Ben Myers’ recently published article “Theology 2.0: Blogging as Theological Discourse,” Cultural Encounters 6.1 (2010) is a fascinating discussion of how different forms of communication shape us, and the formative nature of blogging in particular.
He begins by noting the growing importance of blogging in theological education and asks an important question:
What does it mean for theology when blogs go mainstream – when blogging is no longer just a fringe activity, but a practice woven into the fabric of students’ theological formation? (48)
He goes on to use Foucault’s “technologies of the self” to address the formative nature of communicative media. With respect to writing in general, he says, “You write in order to mold and transform yourself. With such writing, it is not the content that matters so much as the mere act, the askesis of writing. You record yourself, write yourself, publish yourself” (53). Thus, blogging in particular “is not merely a medium, a channel through which information is communicated. It is fundamentally a practice, a work that cultivates particular ways of being and particular forms of human sociality” (53).
The latter half of the essay focuses on five specific ways in which blogging is shaping theological discourse:
- Speed and Flexibility: I appreciate his comments here on the fact that theological blogging is more tentative than traditional theology. I still struggle with this. Academic writing is so focused on producing polished and final-form writing, that it’s difficult to appreciate the strengths of a more free-form and tentative mode of discourse. But, it is a tremendous strength when ideas can be articulated and explored in community, rather than trying to work everything out on your own before making them known. In this way, blogging takes the best that academic conferences have to offer, but makes it available year round.
- Scope and Participation: Everyone recognizes the increased participation that comes with Web 2.0, but I especially liked his argument that blogging increases the range of topics a person is willing/able to address (scope). I know I’ve written on this blog about things that I never would have felt qualified to write about in another forum.
- Reading Together: Here, Ben connects blogging to the ancient practice of reading in community. I like it.
- Individualization and Coolness: In this section, Ben offers his strongest warnings about the possible drawbacks of theological blogging. He’s particularly concerned about the danger of developing theological niche communities isolated from other perspectives and seeking to “fit in” with the normative perspective of the community.
- Play and Irony: The playfulness of theological blogging has certainly been one of my personal favorites. I’m sure it gets us all into trouble at times, but that’s part of the fun too.
The article concludes with the hopeful note that theological blogging might lead to theology becoming “a somewhat friendlier discipline” (60). I would have liked to see Ben engage more the possible drawbacks and potentially negative effects of Web 2.0 on theological discourse, and I think we can all point to examples where theological blogging was anything but friendly. But, at its best, theological blogging does lead to the “community, inquisitiveness, and open conversation” vital to good theology.
This is an excellent article for understanding the formative nature of writing and the impact that blogging is having on theological discourse and education.