Wright on Worldview

N.T. Wright uses worldview as a basic category through which he reflects on Scripture and the modern world. In The New Testament and the People of God, Wright said:

Worldviews have to do with the presuppositional, pre-cognitive stage of a culture or society. Wherever we find the ultimate concerns of human beings, we find worldviews…’Worldview’, in fact, embraces all deep-level human perceptions of reality, including the question of whether or not a god or gods exist, and if so what he, she, it or they is or are like, and how such a being, or such beings, might related to the world.1In his earlier work, Wright refers to the following books as the basis of his thinking:
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973
Arthur F. Holmes, Contours of a Worldview, 1983
Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View, 1984
James H. Olthuis, On Worldviews, 1989
Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen and Richard Mouw, Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, 1989 

In his footnotes, Wright says, “My use of the term is close to the use of ‘symbolic universe’ in e.g. Berger and Luckmann 1966.” He is referring to the book The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

Wright says that worldviews are primarily expressed through story (the now passé ‘narrative’). He says that worldviews “answer the basic questions that determine human existence: who are we, where are we, what is wrong and what is the solution?” He summarizes:

Worldviews are thus the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.”

Note that Wright subscribes to a form of critical realism, and not any kind of Van Tillian transcendental system of apologetics.
In his latest enormous work Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Wright provides additional insights based on developments of the past two decades. He says:

Worldview-models of various kinds have been tried out. What counts is not some abstract theoretical sophistication…but the heuristic effort, seen quite pragmatically and indeed always provisionally…My own attempts are to be located within that broader social-science enterprise, whether we call it ‘social imaginary’, ‘habitus’, ‘worldview’ or whatever.

Wright expands on what worldview entails:

If the reason for studying worldviews is the recognition that life is complex, multi-layered, and driven by often hidden energies, the method for such study must be appropriate to that quest. Those who engage in this work increasingly insist on the centrality of what may be called a ‘symbolic universe’, a world of artefacts (buildings, coins, clothes, ships) and habitual actions (what I have called ‘praxis’) in which people sense themselves at home and without which they would feel dangerously disoriented.

Wright tips his cap to Brian Walsh:

The worldview-model I am using is the one I developed, with the help of Brian Walsh in particular, as an outgrowth from the work he had done with Richard Middleton. The new version was designed (a) to meet the objection that ‘worldview’ in some of its traditional uses had been too focused on ideas, and (b) to incorporate the many other foundational aspects of human life that Clifford Geertz and others had studied in terms of culture, symbols and so forth.

Wright is outlining a set of tools to think about how people view reality. Whatever you call this, it seems to me an inescapable element of understanding how we relate to the world of people and thought around us.

Notes

  • 1
    In his earlier work, Wright refers to the following books as the basis of his thinking:
    Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973
    Arthur F. Holmes, Contours of a Worldview, 1983
    Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View, 1984
    James H. Olthuis, On Worldviews, 1989
    Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen and Richard Mouw, Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, 1989 

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