Monday, July 27, 2009

Troels Engberg-Pedersen: Identity and Conversion

Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s understanding of identity relates to its transformation in conversion ‘conceptualized as a story’ as ‘a change that may occur in the perception of individuals of their own identity and what has value for them’ (2000: 34-36). Now the individual is not just interested in ‘fulfilling’ her or his own ‘desires’ but ‘will now be concerned about fulfilling the desires of the “We”’ (34). For Engberg-Pedersen conversion moves the individual from an identity sourced in that which is personal to a transformed social identity. He describes the model as ‘from I to we’ (34). Two significant implications result from this conversion – ‘the individual is “struck” by…God in Christ’ with whom the ‘individual…may come to identify with’ Christ. Also, ‘this transference of identity’ because its ‘content comes out in the Christ event’ results in the identification ‘of oneself as one among the others…who share in participating’ in Christ (35). This conception of conversion serves as a useful heuristic when one attempts to understand the idea of being in Christ but still identifying with cultural signifiers.

Engberg-Pedersen’s construction allows for a sense of contingency in relation to identification (35) and may be useful when addressing Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 3:1-4. The issue of belongingness that is so central to social identity is noted by Engberg-Pedersen as something that is addressed both in Stoicism and in Paul (53-54). With regard to Gal 2, Engberg-Pedersen focuses on issues of personal identity (54-55). His describes conversion within Stoicism and its identity transformation as ‘the new character of his “constitution”’ (61). He is aware that his configuration of change primarily in terms of ‘individualism’ does not cohere with the scholarly consensus, but it is based on the ‘notion of the telos and eudaimonia’ and ‘within a framework that works with an individual person’s understanding of his or her own identity’ (65). Jenkins ‘internal-external dialectic’ may reconnect Engberg-Pedersen’s argument here with the communal aspects of conversion, which were evident in his initial model (1996: 20). Also, though there are a number of similarities between Paul and Stoicism, he rightly notes ‘Paul’s apocalyptic world-view constitutes what we may call an external difference from Stoicism’ (288).

So, anyone care to discuss the impact that stoicism had on Paul? Or, what are the problems associated with describing conversion in terms of identity transformation?

Engberg-Pedersen, Troels. 2000. Paul and the Stoics. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.
Engberg-Pedersen, Troels. 1996. Paul in his Hellenistic context. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


cstratton said...

Hi Brian,

I really appreciate the work you are doing on this blog, and I share your interest in identity formation in Paul. I am working on a dissertation in Colossians that looks at the relationship between narrative, identity formation, and community practices. I am in the early stages of exploration with regard to identity formation, but would love the opportunity to have a more substantive discussion with you at some point in the coming weeks about your current work and interests. Could I contact you via your mts email account?

Again, thanks for this blog.

J. Christian Stratton

J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...

Hi Christian,

I'd enjoy interacting with you. I taught Colossians last winter and thought there was quite a bit in there in terms of identity formation. I particularly liked Sumney's thoughts on identity formation in Colossians. Feel free to email me at the mts account.