I once had a professor refer to modernity as a “300-year cul-de-sac”. He was speaking glibly about the ways in which post-modern theory in application resembles cultures that never experienced the contextual forces of the West, which produced modernity.
Modernity, at the risk of over-simplification, is the philosophical context produced and sustained by the European Enlightenment era. The prioritized assumptions of this era became normative for Europeans and North Americans. Within the last century, these assumptions have come under greater scrutiny and alternative realities have been posited. The collection of these perspectives fall under the nebulous category of “post-modernity”.
By consequence of the attention given to post-modernity, non-Western perspectives have also risen to examination. As one explores these views, there is a tentative label of “pre-modernity”. I believe this designation to be ineffective however, as it implies a linear, evolutionary path for cultures. From a primitive existence, through enlightenment (by which we mean the prioritization of Western methods and assumptions), to eventually settle where the post-modern’s have pioneered.
But this process is not necessarily the path all cultures must follow. Some will never experience modernity, others will experience their own unique changes through the influence of globalization and migration patterns.
I propose a different term, amodernity. Although still referencing its antithesis, there is no evolutionary bias (pre-/post-) or negation (non-). The neologism can serve as a more inclusive term when referring to perspectives or cultural contexts. The philosophies represented within amodernity are diverse and can represent a community of thought ranging from ancients to avant-garde and bring a source of commonality to a myriad of “post-philosophies”: post-colonial, post-structural, post-Christendom, post-foundational, post-empirical, etc.
Within this shared pool of philosophies, meaningful dialogue can take place to further develop the impact of these unique perspectives. By alignment, the currently disparate philosophies can borrow from one another’s strengths and benefit from communal critique. These values are familiar to the disparate contextual communities now falling under the categories of pre/post-modern.
This essay is still preliminary and welcome to critique.
If you identify with a particular philosophical context, how would definition under “amodernity” affect your current self-understanding?
How do you effectively balance an attention to the unique perspective of a group yet also bridge to commonality? (In theory? In practice?)
This site is primarily interested in the influence of culture upon theology and Biblical interpretation (as well as the reverse). The application of amodernity, however, would also have implication for other fields of study. I am especially intrigued at the potential of the worldwide church to be a laboratory of sorts for amodernal thinking and action, as it is a diverse organization (“body”, some might say) cutting across cultures, languages, contextual realities, social class, and time.
Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies and Hope International University. His research into the cultural influences upon theological identity led him to create the collaborative blog GlobalTheology.org. He currently works for a local non-profit agency and serves as an adjunct professor.