I should have written a thesis about writing a thesis.
I submitted my thesis proposal to Walter Brennan in September, 1997, just after IMRI’s summer session. We had discussed it almost daily over the four weeks of the session. My submission included a working title, “Symbol and Science: A Study of Andrew Greeley’s Approach to Mary From the Perspective of Social Science”, a précis, chapter titles including outlines, and a bibliography. The study’s status questionis would be about the need for a new approach to Mary: one that, in addition to the Datum of revelation and teaching, took into account the data of human experience. My conclusion -my status questionis- was that the data had not sufficiently been factored in; that much greater weight had been given to the Datum. The alliteration tells the story: Datum, dogma, and doctrine. This may have been part of what caused “a crisis in mariology (DeFiores) around the time of Vatican Council II. I can’t recall the name of the modernist -the Frenchman- who said something like ‘we began with the gospel and ended up with the church.’ At some point in the history of mariology, did Mary the mother of Jesus get assimilated by Mary, the mother of God and the mother of the Church and disappeared from (theological) sight? If so, is it reasonable to assume that mariology could, or would, restore the balance? I believe this was Greeley’s thinking, and why he believed that a new approach from a different perspective was needed. Moreover, Greeley believed that social science and theology, formerly antagonists, can be friends and partners because of a common need to give an accounting in the wake of the crisis of the postmodern age.
For his part, Walter appeared enthusiastic about the interdisciplinary character of the project but warned me that an interdisciplinary thesis or dissertation was tricky. There were several overlapping perspectives to keep in view. Moreover, theology and social science had never, or scarcely, warmed to one another. He wanted me to think longer and harder about what kind of study did I intend the thesis to be. What would be its focus; was I clear about what I had in mind? I thought I was, and, if not, Walter would be there to guide and correct. Walter’s warning turned out to be right on the mark! More than anything, it has been the interdisciplinary character of the study that has been the most difficult. I remember a conversation and me telling Walter that the thesis had to be interdisciplinary because Greeley’s “approach” was interdisciplinary. He describes it as such in the very first chapter of The Mary Myth. For awhile we went back and forth over the question of type. Walter suggested a historical study, arguing that Greeley’s re-symbolization of Mary was part of the development of Mariology. This way I would avoid coming down on one side or the other of Greeley’s claim, in The Mary Myth, that Mary symbolizes the feminine face of God. At that time I had no answer to Elizabeth Johnson’s attack of his claim. nor an answer to the gentler critique of Marjorie Suchowki, who saw some merit in Greeley’s “approach from the perspective of social science” and value in his re-symbolization of Mary along the lines of the feminine archetype. She concludes. however, that Greeley promises but can’t deliver: he reads the feminine from the dominant perspective of masculinity -his defensiveness is a dead giveaway- and he has more work to do to make the case theologically that Mary symbolizes the feminine face of God. Walter is deceased and I have been stuck lo these many years, so I guess he was right…
Submitted title, précis, and chapters.
Title: Symbol and Science: Andrew Greeley’s Approach to Virgin Mary From the Perspective of Social Science.
Initial Focus: on Greeley’s use of social science to repair the connection between the Virgin Mary and human existence and its needs.
Context: crises. Greeley frames his approach between 2 crisis: (1) “a crisis in mariology” and. (2) the crisis of modernity. For Greeley, and others, the two are related: cultural change causes change in whatever is grounded in culture or is culturally related. His 4-celled Mary-Symbol reflects the delineation of Erich Neumann’s feminine archetype. In his “approach to Mary from the perspective of social science”
Crises: Even though multifaceted, the “crisis in mariology” around the time of Vatican Council II could be characterized as a crisis of relevancy/truth. The truthfulness of religion was no longer, or exclusively, to be found in dogmas and doctrine, but in how religious truths and traditions addressed human existence and its needs. Religious truth In the West, confidence was being lost in public institutions. These had taken on a life of their own and no longer operated in the interest of the public good. Citizens felt betrayed by government and indoctrinated by education…
Organized religion suffered a similar fate: levels of church attendance began to decline markedly beginning in the early 1970s
Following Clifford Geertz, Greeley regards religion as a symbol system: one that emerges from the contingencies of human existence. It is grounded in experience, codified in symbols, told in stories, and enacted in ritual, for the purpose of giving hope to human beings.
TITLES: these alone capture the story. Here is a partial listing…
AUTHORS: the trail of authors likewise indicate the direction the study was taking. It began with Greeley; not only with The Mary Myth but with his entire oeuvre. My greatest interest was Greeley’s understanding of religion as a symbol system, and his characterization of religion as poetry. His “approach to Mary from the perspective of social science,” it seems to me, is the working out in theory of this understanding and characterization. For Greeley, the theological question IS the social question: what ties Mary to human existence and its needs? Marian maximalism and minimalism are examples of the imbalance in mariology caused by, on one hand, too great an emphasis on Mary’s titles and privileges and, on the other, no interest at all on titles and privileges, but vacating these in favor of a Mary of popular devotion. Like virtue, the truth of Mary is revealed in the middle, at the intersection of her blessedness and her historicity…In the beginning I rounded up the usual suspects. Among Greeley’s “friends,” and sources, are: theologians David Tracy, John Shea, Langdon Gilkey, Gordon Kaufman, and Niemann (spell?); the social scientists include Clifford Geertz, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, (n.) Malinowski, Peter Berger; included among the philosophers are Paul Ricoeur and Ernst Cassirer; and, the psychoanalysts Erich Naumann, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud (see Religion as Poetry for a complete list). “Foes” would include Elizabeth Johnson, Marjorie Schocki, and “traditional mariologists.”
For Tracy and Shea theology was hermeneutical, in a way reminiscent of Holderlin that “poetically man dwells upon this earth.” Geertz, Weber, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Berger are good for the social theory, including a theory of religion; Naumann, Jung, and Susanne K. Langer provide psychoanalytic theory, including the archeology of the feminine archetype. Greeley describes “The Mary Myth” as “an exercise in writing on the border of theology and sociology.” As blasphemous as this may seem to E. Johnson, there is a precedent. Beginning in the early 1960s, theology turned in the direction of literature with Stanley Romaine Hopper, Amos Niven Wilder, and Nathan Scott. There was revelation, to be sure, but metaphysics and scholasticism were not longer keys to unlocking its meaning. “First, the vision,” Wilder announced in his Theopoetics. To get to some understanding of what caused the “turn” in Western theology -away from metaphysics, concepts and logic, I “turned” to Heidegger, Gadamer and Wittgenstein for background information of the historical kind. In modernity indeed had tanked, where then would we put down roots? If Enlightenment couldn’t deliver on its promises, where would the human community, including its institutions, find itself? The retreat from metaphysics involved a new investigation of language. Are science, mathematics, philosophy, and theology, first and foremost, languages that do precisely what language does: instantiates a world. In terms of mariology, what are marian dogmas and doctrine? If they are linguistic expressions are they somehow less truthful than philosophical and theological expressions of the same? Well, you can see where this line of thinking can lead…Circles.
Continuing with authors: Greeley frames his proposal for a new approach to Mary between two crisis: “a crisis in mariology” dated around the time of Vatican Council II, and the crisis in the West of the end of the age of Enlightenment. My attention was then drawn to these crises; for Greeley, they are key, and the impetus for his re-symbolism of Mary. Did these two crises have something(s) in common? What was the nature of these crises? For me, these were important questions about context. Greeley, a sociologist of some repute and merit, who, in addition to his doctorate in sociology, has a licentiate degree in theology, reads the record and senses that something is amiss. What has gone on or has gone wrong? All of Greeley’s sources, in addition to their specializations, provide him also with historical information. At this point in my research I go looking for cultural and social historians who can provide me with clues about the present crisis. In this regard I read several books by Charles Taylor, John Carroll and Morris Berman. Another turn, this time in the direction of culture; all the while the study’s starting line is getting pushed back.
I estimate that, at present, I have written over 400 pages on Greeley, on the history and development of mariology, on Mary and the feminine archetype; Mary: Icon of Hope. Mary at the end of the age; marian poetics and the re-symbolization of Mary. At several places along the way, I put mariology on the back burner and investigated what happened that caused a shift in perspective, and that convinced that a new approach from outside was needed if Mary was to continue to more than “a dead symbol.”
There’s a scene in the movie The Last Samurai that perfectly captures my present state of mind. It occurs in the scene when Captain Nathan Algren, an accomplished professional soldier who has been taken prisoner by the samurai lord, Katsumoto, is being mercilessly beaten in a training fight by Ujio, a master samurai and leader of Katumoto’s troops. A younger samurai and Algren’s friend rushes to his side after a nasty blow to the head renders him almost senseless.
“Nathan Algren, please forgive, too many mind.”
“Too many mind?”
“Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy. Too many mind…No mind.”
Too many mind…
I can’t say that it has been a waste of time and effort. Anything but. Only wished the time and effort would have paid bigger dividends by now. Just so, I remain convinced of the value of the research: for mariology and for myself. You have mentioned, on several occasions, that mariology is a derivative. It derives from Christology and from ecclesiology. For the past fifteen centuries its form has been derived from philosophy. These days, however, things appear to be changing. Since the time of the Council, Mary, if not mariology, has been partnered with sociology of religion, feminism, with the poor, the marginalized and the outcast, and with ecology. All this may be linked to her identification with Christ and with the Church, but it may be due to her vital connection to human existence and its needs, as symbolized in her role of mother, sponsa, virgo/muse and pieta. I sometimes wonder about Guadalupe: there’s no obvious connection to Christ or the Church -not saying there is. Guadalupe appears to be a stand-alone, earth-mother symbolic type, one that immediately and naturally allays the fears of Juan Pablo and inspires hope that the Queen of Heaven has not forgotten the plight of the indigenous people, but has come to their aid. The reciprocity between the culture and the Virgin makes me wonder if Greeley was not right after all, and that Johnson was not smart enough to see it.
I am -literally- writing you a letter that chronicles what to date has been a 20 yr project. I have no intention to abandon the search.
Guadalupe and Haight’s “Jesus: Symbol of God”: Four years ago I began to look into Guadalupe. It seemed to me then that here is an example of Mary as a (purely) cultural symbol; one that instances at least on of Greeley’s four cells. About the same time I reacquainted myself with Roger Haight’s controversial Jesus: Symbol of God.