Supposedly the 'dinner party test', is the ability to explain in just a few sentences, what your Phd thesis is about. Now that does assume a great deal about who you are talking to over dinner.
However it is good practice to be able to distill what you are researching down to a few focused sentences. If you can't you probably don't know what you are doing. Having written this below, perhaps I'm still none the wiser :-)
I'm just past the 4 years mark of 6 year part time PhD program. Over 3,000 hours of reading, thinking and writing have made up that research time. I've written two of my five chapters and the introduction. About 50,000 words of what will be around 110,000 words. So after all that when people ask me what my research is about, what do I now say to people? Well, I have several short summaries to hand depending on who asks me.
A normal person: A friend, church member, someone who doesn't do under graduate or post-graduate theology.
"I'm exploring the affects of Capitalism on Christianity and the implications for how we do Church"
A Church Leader
I'm trying to diagnose the relationship between Evangelicalism and Capitalism, and show how this relationship contributes to many people either leaving all forms of Church, or turning back into the institutional Church. I'm suggesting that Evangelicalism has the resources to respond to many of the problems it has created in that relationship, and show the implications of this for how we do Church as Evangelicals today.
A theological student
I'm responding to the epiphenomena of Evangelical Christians who are either turning back to the institutional church, or becoming post-Church in their faith within emerging late capitalist societies. I'm suggesting that one way to make to make sense of this is within an exploration of how late capitalist markets have become a competing social ontology to modern Evangelical ecclesiology and identity. My thesis is that Evangelicalism has within itself and its own 'tradition' the resources to respond reparatively to the problems of that relationship (many of which it has caused itself). Ultimately I want to suggest an ecclesial 'Tertium Quid for Evangelicals within late capitalist societies.
Someone far to interested at a dinner party
My thesis seeks to diagnose the relationship of present day Evangelical church movements with modern capitalist market social realities. My thesis contrasts and responds to two current and prevalent diagnoses of this relationship. The first diagnoses Evangelicalism as largely intrinsic to and as having produced the social relationships and realities of late capitalist market societies, being largely unable and unwilling to see the possibility of any counter movement by that Evangelicalism. The second remains critically naïve to the isomorphic mimesis of late capitalist market societies and consumer markets, actively submitting to their socio logic and social relationships.
In contrast to either these overly dichotomised or non-critical accounts, I ask if we can be more nuanced? What narrative of simultaneous processes of declension and ascension exists between Evangelicalism and capitalist markets? Can we then re-imagine theologically an Evangelicalism that is more robust within its institutional habitation of capitalism? Does Evangelicalism intramurally have the resources for a reparative response to the pathologies of social relationships of late capitalist market societies? Can we trace a ‘trajectory’ within the development of Evangelicalism that takes seriously inherited forms of Church life, whilst being authentic to it’s own ‘giveness’ in response to modern capitalist market societies? Does Evangelicalism have within such an account it’s own ‘tradition’, the methodological and internal resources to construct a theological description and ecclesiology that is better able to fund the imagination of the relationship between the Christian individual and market society? In particular can such an account and resource provide a tertium quid for Evangelical ecclesiologies, able to avoid over ontologised accounts of ecclesiology or the abandonment of social relationship to the market. I suggested that such an account can not only be made, but is central to the nature of Evangelicalism.
I suggest that Evangelicalism within this possibility, can be comprehended as a ‘double movement,’ both symbiotic to capitalism and modern market societies and at the same time a counter movement to them. Evangelicalism is better understood like unions, simultaneously drawing on prior forms of social solidarity as historical antecedents, whilst also being a modern form of social solidarity born out of processes of modernisation. Unions are both a creature of capitalism á la Marx and a concomitant response to capitalism. My thesis argues there are analogous counter movements and modern movements within Evangelicalism.