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Rieger Shares Views on Empire, Economics and Christianity for 2011 Willson Lectures

Joerg Rieger was the 2011 Willson Lecturer at the Earlham School of Religion on April 4-5. He presented three lectures on the Richmond, Indiana campus addressing the theme: Empire, Economics, and Christ: Does Christianity Still Make a Difference?

Dr. Rieger is the Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He has been on the Perkins faculty since 1994 and is the author of a dozen books including: No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics and the Future, Christ and Empire, and Globalization and Theology.

This year’s Willson Lectures reflected Rieger’s interest in the intersection of theology and economics and were a critique of how the Church is often formed by visions of the dominate culture more than by a vision of the Christian gospel. He asked whether the economic adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats” is really true, or whether it has become a principle of “blind faith.” Do economic booms benefit all, or even most? In view of the widening disparity between the wealthy and the poor, between corporate profit and growing unemployment, and in view of the uneven distribution of the national tax burden, it is clear that all boats are not lifted and the most vulnerable in the world have no boat at all.

Rieger examined the role of desire in modern capitalism and asked how our desires are formed and toward what they are directed. We miss the point, he suggested, if we do not question also who forms the desires that cause us to believe that consuming particular products can satisfy our emotional and spiritual needs. Empire does not permit us to consider alternatives. It is total; therefore it must keep Christianity under its control and utilize it to maintain the status quo. Why? Left on its own, the gospel lays out an alternative way that challenges the top-down power structures of society with a bottom-up reversal of the way we live, and this way of Jesus is good news to the poor.

In addition to his lectures, Rieger also visited the Introduction to Theological Reflection class and spoke about "How context affects our theology." All three of his lectures are now available to view on the ESR website at this link: http://esr.earlham.edu/resources-for-meetings-churches/video-archive.

-David Johns, ESR Associate Professor of Theology