Using Language in Religion
Category: Language & Reference
The study of religious language is often thought of as a rather rarefied activity - the domain of theologians, philosophers and linguistics specialists. In this useful and wide-ranging book, Jeff Astley insists on the ordinariness of the subject. This could easily sound pejorative, but what is constantly asserted is that thinking about the language we use in addressing and discussing God and faith is well within the capacities of inquiring non-specialists, both those who are just embarking on a process that will lead to the acquisition of formal theological and linguistic knowledge, and those who simply wish to know more about the practices in which they are engaged. Astley has defined this constituency elsewhere as ordinary theologians. (Ordinary Theology Ashgate, 2002). Exploring God-talk encourages its readers to ask questions originating in their own experience of using religious language, promoting both a healthy self-consciousness, and a healthy curiosity.
The field it introduces is very large, and Astley's particular skill lies in giving clear summaries of theoretical issues in theology and philosophy without giving the impression that these are simple or easily exhausted. Practical help in the form of concrete examples and exercises enables readers to wrestle at each stage with such abstract-sounding topics as myth, metaphor, analogy, hermeneutics, speech act theory, non-realism and feminist approaches to the experience of faith.
Inevitably, covering a large body of material in a short study entails generalisations and abbreviations where those with vested interests might wish for more. Much of the missing detail will be found in the extensive bibliography. Readers beginning without special expertise will find, however, that if the exercises are thoroughly attempted, the challenging reading lists at the end of each chapter properly used, and the glossary consulted, engaging with this book can only result in much livelier awareness of the fascinating hinterland of even the most apparently obvious biblical phrases, or the simplest prayers and attempts to articulate religious experience.
For anyone with a particular interest in liturgy and worship, this book is a reminder of the importance attaching to words, and the crafting of words, and it should certainly be in the bibliographies of those responsible for post-ordination and reader training. But it is to those who have never given much thought to the way they speak to God, and the way in which they believe God speaks to them, that Exploring God-talk will offer a real journey of discovery.
Bridget Nichols, June 2005
Bridget Nichols is Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of Ely. Her review appears here courtesy of Praxis News of Worship © Praxis 2005.Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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