Imagination and Difference: Beyond Essentialism in Church Teaching and Practice

Christopher Pramuk


This essay explores the ways racial, cultural, and gender differences are managed theologically and pastorally in relation to prevailing images of God and habitual cultural and religious ritual practices. Beginning with a montage of examples from contemporary U.S. society and Church, the author identifies a pervasive “essentialist” style of thought that cripples our capacity for love and transformative engagement with others whom we categorize as strange or dangerously different. Drawing from John Henry Newman, the Ignatian tradition, St. Paul, Thomas Merton and others the author argues for a more inclusive sacramental imagination rooted in the mystery and freedom of God, whose love seeks to become flesh in all persons, without exception. With Newman the author relates the Christian call to love and transcend the fear of difference to Catholic theology as a living language, an intuitive and sometimes contentious discernment process that seeks to understand and give full voice to the mystery of the incarnation. The essay concludes with a note on the tensive relationship between the Church and American culture as these two powerful “image and language-worlds” come into play, and frequently into conflict, in the lives of Christians and Catholics today.



essentialism; imagination; homosexuality; racism; Newman; social justice

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ISSN: 2169-1088