Friday, October 30, 2009

Michael Emerson's Comments


All of the panelists commented that they enjoyed my use of theological concepts in the book, something that is not very common among sociologists who study religion. Michael Emerson asked me to expand on what I meant when I wrote at the end of the introduction that, in my book, a theological imagination accompanies the sociological imagination. In the course of my fieldwork, I experienced the shortcomings of the position from where I started my inquiry. What I saw again and again in my fieldwork was: I was trying to bracket out their faith, move past it quickly, and get to what “really” mattered from the position where I started: immigrants need social services, legal papers, health care and I thought the church helped them get there. But I realized that something was wrong with the position from which I started my inquiry. Over and over again, my interviewees wanted to talk to me first about their faith in God. I came to realize that their theological imagination—their understanding of who God is and how they relate to God—profoundly influences their social struggles. So in writing Faith Makes us Live, I invite my readers to leave behind their position from which they would look into this situation and take seriously the position from which the people I interviewed began their inquiry. I realized that for the people I interviewed just the fact that someone from a very different position in the world was trying to understand their position in the world itself was a powerful healing force for all the suffering they had experience. From their position, using a theological imagination, I am also a child of God, thus I could understand their suffering and console them even though I am from a different social background. My interviewees didn’t see me as simply the product of social forces that have made me a light-skinned, highly educated Cuban-American. They saw me as another human being capable of entering not only their material world, but their symbolical world. I genuinely trying to understand their meaning, I reinforced their belief that faith can triumph over suffering and that faith can trump differences in class, race, and power. In sharing their suffering with me, we met on a level deeper than that of social class, skin color, money. We met as human persons. By entering into their world personally, I learned better what was going on at these faith communities more generally: communion with others relieves suffering. Eucharistic communion as celebrated in Catholic communities is not just about a one-on-one encounter with Jesus, it is about a community coming together to heal, fortify and build strength. Thus, the theological imagination leads us to transcendence, to the concept of the person as a gift and in relationship to others through his or her relationship to God.