Performance of Identity

I had a wonderful week last week with the Doctor of Ministry cohort at Providence Theological Seminary teaching a course called, “Thinking and Interpreting Theologically.”  The students read several insightful texts in preparation for our time together.  The one that seemed to generate the most conversation was Andrew Root’s The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time against the Speed of Modern Life (Baker, 2021).  It is the third volume in Root’s Ministry in a Secular Age trilogy.  In the trilogy Root is dialoguing with the work of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in particular Taylor’s seminal A Secular Age.  At the heart of Root’s project is the concern for developing ways for Christians to speak about and recognize the presence of divine action within the midst of a “social imaginary” that has reduced its vision to the “immanent frame.”1

In coming posts, I hope to share a few quotes from The Congregation in a Secular Age that resonated with the cohort and sparked some lively discussion.  Here’s the first:

“As high modernity gives way to late modernity, the high-modern ethic of duty cannot contain the new acceleration of technology, social change, and the pace of life.  The speed increase from high to late modernity throws off duty like a loosely worn baseball cap on a roller coaster.  You’re now free to have whatever identity you wish, but you can’t sit idly on it, because that’s not how late modernity and its ethic of authenticity work.  To have this “free” identity you must correlate, not with a tradition or sacred text, but with speed itself, by embracing the logic of acceleration.  The vehicle for identity to meet the speed of late modernity is performance.  You’re free to have whatever identity feels more authentic to you, but to really possess that identity, you must meet the speed of modernity, not be free of it.  Not coincidently, those who seem the most authentic are those moving fastest, those with the most Instagram followers, those who most directly perform their identities to win recognition.”2

  1.   These are terms Taylor introduces in A Secular Age.  I briefly engage with Taylor around some of these themes in For the Life of the World (215-216).
  2. Andrew Root, The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time against the Speed of Modern Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 12.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *