This new and revised edition of Gallagher's 1997 book, Clashing Symbols, retains the original organization of chapters, though with new material included throughout. This update is certainly warranted: positions on the relation of faith and culture continue to develop and shift almost as fast as the culture itself does. Gallagher is especially wise to have included among the new material a discussion of René Girard, who is getting much attention these days, as well as to have expanded his treatment of Bernard Lonergan, Charles Taylor, and Karol Wojtyla.
This work is described as an introduction to the topic of faith and culture. In providing this introduction, Gallagher (to his credit) does not adopt a neutral, social-scientific approach. Instead, he focuses on Catholic perspectives, and includes an especially helpful comparison between the discussion of faith and culture in Catholic magisterial teachings and the statements of the World Council of Churches on this topic. Further, Gallagher's aims here are not limited to outlining the current debates: the last quarter of the book presents a constructive account of how Christianity today might best respond to current cultural challenges. Steering between the extremes he calls tense hostility and innocent acceptance, Gallagher advocates a combination of two appropriate Christian responses: discernment (drawing heavily on Ignatian spirituality) and the creation of culture.
Gallagher has succeeded in producing a highly readable account of a complicated subject, notwithstanding the fact that the book is rather densely packed with alternative views and contributions. The various perspectives are discussed briefly yet with clarity and even-handedness, and without losing sight of the overall conversation. Given the multiplicity of perspectives included in this work, Gallagher's constructive concluding chapters are particularly helpful. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with what I judge to be thoughtful and balanced conclusions, this constructive component makes the book more engaging and enables newcomers to the conversation more easily to find their bearings and to discern what is at stake in these debates.
This book is very well suited for use in undergraduate teaching, as it presumes no previous background and provides a clear overview of the issues and debates. The level of complexity of the conversation is perhaps most appropriate for upperclass students, though it could be successfully used by talented first year students with some supplemental instruction. Since this book provides a concise and perceptive orientation to the challenges of modernity/postmodernity, along with a focus on Catholic contributions and assessments of the debates, it is of instructional value in areas other than the specific topic of the relation of faith to culture. Gallagher's work provides an orientation to major debates in contemporary theological method as well as discussion of the challenges of being church and living faithfully; this book could be used to great benefit in classes in theological ethics, ecclesiology, and even contemporary systematics.
It is arguable that Gallagher addresses his own European situation more adequately than he does the contemporary U.S. context. Though the differences are subtle, his emphasis on secularization does not entirely fit an America currently saturated politically and culturally with an evangelical form of Christian religiosity. Especially with its use of magisterial teachings and his general level of discussion, the book may be of pedagogical value not only in Europe and the U.S. but also for Catholics in non-Western cultures, though considerable supplementation would be necessary. Instructors in any context may also want to consider the institutional changes necessary to foster the spiritual inculturation Gallagher calls for, a question his work begs rather than addresses.