Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith
(Baker Academic, 2013, 224 pages)
Imagining the Kingdom is the second of three proposed volumes in Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project. In the first installment, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Smith dealt with the role of human desires and affections in the shaping of a person’s worldview. He explored the way that liturgies – both the explicit liturgies of Christian worship, and what he terms “secular liturgies,” or ritual aspects of consumer and capitalist culture – shape our desires and our basic assumptions about the constitution of the world.
In Imagining the Kingdom Smith continues this project by looking more closely at how we holistically, not simply rationally, construe and make meaning of the world in which we live. He enlists the help of French phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu, offering expositions from their work to show how bodily perceptions and social/institutional habits shape our imaginations and provide the background against which we reason and interpret the world. These insights are then marshaled to give an in depth picture of how narrative and ritual inform our imaginations through both secular and religious liturgies.
While Smith is working in the area of philosophical theology, he also includes sidebars and asides that explore his themes through film and literature. This not only helpfully illustrates his points, but it also serves to reinforce the idea that narrative and other forms of non-propositional knowledge play an integral role in how we perceive of and act in the world. Smith’s ideas are in line with, and acknowledge a debt to, neuroscience’s recognition of the subconscious ways that we appropriate knowledge and interact with the world. This interdisciplinary approach is fascinating, and Smith succeeds in revealing the depth and complexity of our interaction with the world. More than this, he convincingly shows that traditional Christian worship as well as secular practices fundamentally shape and condition that interaction.