What does it mean to hope?
And, perhaps more significantly, what is the foundation of our hope?
Must we believe in God to hope?
Or, what if we are atheistic? Upon what can our hope be sustained?
This is one line of enquiry I am exploring in my MPhil dissertation thesis.
I am looking at how academic knowledge in social anthropology - a subject which studies different cultures - might be seen as hopeful.
In particular, the argument that through accounts of cultural otherness, it hopes to transform its readers.
So I ask, upon what does this hope rest, if not God?
"In short, how do secular academic disciplines justify their hope? What is the underlying framework and foundation which allows them to be hopeful, if not one which has God at its end? Surely, to have hope one must commit to some notion of good in the world, in the universe. And then, we must ask, how different is this from an understanding of God?"
For there must be some underlying belief or commitment if anthropology hopes to transform its readers.
Otherwise, this transformation could be arbitrary and random.
What underpins the discipline's view of the world, so that such transformation is hopeful?
Anthropology is traditionally 'secular' and does not talk about God or divine agency.
What can it rest its hope on instead?
Is it some notion of 'the good'?
The belief in human progress?
The belief in an ultimate divine agency or good universe?
Or, perhaps none of this, to which we could ask: could a nihilist (someone who believes in 'nothing') be hopeful, or are they resigned to hopelessness?
It is my argument that when we think about hope in this way, we may find less differences between 'secular' disciplines like social anthropology, and 'non-secular' ones like theology, than we would have initially assumed.
What do you think?
Perhaps these understandings of hope are too idealistic, too abstract.
Maybe hope is more about a feeling, a way of being and living.
But even so, I would argue, our hope must be orientated toward some ideal: a notion of the good, God, or something else...
It involves something beyond, a transcendent and ineffable principle even.
One in which we can direct and orientate our hope.
I sometimes wonder if we delved into questions like these more - regarding hope, how we live our lives, and our relation to that which exceeds us - we might find less differences between atheists and (some) religious folk than we would imagine.
Or maybe not.
But surely we need to have the conversations to help us find out :)