Since I was implicated in Dr. Levinson and Dr. Shenvi’s recent exchange published on the Aquila Report, I thought I might offer some final thoughts in response. If you have not read either of the pieces, it might be helpful to start there. (“Does Critical Theory Matter for the Evangelical Church to Act for Social Justice?: A Response to Neil Shenvi” and “A Response to Dr. Levinson On Critical Theory“)
When Dr. Neil Shenvi originally published his review of Dr. Bradley Levinson’s text, Beyond Critique, he wrote the following:
Hands-down, this book is the best source I’ve found for those interested in a systematic explanation of critical theory from the pen of critical theorists themselves. (“A Short Review of Levinson’s Beyond Critique” [emphasis original])
One would think, then, that Dr. Levinson’s critique of Dr. Shenvi’s own characterization of “critical theory” would be received with all due weight; but instead, Dr. Shenvi has chosen to rely on his own perceived expertise in the field to sidestep Dr. Levinson’s correctives. I wonder if Dr. Shenvi believes his review of “dozens of books” and collection of “thousands of words of quotations from primary sources” is an advantage over Dr. Levinson’s twenty five page CV, including several books, dozens of peer reviewed articles, and thirty years of teaching in the field?
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.