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Keefe-Perry Discusses the Ways Imagination Can Deepen Modern Spirituality

Imagination and faith have a history of helping to explain mysterious stories, according to Callid Keefe-Perry, an assistant professor of contextual education and public theology at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry (STM). 

“What if what we are imagining is what the weather of the future will be like?” he said. “What immigrants are like? What if we are trying to imagine what the church might become? Or what God is? For all these questions, we may have a personal sense of what might be the case for them, but the fact is that even personal imagining draws on a shared set of socio-cultural images.”

At an event hosted by STM on Thursday night, Keefe-Perry discussed how imagination can be a part of spirituality that engages questions of social justice and inequity among younger students.

“The material of imagination is shaped not only by personal will and by inspiration, but by exposure and experience as well,” Keefe-Perry said. “How others have imagined society shapes how we imagine ourselves, we make society as we are made by society.”

People participate in religious practices because they can often broaden one’s view of the world and affect one’s sense of belonging, Keefe-Perry said.

“People engage in practices because of some relationship between those practices and the ways they influence that person’s behavior, sense of belonging, and expression of belief,” Keefe-Perry said. “Bound up, inside, and throughout those practices are connections to community and broader visions that shape how we act and see the rest of our lives as well.”

Keefe-Perry said imagination and faith can contribute to changing modern religious education by exploring all aspects of faith and reflecting on the future of the church. According to Keefe-Perry, religious communities must draw meaning from the Christian tradition while also meeting the demands of living in the modern world. 

“More than simply transmitting a static body of teachings and sacred texts, religious communities must invite transformation in the very way people make meaning of faith,” Keefe-Perry said, citing Patrick Manning, an assistant professor and chair of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University. 

Because the church’s community is ever-changing, Keefe-Perry said it is the responsibility of the church to stay engaging and relevant in the 21st century.

“It is because the community is a transforming one that it has continuity—without change it first ceases to be vibrant, and then it ceases to be at all,” Keefe-Perry said. “Change must be oriented towards the promise of the kingdom of God or some sense of liberation and justice.”

Keefe-Perry said it is thus crucial to involve modern-day context in theological education. 

“To some degree, this is an issue of integrity, privilege, and hypocrisy, and that I will not deny,” Keefe-Perry said. “But it is also, I think, even worse because resistance with content is easier than resistance with form because it is sometimes easier to change what we do than how we do it.”

Theological education ultimately needs to adapt to the modern world through imagining new ways to practice faith, according to Keefe-Perry.

“This is all about how we can imagine new faithful practices of Jesus,” Keefe-Perry said. “New ways might bring some measure of rest, speaking new words to open hearts, so that they may see a future not yet but that might yet be.”

February 19, 2023