A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

“Is There a Theology of California?”

Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California's Culture, eds Jason Sexton and Fred Sanders (Ashgate, 2014), 219-227

In a previous chapter, I argued in favor of a localist approach to the work of systematic theology, and in particular to claim that such a thing was desirable in this particular locale, California. That chapter was an exploration of methodological possibilities, and in order to help expand the borders of what was plausible or at least conceivable in the area of California theology, I chose to engage in one extended case study from a parallel discipline: literary regionalism. The concreteness of literary experience and expression, the range and richness of California writing, was a great help in giving “a local habitation and a name” to the notion of a Californian theological imagination.

Now, while presupposing and (I hope) obeying the methodological constraints I put in place before, I would like to take a further step along that path by actually sketching out the broad outlines of a theological project that is recognizably Californian. And instead of enlisting literary studies as a dialogue partner, this time I would like to begin by engaging the field of philosophy.

I do not know who the most important California philosopher may be, but one figure does stand out as being both historically significant and self-consciously Californian: Josiah Royce (1855–1916). Indeed, if we are asking how a thinker can be formed by regional loyalties, Royce is the author of a classic, short work on the subject. His 1902 essay, “Provincialism,” takes up this very question…