Collective memory in homiletics

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Chapter Six

Theological markers for the use of collective memory in homiletics

6.1 The Bible and remembering.

The debate about memory in contemporary theological disciplines has yet to reach the level of intensity evident within history and sociology and their associated applied studies, but there is nevertheless evidence of a growing interest in the topic. Scholars well known for their work on social approaches to memory are increasingly cited by theologians, or are themselves offering ways into a theological extension of their works. In biblical studies, for example, the American Sociologist, Barry Schartz, presented a keynote address at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2003 (published in Kirk and Thatcher, 2005); and from this side of the Atlantic, Jan Assmann’s work on cultural memory provides a way into mnemonic devices in a ground-breaking study of Mark’s Gospel from the perspective of the performative oral culture in which it arose (Horsley, Draper and Foley, 2006).

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Such publications are the beginnings of what is likely to become a major area of interest and debate in theology and biblical studies. As exciting as that prospect is, this chapter concerns itself with one small and closely delineated area where social memory theory and theology in practice are, it is argued, closely related, namely collective memory and preaching. If, as it is being argued in this thesis, the practice of Christian preaching in contemporary European society must consciously address the mechanisms of collective memory and the issues raised by the decay of that memory, what are the theological resources available to support that task? This chapter seeks to answer that question within a theological discourse that views use of the Bible as the primary step in such ongoing resourcing. Just as Christian preaching in order to be Christian preaching cannot be seen in isolation from the biblical text, so this chapter will argue that a theological understanding of Christian tradition as memory cannot be isolated from an understanding of social memory work present in those same biblical texts. Consequently, this chapter seeks to establish that memory and remembrance, understood as fundamental components of a life-creating faith, are evidenced in the biblical texts themselves. It will be argued that our forebears in the continuing tradition of Abraham’s faith were conscious users of the social dimensions of memory. Establishing this point is key to the whole thesis, since it indicates that the homiletic theory advocated here is more than a knee-jerk response to the social amnesia indentified as being so destructive of Christian social memory. In straightforward terms, memory work will be established as a core component of Scripture and, therefore, a core component of preaching that seeks to use those same Scriptures for the remembering of Christ. That theological resourcing of the tasks of Christian collective memory will be established through an examination of some key concepts developed in the work of the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

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