Sunday, May 25, 2008

Seland Review #3

Third installment.

Chapter 5: "Conduct Yourselves Honorably Among the Gentiles" (1 Peter 2:12), Acculturation and Assimilation in 1 Peter
Seland read this paper in Edinburgh in 1998, and so it is the second essay of the book taken in chronological order. I personally found this chapter the most interesting and helpful of all.

In this chapter, Torrey addresses the question of the degree to which the author of 1 Peter intends for the audience to be assimilated to its non-Christian environment. His thesis is three fold (148). First, he does not believe the terms acculturation and assimilation have been used thus far to great advantage in analyzing the social strategies of 1 Peter. Secondly, those studies that have used these terms in relation to 1 Peter have not tapped into the extensive use of them in the social sciences.

Finally, he argues that they apply to the Christians of 1 Peter as "first generation Christians ... still in a process of being socialized into the Christian world view." Torrey suggests they are in somewhat of a "liminal" situation as newly converted Christians. As such, he sets out to review key literature on 1 Peter in relation to its social situation, to dip into relevant social scientific research on acculturation and assimilation, and then apply these findings to 1 Peter.

Part 1
Seland's review of relevant New Testament research leads him to three key players, namely, David Balch, John Elliott, and John Barclay. Balch's work focused primarily on the household codes of 1 Peter, and his basic thesis is that "such codes were used in a apologetic and legitimating way in Graeco-Roman sources" (150). Balch--at least in his earlier work--characterizes such a purpose as assimilation. The audience of 1 Peter is being told to integrate themselves into society.

Elliott disagrees. The fact that the letter calls for Christians to separate from the world, as well as its missionary emphases, indicate for him that the Petrine house codes are discouraging assimilation for the purpose of avoiding suffering. Seland's critique of both is that neither use the terms assimilation and accommodation with the precision of the social sciences.

Barclay, on the other hand, is more precise in his terms, although his well known work, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora does not address 1 Peter. Barclay distinguishes three terms. First, Barclay uses the word assimilation in reference to the category of social interaction and the adoption of social practices from one's environment. Acculturation then is used in relation to broader cultural features like the use of the same language. Finally, accommodation has to do with the degree to which acculturation takes place, the level of separateness that either is or is not maintained.

In the end, Seland does not find this typology very helpful. He does not find Barclay's distinction between assimilation and acculturation very clear. Further, Barclay's nomenclature does not mesh well with the social scientific use of these terms.

Part 2
And so Seland embarks next on an exploration of recent research in the social sciences on acculturation and assimilation (156-66). His first stop is B. S. Heisler, whose work analyzes the history of research on this topic in three stages. She dubs research up until the late 60's the "classical period." In this period, the process of assimilation was viewed as a one way process ending in complete assimilation.

Heisler dubs the second period the "modern" period, beginning in the seventies. In this period research focused more on conflict, particularly long term conflict, and less on equilibrium. The third period is the "post-modern period," of recent origin (which given the date of this article would be the 1990's). Here we find the expectation of multicultural societies and ethnic pluralisms (158).

Seland mentions several other sources from which one might construct a model of acculturation/assimilation appropriate for 1 Peter. These include the fields of social psychology and communication research. Finally, he draws definitions of acculturation and assimilation from the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (160).

acculturation: "those changes set in motion by the coming together of societies with different cultural traditions."

Seland finds this statement in the article even more helpful: "Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which results [sic] when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original cultural patterns of either or both groups."

assimilation: "a process in which persons of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds come to interact, free of these constraints, in the life of the larger society."

After all this background, Seland ultimately turns to Milton Gordon's 1964 model (from the so called classical period of such research) with a few caveats. The main caveat is a warning that Gordon was wrongly "deterministic" in his sense of inevitability to the process of assimilation. Adjustment of two groups to each other is not the only option.

Gordon's model breaks down several different categories of assimilation:

1. cultural or behavioral assimilation (=acculturation)--fitting in with the host culture in a most basic way (presumably things like learning the language, getting the appropriate documents, etc...)

2. structural assimilation--participating in the clubs, institutions, etc. in large numbers. Gordon believed that once structural assimilation had taken place, all the forms of assimilation below would inevitably follow.

3. marital assimilation (intermarriage)
4. identificational assimilation (identity by way of host society)
5. attitude receptional assimilation (no prejudice toward immigrants)
6. behavior receptional assimilation (no discrimination toward immigrants)
7. civic assimilation (absence of power conflict)

John Berry, in 1980, built on Gordon's categories by posing two questions: 1) does the immigrant group wish to maintain its distinct cultural identity and 2) does the immigrant group wish good relationships with the host culture (163-164)? The result are four basic relationships to the broader culture:

1. If the immigrant group does not want to maintain a distinct identity and does want good relationships with the host culture, the result is assimilation.

2. If the immigrant group does want to maintain a distinct identity yet also wants good relationships with the host culture, the result is integration.

3. If the immigrant group does want to maintain a distinct identity yet does not want good relationships with the host culture, the result is separation.

4. Finally, if the immigrant group does not want to maintain a distinct identity and at the same time does not care about good relationships with the host culture, the result is marginalization.

Part 3
The final part of the chapter then takes all of the preceding processing of social scientific theory and attempts to use it in relation to 1 Peter. Here we arrive at one of Seland's contributions to the Balch/Elliott debate. The question is not really one of assimilation to Greco-Roman culture, as this is the cultural background of the likely Gentile audience (169-170). The question is that of the assimilation of the audience "to the (still developing) Christian system of cult, beliefs, ethos and symbols" (168). So in relation to the host culture, the question is best put as, "How much did he, by his letter, intend his readers to retain of that culture?" (173).

First, Seland argues that they are first generation Christians, "still in need of further acculturation/assimilation into the Christian system" (169). He is surely more correct than not in the light of statements such as we find in 1 Peter 1:14 and 4:3. However, we remember how large an area 1 Peter addresses and are careful not to presume an audience of any monolithic kind. They are primarily Gentile, and it is early enough in the Christian movement for the author to presume that the majority converted from paganism.

They are in a precarious social location. Here Torrey mentions briefly what he discusses more thoroughly in chapter 2. John Elliott is once again his requisite dialog partner. On the one hand, he agrees with Elliott that the phrase "aliens and exiles" in 1 Peter 2:11 does not refer to exile from heaven, as if the audience is on a heavenly pilgrimage (171).

Yet he also finds unconvincing Elliott's sense that they were strangers to these regions even before they converted. We will discuss this thesis in the next post as we review chapter 2. I am also unconvinced of Elliott's thesis and remain puzzled that commentators like Paul Achtemeier and Scot McKnight have followed Elliott on this issue.

At the same time, I'm still struggling with Seland's signature idea that this language in 1 Peter evokes connotations of proselyte language (more when we come to chapter 2). Seland is spot on when it comes to the audience being "proselytes" to Christian Judaism. But I'm having trouble seeing that the specific terms "aliens and exiles" carried those overtones. Indeed, I don't think it is safe at all to assume that the audience, especially in such a vast area, are relatively new converts. ***coming articles

The rest of the section then explores where 1 Peter might fit in relation to John Berry's four categories. Seland immediately dismisses out of hand the options of marginalization and separation. The author wishes the audience to maintain good relationships with the host society.

To address the question of integration versus assimilation, he switches back to Gordon's more detailed delineation of the process of assimilation (173-87). The first stage is acculturation or cultural assimilation in matters such as language. They are to live honorably among the Gentiles (2:12) while following a "new code of honor and shame" (176). Seland thus considers their level of acculturation to be high with some significant modifications.

He does not, however, consider their assimilation to be high in any of Gordon's other categories. The strong sense of harassment and conflict evoked in 1 Peter 2-3 do not reflect that of high assimilation between Christians and their environment structurally, and certainly not in terms of attitude or behavioral reception, let alone civic assimilation. It is assumed that some women will be married to non-believers, but it is unlikely the author would encourage such if it were possible to avoid. And while the audience is not encouraged to withdraw from its societal relations, it is clear that its self-indentification departs quite dramatically from its host environment.

The conclusion, which ironically Seland himself never mentions explicitly, is that the audience would best be typified by "integration" in Berry's typology.

more to come...

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