Jonathan Tran (Ph.D., Duke University) is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Baylor University where he holds the George W. Baines Chair in Religion. He is the author of The Vietnam War and Theologies of Memory and Foucault and Theology and publishes widely in academic journals and public venues. He is currently working on two books: Yellow Christianity: Intervening on Antiracist Thought and, with Stanley Hauerwas, Christianity and the Promise of Politics.
A common way of understanding conventions of speech is to say they are socially constructed. Conventions are accordingly understood as arbitrary rather than natural. But what if linguistic conventions are more than arbitrary; what if they are natural? If so, natural conventions would demonstrate important features of human existence and how God has ordered it: (1) That God’s ordering of human life can be traced to a biological faculty that has a singular capacity for expressing that ordering; (2) That God’s ordering can be traced to universally present linguistic conventions originating in human biology and subsisting across the expanse of human societies; (3) That linguistic meaning cannot be sequestered, as it has been by certain theological trends, to particularistic grammars; and (4) That the human pursuit of knowledge should adopt hermeneutic postures adequate to the work of observing and responding to these features. This project takes the two leading linguistic paradigms about the evolution and acquisition of human language (namely, Noam Chomsky’s biological/innate approach and Michael Tomasello’s communal/intentional approach) and fashions a theology of language by putting them in conversation with Stanley Cavell’s account of natural conventions.