Unwritten theology: notes towards a natural theology of music

Re Manning, R (2015) 'Unwritten theology: notes towards a natural theology of music.' In: Stone-Davis, F.J, ed. Music and transcendence. Ashgate, Aldershot, pp. 65-74. ISBN 9781472415950

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This chapter engages with Tillich’s theology of culture and George Steiner’s powerfully suggestive characterisation of music as ‘unwritten theology’ to suggest ways in which the possibility of a natural theology of music might be theorised. Steiner’s claim exposes a central dilemma for work that seeks to explore the ways in which music relates to transcendence. On the one hand, for those such as Jeremy Begbie, ‘music can serve to enrich and advance theology’ in its ongoing quest, in his words, ‘to extend our wisdom about God, God’s relation to us, and to the world at large’. Music, in this case, serves as an aid to reflection, further equipping the theologian in her inescapably writerly enterprise. On the other hand, as Frank Burch Brown suggests: what if the theologian of art allows that art not only assist theology but further ‘reshape, somehow, the image and sound, the look and feel, of the substance of faith’? For such an approach, music itself becomes theology and hence the theologian’s task is radically transformed. No longer able to make use of music to enrich her writing, the theologian is thus displaced and the linguistic hegemony of theology is challenged in favour of a ‘theology without writing’. This chapter explores the possibilities for theorising a ‘theology after writing’ capable of ‘reshaping, somehow’ not simply the form but also the substance of faith by drawing on resources from Paul Tillich’s cultural-theological analyses of what he characterises as art with ‘religious style, but non-religious content’, as well as Jean-Luc Marion’s notion of iconic distance (particularly as developed by James Herbert. Taking seriously the challenge of thinking of music as ‘un-writing theology’, the chapter suggests that a framework of a natural theology of music might provide the necessary openness to discovery that Steiner’s description requires.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
Keywords: music, theology, natural theology, theology and the arts
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2015 10:06
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:39
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/5196
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