The Holy Spirit, Renewal, and Interdisciplinarity

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

ShowJacketThe idea of interdisciplinarity is widely debated among a number of disciplines. The recent study of renewal, understood in the broadest sense as the study of manifestations of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, has not yet defined itself in interdisciplinary terms. Publications with focus on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life, pentecostalism, charismatic movements and other realms of renewal that invite and engage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, exist only in the early stages. Can we afford this neglect? If the question asked by Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” is: “nowhere,” does this not suggest that manifestations of the Spirit of God can be found potentially in all places of life? My answer, of course, is, yes! And yet, to say that the Spirit of God is present everywhere is far from saying that we encounter the Spirit everywhere. What then are potential directions for interdisciplinary study of renewal?

As an initial possibility, disciplinary accounts of renewal can stand on their own among other accounts in a parallel or parallax view. This form of multidisciplinary studies, or of interdisciplinarity as a goal not yet fully achieved, can include alternative accounts without attempts at reconciliation but rather to define problems, to show the scope of disciplinary concerns involved, to identify relevant disciplines or to stimulate and invite involvement, and to identify existing tensions and disagreements. There exists for the study of renewal a certain necessary comfortableness with a plurality of voices, a hermeneutics of many tongues and disciplines and practices that mark the path of interdisciplinarity in the pentecostal, charismatic and other renewal movements. The outcome may not always be identified as a successful integration of disciplines but rather as a step toward that goal, a form of hospitality toward other disciplines, modes of thinking, conflicting insights, and common ground. The ground and mandate for such hospitality as the essence of interdisciplinarity is precisely the transforming, transcending, integrating and uniting presence of God’s Spirit (see Eph. 4:3).

This hospitality is evident, for example, in a second form of interdisciplinarity that is open to the use of both faith-based and secular approaches to the study of Christianity and renewal. The debate on the need for insider experience or faith-based knowledge, on the one hand, and objective study, on the other hand, shows that both theology and religious studies are in transition—towards each other and to other disciplines. The study of Christianity and renewal remains indebted in many contexts to a commitment to the beliefs and practices of Christianity and more often to that of a particular tradition. At the same time, the understanding of religious diversity has significantly changed with the advent of religious studies as a form of “academic,” “objective” or “social scientific” research. The concern how exactly to speak of the transforming dimension of the Spirit’s presence suggests another way in which religious studies is a quest along multiple disciplines. The study of renewal will continue to be shaped by this discussion. Even without successful integration at this point, a hospitable multidisciplinary approach will help dismantle stereotypes and existing prejudice, clarify boundaries, develop methodologies, and increase the resources for a joint study and shared knowledge. Renewal here refers also to the experience of the different approaches and the shared struggle between dissonance and acceptance for the sake of understanding (and experiencing) the Spirit’s presence.

A third form of interdisciplinary studies relevant to exploring the transforming work of the Spirit is the deliberate use of ecumenical and interfaith approaches. The influence of the ecumenical movement and interfaith dialogues has significantly shaped the landscape of interdisciplinarity through similar structures, aims, demands, and methods. These similarities are made apparent most of all in a shared experience of the Spirit across denominations and religious traditions. The different approaches to and experiences of renewal among pentecostals and the charismatic movements in the traditional churches, for example, have opened up the beginning of an ecumenical interest in the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Although presuppositions, doctrines, histories, rituals, and methods differ, the experience of renewal offers a shared agenda and activity that includes the prospects of cooperation, comparison, and reconciliation. The pneumatological approach and interest in renewal has also opened up possibilities for the deepening and transforming of Christian theology in the pluralism of the religious lives of the twenty-first century. Working together in these contexts of interdisciplinarity does not always immediately focus on the disciplines involved but on the opportunity to solve a common problem. Ecumenical collections and interreligious conversations thus serve as stimuli for further interdisciplinary research.

Finally, interdisciplinary studies require research that offers insights into varieties, taxonomies, and definitions of the Spirit from different disciplines, including identifying differences and agreements among traditional, essential, and normative approaches. The result may be insights into the scripting of renewal theology, reformulations of renewed historiography, surveys of the developing social and religious forms of renewal Christianity, an extension of the scope of renewal studies to the larger spectrum of religious ideas and practices, exposure of exogenous causes and consequences that influence the interpretation of renewal, identifying the difficulties of reconciling the religious sense of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with social, economic, and political renewal, integrating the study of Christianity and renewal in the natural sciences, or showing the contributions of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity to other fields and disciplines. These and other results of the young field of interdisciplinary research on Christianity and renewal are driven by the shared interest in the transforming work of the Spirit of God.

Interdisciplinary research does not follow an autonomous trajectory or projects an exclusive alternative to other disciplinary pursuits but is always marked by integrative efforts identified as much by confessional location and personal beliefs as by pneumatological (and hence transcendental) concerns. Nonetheless, the shared pursuit of renewal drives ultimately toward transformation at the core of any disciplinary, multidisciplinary, or interdisciplinary work. Renewal is thus a journey by way of the Spirit into and transcending the full range of classical expressions and core symbols of the faith toward their transformation. A similar statement could be made about the study of renewal in the disciplines outside the immediate purview of Christian theology and religious studies. From the perspective of Christianity, at least, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit renews what and how we know as we open our disciplines to the possibility to comprehend and participate in that renewal.

(For a more detailed account, see my introduction and conclusion to The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life: Historical, Interdisciplinary, and Renewal Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

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Wolfgang Vondey
This entry was posted by on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 at 6:49 am and is filed under Renewal Studies, scholarship, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “The Holy Spirit, Renewal, and Interdisciplinarity”

  1. Daniel Irving says:

    Hello Wolfgang,

    The secular academic study of religion certainly has its place. On the other hand, as for myself, I would be definitely adverse to giving secular studies any role in the kitchen when it comes to the spiritual principle of “renewal.” Let it remain an observer, but not a participant.
    In an earlier (since closed) discussion we had last year, regarding the development of a Pentecostal theology, I had indicated that such theology must arise within the ranks of those experientially pentecostal, and that it must necessarily contain certain elements. Since then, I have described a model, which I believe will lead to a comprehensive theology of Pentecost through the application of Scripture thereto. Wolfgang, I invite you to view this model, and would be greatly interested in your reaction.