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Personalism: A Critical Introduction [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   301
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 1999
Publisher   Chalice Press
ISBN  0827229550  
EAN  9780827229556  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
"Burrow provides both a thorough overview and detailed analysis of that neglected school of religious philosophy known as 'personalism.' Honoring the traditional giants of the field, such as Bowne, Brightmann, and Deats, Burrow injects 'Afrikan American' religious and cultural insight into the historical trajectory of personalism."

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More About Jr. Burrow Rufus

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Rufus Burrow, Jr., is Indiana Professor of Christian Thought and Professor of Theological Social Ethics, Emeritus, at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Rufus Burrow was born in 1951.

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General   [8607  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Philosophy   [1924  similar products]

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Good survey, good ideas...  Jan 20, 2004
According to Walter George Muelder, a generation ago this kind of book would probably not have been necessary, as ideas of personalism would have been at the forefront of philosophical and theological thought. Not only is personalism no longer a central idea in these disciplines, but those who do study and learn about personalism now (the fourth and fifth generation) rarely seem to write and identify themselves as personalists. Rufus Burrow, Jr. points out that some key people influenced by and adopting personalist ideas, including Martin Luther King, Jr., are more practical in their ministry than academic; without the academic component, new generations of students will likely not be instructed and encouraged to adopt personalist ideals into their own philosophical and theological paradigms.

But this is getting a bit ahead of ourselves -- after all, what is personalism? Burrow devotes the first chapter of this text to addressing that question, and returns to it many times throughout the remainder of the text. Personalism is difficult to define, and according to Burrow (referencing Francis John McConnell) there are at least a dozen types of personalism. Burrow concentrates in this text on what he terms Bowne-Brightman personalism, the most typical form of personalism from the eastern United States (Burrow is, after all, a graduate of Boston University). Bowne-Brightman personalism is a form of idealism, holding that ultimate reality is of the mind, and is intensely personal. The person is 'the supreme philosophical principle'. Personalism is basically a metaphysical system informing our sense of reality, and compelling us to act in certain ways on that basis -- in this case, to always act with regard to other persons as beings worthy of dignity and respect.

Like all philosophical schools, this one builds upon thinkers of the past, including significant influences from George Berkeley and Immanuel Kant. Burrow traces the philosophical development of personalism from these earlier philosophers through to Borden Parker Bowne and Edgar S. Brightman, concluding with a list of ten traits that personalism must exhibit, largely focusing a theistic construct with the person as the centre, both metaphysically and ethically, living in social/relational community.

Burrow is at his best when he discusses this side of personalism, the ethical and relational side. (Interestingly, this is also where Bowne was at his best, according to Burrow). Burrow does a survey of personalist thought over much of the twentieth century, including a brief discussion of some less typical personalisms (atheistic, pantheistic, absolutistic and relativistic). After this survey, Burrow mines the depths of Bowne-Brightman personalism, with two chapters devoted to concepts (one on the person, and another on method and criteron of truth) and a chapter each devoted to the key personalities of Bowne and Brightman. After this, Burrow turns to ethical considerations, looking at the key components of personalist ethics and the expansion into moral laws.

Burrow identifies the basic principles for personalist ethics, but perhaps key to all is that 'persons possess infinite worth or dignity', and that this is grounded not in the Kantian idea of the virtue of personhood, but rather in the sacred character of the person as a creation of God. Bowne was a philosopher and not a social activitist, but his thought inspired many who would teach and act in ways that required action on individual and community levels. Martin Luther King Jr. is the best example, but far from the only example of personalism's impact on modern life.

Despite the influence of personalist ideas over time in American thought, it was never widely popular in and of itself, and it has waned to the point of being virtually unknown by many scholars. If it is unknown in these circles, it won't be taught to others. Burrow's final chapters look at reasons for the 'unpopularity' of personalism, and how it might be revitalised for the new century. Burrow states that most religious people are personalists, or at least near-personalists, without realising it. He recounts his own experience growing up, saying that he was a personalist all along, but never heard the term until he reached seminary. One reason for the unpopularity of personalism is the relative unpopularity of metaphysics generally -- the focus of philosophy has shifted. Also, personalism lacks an environmental aspect that more popular philosophies and theologies have today. Burrow compares process thought (a popular school of thought) with personalism, showing many points of convergence (and in some ways, this could lead to more interest in personalism).

Ultimately, personalists must work to keep themselves from being silenced in the face of more popular schools of thought. Disciples of personalism must voice their beliefs and their concerns about these other frameworks -- Burrow describes his suspicion, as an African-American man, of more dominant philosophical/theological scholarship in its attention to environmentalism and ecology, putting more concern and importance on non-human elements of creation than on working toward the dignity, freedom and equality of all people, particularly those still suffering oppression in various guises.

Burrow writes from his perspective as an African-American man, educated in the liberal-arts American academy, Protestant background and academic profession. Burrow's writing is academic but accessible; the study is scholarly, incorporating history, philosophy, theology and ethics together. I was privileged to have had Burrow as a professor at my seminary for a course on ethics; this book is a good representation of his thorough style and his broad knowledge of the subject.

Personalism -- revived!  Apr 3, 2000
Although a living option in contemporary philosophy, American personalism, as a specific philosophical movement, has seen its popularity wane in the past three to four decades. In Personalism: a critical introduction, Rufus R. Burrow re-introduces and examines twentieth-century personalist philosophy and theology intending to reverse this trend. In particular, Burrow considers and discusses personalism's "meaning, some of its history, sources, essential principles, methodological aspects, metaphysical and ethical considerations" (9). After undertaking this task, he concludes with a chapter providing a brief sketch of his own personalist way forward. Burrow helpfully begins by presenting basic characteristics of personalism. In a nutshell, this philosophical tradition considers personhood the basic explanatory principle for ultimate reality. At its heart, personalism is a metaphysics that emerged from empiricism's idealist tradition. The personalist endeavor involves examining a wide variety of experiences so as to suggest a coherent, synoptic vision of reality. The dominant forms of American personalism are theistic; such forms suppose that one infinite person is the creator of all other persons and of all nonpersonal actualities.

In the heart of this work, Burrow proffers chapters addressing the thought of Boston Personalism's initiator, Borden Parker Bowne, and perhaps the most famous Boston Personalist, Edgar S. Brightman. Addressing the thought of these two is crucial for Burrow's suggestion that the Bowne-Brightman form of personalism is most typical. Special attention is given to probing Brightman's controversial theodicy, including what Brightman means when referring to God as "finite" and why one should speculate that deity possesses a "nonrational Given." Not only is the presentation of the Bowne-Brightman tradition crucial for the argument that this form of American personalism is most representative, but Burrow eventually brings Bowne-Brightmanian personalism into dialogue with his own Afrikan American heritage.

Burrow is at his best when addressing personalism's ramifications for social ethics. In fact, the author contends that personalist metaphysics implies a type of liberation theology, which means that it advocates "an option for a fully human life and all that that implies morally, spiritually, and substantively for every person" (2). The chapters, "Chief Elements in Personalistic Ethics" and "Personalism and Moral Laws," outline the basic issues that have been addressed by twentieth-century personalists. The final chapter, "Toward a New Personalism," contains several proposals -- most revolving around ethical concerns - Burrow considers significant for enhancing and enlivening personalism's arguments (244). In particular, Burrow calls upon personalism to incorporate emphases found in Afrikan American experience, which include reverence for the body, appreciation of women, preference for the poor and oppressed, and respect for nonhuman life forms. Appealing to personalism's historical precedence pertaining to matters of race and gender, the author celebrates the influence of prominent personalist Afrikan Americans - most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. - and personalist women - most notably Georgia Harkness, the first woman to teach theology full-time in an American seminary, and Mary Calkins, a prominent female philosopher.

This reviewer found the chapter entitled "The 'Unpopularity' of Personalism," and a short segment in the book's introduction (pp. 3-6), to be most fascinating. These segments contain reasons Burrow believes the influence of personalism has waned in recent decades. Included among these reasons are (1) personalism makes Americans uncomfortable because it either implicitly or explicitly challenges sexual, racial, and gender injustices, (2) the emergence of existentialism after the world wars shifted the attention of scholars away from metaphysical concerns, which resulted in the unpopularity of metaphysics in general, (3) American personalists have been less productive, in the literary sense, than their predecessors, (4) some who espouse personalist hypotheses have been reluctant to claim the personalist label publicly, (5) personalist ethics have been perceived, whether rightly or wrongly, as decidedly individualistic, (6) other philosophies, particularly process thought, have captivated the mind of contemporaries more than personalism, (7) personalism, at least in many of its forms, has failed to offer an adequate environmental ethic, and (8) what personalists mean by "person" has not been well explained. Burrow contends, however, that these objections, misunderstandings, or historical contingencies should not prevent personalism from being a viable philosophical alternative in the contemporary arena.

Unfortunate aspects of the book include its organization and grammatical style. While repetition of basic themes is almost inevitable and, to some degree, desirable, the excessive repetition in this book is tiresome. After wisely spending an opening chapter asking, "What is Personalism?" the book returns excessively to this question and its answers in subsequent chapters. For example, two chapters after delineating personalism's characteristics, Burrow offers a section entitled "Key Tenets of Personalism." After spending 5-6 pages early in the book explaining Bowne's "thoroughgoing personalism," one finds the same themes repeated in a later chapter meant to explain Bowne's theism (in addition, a major part of the Bowne chapter addresses Brightman's, rather than Bowne's, thought). Other instances of needless repetition indicate that the volume would have been more attractive, and shorter, if it had been structured judiciously.

Despite this drawback, Personalism: a critical introduction offers contemporary scholars a much-needed re-presentation of personalism. Because of this fresh portrayal, Burrow's hope, that this "book will help give new life to a once vibrant philosophical tradition," may well be realized.


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