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Background

BACKGROUND

California has played a major role in shaping American identity through its economics, entertainment, politics, social conventions, and religion. The most populous state in the US, ranking consistently among the top ten economies in the world, and being one of the most globally-influential cultures in recent history, California has also been a leading innovator in the arts, technology, and both the hard and social sciences. While California’s fluid situation has received numerous traditional studies, very little of this has been given from an overtly interdisciplinary theological angle, which provides a unique vantage point from which to both access and interpret important California phenomena.

Many collaborative projects have been conducted within the humanities and social sciences in recent history by Christian intellectuals. While many of these groups are backed by heavy institutional, government or private funding, and some exist as ongoing projects, many seem unable to avoid the description of being either politically-driven, or displaying unique niches (e.g., focused directly on public policy, ethics, or sociology).

In displaying the unabashed willingness to recognize the spiritual and intellectual life that has significantly contributed to California’s culture, and approaching it as insiders to faith's internal conceptualities, TECC sets out to specifically address many of the most significant matters related to California life that emerge not merely as sociological, but as deeply ethical and theological, drawing from a transcendent base that defines all reality. As an academic discipline, Christian theology brings specific categories to the table that exhibit the ability to define all reality in ways that maintain fruitful dialogue about relevant and related issues. And while there have been a number of collaborative efforts to bring theology into conversation with cultural issues, and there have been attempts to isolate California’s culture in a manner that avoids theological description, there has been no collaborative engagement by evangelical scholars over the issues that can be identified as existing uniquely within California’s context.

In conducting the interdisciplinary theological engagement, issues of interest to the project include ethical issues related to government and politics (for example, legislation on immigration, crime, pollution, military, and health care), economics (for example, wealth, work, business, and poverty), the family (for example, marriage, divorce, and children), sexuality and gender relations (for example, individual and communal orientation and identity, and pornography), bioethics, and other matters. Additionally of concern are historical issues like the California dream phenomenon, the entertainment industry, technology, religious groups and movements, prisons, gangs, drugs, the wine industry, etc. Additional pressing issues might relate to education (and its funding) and the role of religions in the State, especially vis-a-vis migration (for example, early fundamentalist groups, Pentecostals, evangelicals, Latin American Roman Catholicism, and liberation theology, as well as the developments of Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc. in recent history). Further descriptions of pressing issues are ongoing and of interest to the core team of research scholars.

In investigating such matters, theologians, historians, and social scientists have tended to operate in separate research climates, usually with distinct methods and often contrasting premises. The project will thus bring together practitioners of three disciplines: theology, history, and sociology, together with their counterparts in religious studies or theological ethics so as to better integrate diverse insights. To ensure complementary perspectives, however, non-evangelical and non-Christian scholars will also be secured. Younger researchers, including some associated with both secular and religiously-affiliated institutions will be invited. There will also be input by scholars from outside the US in order to seek an outside perspective from researchers who have successfully conducted similar collaborative projects.

TECC allows questions of theologians to be addressed by sociologists and historians in empirical contexts (groups, institutions and localities); the questions of sociologists (such as the relationship of these phenomena to modernity or postmodernity) to be addressed by theologians (analytically) and historians (exploratively); and the questions of historians (such as the nature of the California dream phenomena) to be addressed by theologians and sociologists (challenging and refining the categories and terminology deployed). One purpose for this is to explore possibilities for future and ongoing collaborative research so that the nub issues identified by TECC at various points can be pursued at greater depth.  The results will be of interest to the following groups: the Californian academic community in colleges and universities, and especially in religious studies, theology, history, and sociology; the wider international academic audience that is aware of the major issues present within California’s life and how it has shaped the world; the general public, who we seek to inform and have as a main audience for a number of events; the media, as journalists seek information about California; and also research funding bodies as they seek to consider the developing state of scholarship about California and its problematic.