Recensions et comptes rendusThéologie

Patrick R. Manning, Converting the Imagination: Teaching to Recover Jesus’ Vision for Fullness of Life (Horizons in Religious Education). Eugene OR, Pickwick Publications, 2020, 15,2 × 22,8 cm, xiii-161 p., ISBN 978-1-7252-6053-5

  • Louis Roy

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  • Louis Roy, o.p.
    Faculty of Theology, Dominican University College, Ottawa
    Formerly Professor of Theology at Boston College

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Cover of Volume 75, Number 2, May–August 2023, pp. 157-315, Science et Esprit

Patrick Manning, who holds a doctorate in Christian education from Boston College, is offering us here a solid reflection and useful pedagogical tools to engage both those who wonder about faith and those who have drifted away from it. The book is very well written, with a wide-ranging vocabulary and plenty of concrete illustrations. Its Introduction provides data and a probing interpretation (a better one than other interpretations that are currently proposed) about meaninglessness and religious disaffiliation among the youth. It also states the principal aim of the volume: “This lack of meaning and the existential distress it precipitates are the central issues I address in this book.” (p. 7; the author’s italics). Chapter 1, “Jesus’ Vision for Fullness of Life,” grounds the whole volume by recalling Jesus’ summons to a personal change of mind, namely to conversion. Such a turnabout involves, in Palestine’s first century as well as in our twenty-first century, “a radical transformation in our desiring, imagining, and living” (p. 11), whose reward is “fullness of life.” Chapter 2, “Post-modern Challenges to Fullness of Life,” draws from cognitive science and cognitional theory, and shows how a relatively new mental situation, especially in the West, have ushered in “religious disaffiliation and existential dis-integration” (p. 11). Those challenges require entering into a “post-critical” attitude that consists in “a form of meaning-making” that goes beyond the merely critical capacity. Chapter 3, “Teaching for Conversion to a New Way of Imagining,” connects the post-critical capacity to “earlier manifestations of Christian interiority” and expounds how the contemporary interiority of meaning-making can actually produce conversion and its satisfying results in terms of fulfillment. Chapters 4 through 6 present a three-phase pedagogical process called SEE, which are the three initial letters of Movement 1 (Stimulating the Imagination), Movement 2 (Expanding the Imagination), and Movement 3 (Embracing a New Way of Imagining). I will explain a bit later what each of these three movements consists of. Chapter 7, the last chapter, titled “SEE and Seeing Beyond,” aptly sums up the book and offers sound conclusions, for example the need for learners to repeat the learning process, instead of doing it only once and then forgetting about it. Manning recognizes that the process cannot provide lasting results if there is no follow-up over a lifetime. He correctly asserts that the support of a sustaining community makes a difference. He also warns that the goal of his method is not to instill definitive answers to all questions, but to foster a continuing development among those who use that method. His remarks on post-critical meaning-makers’ aptitude to understand the perspectives of others (see pp. 140-141) will be music to the ears of those who are active in interreligious dialogue. Throughout his book, the author differentiates three basic attitudes or mental states: (1) a pre-critical horizon, which rests content with what one has received from a particular tradition; (2) a critical horizon, framed by an exposure to modern rationalism; and (3) a post-critical horizon, which encompasses the assets of both the pre-critical and the critical horizons. To clarify these three horizons, he takes advantage of Paul Ricoeur’s Conclusion in The Symbolism of Evil, of psychology and educational theories, and of his own experience as a teacher, in which he found instances of students engaged in each of the three horizons. Those instances help the readers to get acquainted with the diverse aspects of what is lived in each horizon. Common to all three horizons is the creative dynamism of “meaning-making,” a concept that he adopted from developmental psychologist Robert Keagan and …