Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve' Critiques Dawn Eden's Thesis on Christopher West

Very insightful. Much to digest here, but if you read Dawn Eden's thesis (pdf download here), then you owe it to yourself to read this as well.
A few snips:
In her thesis, Dawn Eden took on a large project in giving what she calls “a comprehensive overview of West’s presentation of TOB.” To fairly evaluate it would require her to follow the development of all his teaching as it has unfolded over the past decade. That’s quite a project. Does any fair-minded observer really think it’s possible to accomplish this project in a master's thesis of under 100 pages? Actually, she even says she carries out the comprehensive overview of his work in chapter one, a mere fifteen pages. To be fair to West, she would need to also contextualize his teachings so as to present them objectively without any distortion. Moreover, she cites his major work, Theology of the Body Explained rarely; surely that text should have been the primary text of her assessment.

The thesis gives little sense of how West’s work has developed. For example, as Michael Waldstein has attested, West changed some aspects of his presentation in view of the new translation of the Pope’s talks. Waldstein’s translation involved certain changes in structure and vocabulary that had an impact on the correct presentation of TOB. West spent much time communicating with Waldstein and tailored his presentation to reflect new insights gained. Yet Eden mentions nothing of this major development. A casual reader, not knowing this background, could easily come away with the impression that West has been doing the same thing for fifteen years. Instead, the constant feedback he gets, especially from his live audiences, has helped him tailor his presentation to better meet their needs.
I agree. I was not swayed by much in Eden's thesis. She seems to not understand much of what West is saying, give him credit were credit is due, or be very fair about several points, which Sister touches on as she continues.
One of her points, which bothered me about the thesis quite a bit, is this:
to spend so much time on West’s personal history and so little time on his major work is a strange focus for an academic work.
If Eden wants to critique all of West's work, she needs to be absolutely sure that she is presenting his work accurately. Her synthesis is certainly open to debate. She seems to have selected themes that better suit her criticisms of West, while omitting others that are more fundamental but not so open to criticism. This leaves Eden's thesis vulnerable, since her critique assumes her reading of West corresponds to what he is actually saying, but it may not. Again, this relates to the difficulty already mentioned, that Eden has taken on such a broad project that she can't do it justice.
Again, I agree. Unlike most Catholics who have heard about the TOB in our country, I studied and learned about the TOB long before I ran into West's work. Also, I have attended several of his courses since that time. The picture she paints of West's teaching in her thesis is nothing close to what I have read from West or heard him teach.
Eden treats each theme quite briefly. Just to reiterate, this is surprising in light of her claim that she is presenting a comprehensive overview. She simply states the themes without saying much else about them. Rather, she presents the themes in such a way that the reader tends to get a negative impression of West’s work. This is partly due to the use of selective quotes, many of which seem to have been picked for sounding somewhat provocative. This impression is reinforced by the use of quotes around many short words and phrases, and sometimes even just one word. This method of quoting raises some red flags that West is being taken out of context. In many cases, closer examination of these quotes shows that indeed he is.
I too noticed she took him out of context and had some questions about the way she sums up his works in her own words - twisting his message.
Sister gets the last word:
In the final analysis, Eden fails to make a convincing case against West because she often takes him out of context, fails to thoroughly consider his complete position on various issues, and does not fully take into account his major work. The debate about TOB will surely continue. As it unfolds, may it do so in a spirit of charity and truth, for in the end “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). And ultimately, isn’t that what TOB is all about?
Thank you Sister for this answer to Eden's thesis.