Why the Society for Ricoeur Studies?

For two years, I’ve been a member of the Society for Ricoeur Studies and traveled to our annual conference to present papers. I don’t think I would have ever ventured to dive into these unfamiliar waters if I hadn’t been invited by my professor—a founding member of the society but probably the only other conservative Christian involved.

In some ways, Ricoeur is a natural dialogue partner in my hermeneutical explorations. Indeed, that is why I was reading and writing on him in the first place. Some notable Christian hermeneutical theorists (I’m thinking especially of Thiselton and Vanhoozer) have long been engaging Ricoeur’s work, and in the course of my studies I’ve found him popping up in footnote after footnote. Having plunged into the deep end, I can say that there is every justification for working through this great philosopher’s thought. He has astoundingly insightful and useful things to teach Christian theology, many of which remain to be examined in depth.

For a taste, here is Anthony Thiselton discussing some of Ricoeur’s books:

But given that time and money are limited, and I can currently only attend one conference a year, why return to the Society for Ricoeur Studies annual meeting? Why not SBL or ASM, both of which seem to make more sense career-wise? I’d love to be at all of them, but I have to choose. And the truth is, I find SRS most compelling for a few reasons.

First, it takes me out of my element and puts me in a position of real humility. I am able to engage in some conversations meaningfully, but often I am reminded that I am well and truly out of my depth. Which I oddly find enjoyable. It is also a chance to get away from the assumptions of theological discourse and really listen to others engage profound questions of human life, truth, and understanding. (Comically, when I showed up at the mixer my first year with “Fuller Theological Seminary” on my name tag, one long-standing member was concerned that I didn’t realize where I was. It’s pure fun to be the supposedly conservative Christian crashing the party, only to surprise everyone that I’m comfortable with uncertainty and welcome divergent viewpoints.)

Two, I find engaging (as far as I’m able) the society’s rigor of thought and discussion tremendously challenging and beneficial as a personal discipline. While I might be missing networking opportunities elsewhere, I have no doubt that the process of engaging with Ricoeur experts is benefitting me academically in unparalleled ways. It seems to me that I may have something to offer theologically because I’ve spent time in this world.

Three, the annual meeting is intimate and enjoyable. It was so much fun the first year that I invited my homie Bryan Tarpley to cowrite with me this year, which was equally a blast. At this point, I’m thinking about membership in SRS in the long term. Ricoeur is fast becoming a boon companion on the journey, and I’m deeply grateful for his guidance.

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