My wife and I were listening the other day to Dr. Fred Sanders give a paper of California Theological Localism. It was one of the more technical pieces we've heard from him, and it was fun to stretch our brains a little. If I understand it right, the main idea of Theological Localism is that place matters and will shape the theology of its inhabitants in certain ways. This could be seen as determinative, or merely as fodder for apologetic engagement, both of which Sanders rejects as insufficient or problematic. What exactly is wanted seems to be a theological engagement with place, specifically California, in a way that Sanders and company feel has been neglected. If that's not clear, the fault is mine as a listener or a writer.
Of course, the idea of a theology of place caught my attention and my immediate response was "someone should do this for New England." New England, after all, is its own peculiar place with, by American standards, a long, varied, and rich history. In its English antecedents, it goes back even further. Some factors that came to mind for potential theological reflection:
1. What does it mean for New England to be a place where the bones of the Puritan Fathers lie thicker than glacial rocks in the soil? What does it mean for every little village, township, city to be founded, quite literally, on the bones of a unique religious community?
2. How did the Puritan's eschatological vision shape New England? Is there any sense in which "a city upon a hill" is still rooted in the cultural subconscious? The Puritan emphasis on education has certainly remained, even if new England is now famed in the states for it irreligiosity. What role does mass Catholic immigration in the 1800s play? How inextricable is Puritanism from the story of New England?
3. Building off of two, how does the cyclical pattern of apostasy and revival shape New England as a theological community. The Puritans founded it, but by 1775, McCullough points out that British troops were shocked by the number of brothels they found in Boston. On the other hand, Massachusetts played host to the first Great Awakening. The society that produced the American Unitarians also felt the power of the Second Great Awakening. The eschatological fervor of New Englanders also lay behind Radical Abolition and the American Civil War.
4. De Tocqueville argues that New England is the type and cradle of American democracy. How does this "long shadow" shape New England as a place. Has the rise of California and Texas as "alternate Americas" made de Tocqueville's observations irrelevant or obsolete?
These are just beginning musings, but it's a subject I'm interested in. Maybe as Sanders' project grows, I'll be able to piggy-back off of it and refine my thoughts.