Braving a Swim in Some Non-Cartesian Uncertainty

In order truly to share with you what my research process looks like, I need to continue to share my subjective feelings and reasonings publicly. However, I don’t feel justified in doing that until, as promised, I further explain a paradigm that allows for that. To this end, I’ll explain more about Jürgen Habermas’s system of communicative action.

In his theory of communicative action, Habermas claims that objectivity is determined through rational communication as individuals within specific communities reason together. He calls the world to stop trying so hard to exclude traditions, and members from traditions, from public and secular conversations and debates. While individuals that ascribe to different traditions cannot critique the traditions of others, they can and should critique the way in which others present themselves as bearers of their respective traditions. While dramaturgical theory (which I discussed in an earlier post) posits that individuals merely play predetermined roles, in the communicative action system, individuals form their roles as they present their reasons, but simultaneously perform these roles. Subjects must be allowed to present their own feelings and reasons within the public sphere so that they can be critiqued within community.  The objective, or the end goal, of this process is to reach truth “in the long run.” Through this process, individuals are encouraged to become reflective of and journey deeper into their own traditions.

For now, I’m going to carry myself in accordance with Habermas’s theory of communicative action so that I can share with you some of my feelings and reasonings in regards to the implications that this week’s research has on how I  understand my own tradition. This would make you, my blog readers, the community responsible for critiquing the way in which I present myself as a bearer of my tradition.

I was almost a business major – not only because that skill set is often more valued by society, but also because there’s something about sociology that frightens me. I thought that maybe if I kept my relationship with the discipline casual, I could tread at the surface of the tensions that generated anxiety every time I seriously thought about them. Maybe I wouldn’t be forced, by necessity, to dive deep enough into the tensions I was dealing with to search for answers. I was trying to run.

C.S. Lewis writes that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” There’s something comforting about knowing that someone else shares the same deep questions and that, maybe, answers are out there. When Dr. Goodson explained to me that he had grappled with a lot of the same questions and helped me articulate my fears about the discipline into a research proposal, I stopped running. Finding the words to articulate the anxiety residing deep in the pit of my stomach made it much less frightening.

I’m coming to realize that I was scared of sociology because I was scared that I might not find the answers I was looking for, or that it may take a very long time to reach them. Rachel Held Evans writes, “My friend Adele describes fundamentalism as holding so tightly to your beliefs that your fingernails leave imprints on the palm of your hand.” I think I was afraid that tackling the anxieties would be like opening the floodgates, that there was no way to do so while remaining true to my faith. Being willing to take a risk, to major in sociology, and to begin to research answers to these questions has taught me that I can remain faithful to my tradition without allowing my fear to cause me to grip my beliefs so tightly that I leave fingernail imprints on the palms of my hands.

Loosening my grip

Loosening my grip

The other day I read about how when we seek an easy way out of painful circumstances, we cheat ourselves out of growth opportunities. If we jump out of the fire, we miss out on the refinement. To this tune, Anne Lamott says: “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” For me, this research process isn’t only about growing as an intellectual. It’s also, in the language of Habermas, about learning to become reflective on my own tradition by loosening the grip on it in order that I might ultimately dive deeper into it.


  1. Hey Ally — I know your summer research is over, but I’m just catching up on your blogs, so I hope you don’t mind a belated comment or two.

    This one is brilliant, and exactly the experience I had in college when I started to study philosophy and rediscover my own Christianity at the same time. I realized only after I loosened my grip that what I had been gripping was only the most superficial aspect of my faith, and that there was so much more that was even more worthy of gripping (so to speak), but I just couldn’t see it until I forced myself to ask some hard questions.