-reaching effects. Not only has sin brought about spiritual and physical death, but sin has broken man’s community with God (Gen. 3:24-25), broken his community with neighbor (Gen. 3:16; 4:1-8; Gal. 5:14-15), corrupted his economic activity (Gen. 3:17; Isa. 3:5; Mic. 2:2), corrupted his habitation and environment (Rom. 8:19-21), and has even distorted his very mind and reason (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 1:28; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:18). The Scripture shows that this corruption of mind and reason is in fact much more radical than even the “instrumentalized reason” of the dreaded critical theorists, such that we are commanded,
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).