Thesis proposal!

This definitely is a thesis proposal – my advisor has seen it, discussed it, and approved it. Woot! The summary is virtually identical to my previous attempt, reproduced here for completeness; the new part here is the chapter outline, which clarifies that vagueness in the middle that I was worried about. I may update this post later with the initial bibliography, which I basically have in hand but am tidying up.

There are a couple of points I’m already aware of that will need clarifying in the actual paper: “caught up and shaped by” may give the impression that these patterns happen outside of us and simply move us around, rather than actually reconstituting who we are. And the patterns of desire to which we are called could be expressed more positively, rather than only over against patterns of violence and victimization.

And I may run out of room for chapter 5. The paper would be complete without it, but I really want to include it for two reasons. First, my perception is that the community engaged in mimetic theology tends to be rather self-enclosed, which is unfortunate because it makes it harder for these important ideas to influence the larger theological conversation. Explicitly discussing these two significant church documents will at least create some connecting threads. Second, and more importantly, a fundamental challenge can be posed to any theology “from below” (which privileges the theological sources of reason and experience) as to whether and how it connects up and is consistent with the theological sources “from above” (scripture and tradition). These documents are instances of tradition, and are themselves heavily reliant on scripture and tradition, so this final chapter would engage with that challenge.

Further points of clarification, suggestions, comments, and general cheerleading are all welcome. 🙂


The key anthropological insight of mimetic theory is that human identity is received and constituted by patterns of desire that originate externally. Thus humans are naturally caught up in and shaped by patterns of communal desire, particularly conflictual patterns of rivalry and unifying patterns of scandal and scapegoating.

Mimetic ecclesiology is an ecclesiology “from below” that applies this key anthropological insight to the identity, mission, and constitutive practices of the church. It understands the church as the community of persons who receive their identity from Jesus Christ (to whom their desires are directed by the Holy Spirit, and who in turn models desire for and identity received from the Father) and renounce rivalry and unification by scandal and scapegoating. Mimetic ecclesiology provides an explanatory and normative framework that connects traditional ecclesiological language with the concrete experience of church, and assesses church practices as authentic and constitutive based on the degree to which they neutralize and dismantle violent patterns of rivalry and scapegoating, and support the emergence of new, nonviolent patterns of desire, identity, and unity in Christ.

Informed by systematic, concrete, and practice-based ecclesiology, this paper will draw on mimetic interpretations of theology, particularly in the work of James Alison, to construct a mimetic ecclesiology; demonstrate its application to the important contemporary issue of polarization and conflict within the church; and examine its consistency with the Roman Catholic document Lumen Gentium and the ecumenical document Called to be One Church.


  1. Ecclesiology: systematic, practice-based
  2. Mimetic theology
    1. Mimetic theory
    2. From mimetic theory to mimetic theology
  3. Mimetic ecclesiology
    1. The Pilgrim Church and Inaugurated Eschatology
      1. Patterns of desire from which we are called: rivalry, scandal, scapegoating
      2. Patterns of desire to which we are called: nonviolent, victimary, enemy-love
      3. Simul Justus et Peccator: working out our salvation in fear and trembling
    2. The Gifts of the Spirit
      1. Gifts that neutralize and dismantle…
      2. Gifts that support the emergence…
    3. The Imitation of Christ
      1. Practices that neutralize and dismantle…
      2. Practices that support the emergence…
  4. Application: polarization and conflict in the church
    1. Understanding: scandal and rivalry
    2. Addressing: practical recommendations
  5. Consistency with doctrinal statements
    1. Lumen Gentium
    2. Called to be One Church
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