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Scholarship of Discovery, Scholarship of Faith Integration


Many books link World War II to postmodernism, but few link World War I in the same way. The author here explores the intellectual fallout from World War I as the context of the roots of post-modernism. His limited purpose in this paper is to explore one of many possible links between the unanticipated carnage of World War I, through existentialism, to the attack on meaning in history posed by postmodernism. The postmodern drive towards individual isolation and autonomy has a corrosive political impact on our world, as it does on individual well being.

One of the internal inconsistencies that appeared as the Modernist paradigm matured was the political idea of the ultimate value of the nation-state. That idea challenged the fabric of political and economic life on which the modern world was built. World War I was a series of confrontations among five empires: the British Empire, which survived the war, but only for a generation, and the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires, which did not survive it. They all collapsed by the end of the war. The nation-state idea revealed its dark side: each and every nationality, no matter how small, deserved to be an independent state with its own story, identity, and right of self-determination. Today we are watching this process of disintegration continue: Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, China, Russia, and others reveal either effect or possibility of fracture. World War I provided the stage on which the inner tensions inherent in modernism were released. The splintering continues, and the paradigm will collapse completely. Someday, postmodernism will also shatter, undermined by inherent contradictions within and the radical emphasis on individual autonomy.

In the meantime, people of faith have a grand opportunity to provide an alternative to the meaninglessness that our age has accepted in place of the false certainties of modernism. If anything, postmodernism is more susceptible to authentic Christian witness and solidarity that Modernism was. The future is brighter than we sometimes think.


This talk was given on October 24, 2014, at Olivet Nazarene University as one of a number of celebrations of One Book One Community.