OK, I’ll start with a concrete situation in order to illustrate the promise of “tranversal rationality.”
[UPDATE: This is a hypothetical situation; the “boy” is meant to represent a concrete situation or problem. Another analogy could be, for instance, all the people who together had to decide what to build on the site of the World Trade Center.]
You’re a youth pastor, and you get a call from the guidance counselor at the local public high school; she wants you to come to a consultation. There’s a boy in your youth group who is really struggling in school — and in life — and the school is calling together a group of people to brainstorm about what can be done to help him.
A week later, you show up for the meeting; in the conference room at the high school are gathered the boy’s mother and father (divorced), guardian ad litem, court-appointed social worker, psychologist, pediatrician, guidance counselor, school nurse, and homeroom teacher.
As the conversation gets underway, you realize that each of these “experts” knows the boy in a very different way, yourself included. In fact, each of you is an “expert” on the boy, but your expertises are quite different. The pediatrician speaks from her expertise as someone who has worked with many adolescents, she uses medical-scientific language, and she wonders if she should adjust his Ritalin prescription. The (Jungian) psychologist talks about the therapy sessions he’s had with the boy, with the progress they’re making, and about the boy’s deep, internal conflict over his parents’ divorce and his own learning disability. The guidance counselor wonders if he should be moved into special ed. classes, the homeroom teacher says he needs to find better friends, the mom says he’s depressed at home and he listens to music that scares her, the dad wonders if the two of them should take a vacation to watch some spring training games, etc., etc., etc.
And you, the youth pastor, what do you say? What do you think the boy needs? Is part of his problem a spiritual problem? Is it entirely spiritual? Is he afflicted by demons? Has he been the object of spiritual abuse? Is your youth group a place where he feels welcomed and loved?
Tranversal rationality takes into account one of the premises of a pluralistic, postmodern, globalized world: there are many different “rationalities” at work in society. And as professionalization and specialization increase, the rationality in one field of knowledge or discipline is that much harder for non-specialists in that discipline.Would you tell the pediatrician that she is wrong in bringing medical/scientific/pharmacological reasoning to bear on the boy’s problems? Probably not. Nor would you question the guidance counselor’s understanding of when to place a student in special education classes. Nor would you question the mother’s claim to be an expert on the subject of her own son.
And you too, the youth pastor, you are the theological/biblical expert in the room. You bring a distinctively Christian rationality to bear on the situation of this boy’s problems. Happily, in a truly postmodern setting, you can respectfully and sensitively articulate that rationality, and you will be shedding light (“truth”) on the situation that no one else can or has.
So transversal rationality acknowledges the many rationalities at play in a pluralistic environment. As a method, it proposes that we look for intersections between rationalities — “transversal” means “to lie across” — and enter into dialogue at those concrete, situated moments (like around the case of our hypothetical boy). We must do so, however, with “epistemic humility;” that is, we need to be open to theoretical correction. And our results will be judged in moments of “praxial critique,” in which the practical wisdom that comes out of the situation is tested in future, real-life situations.
Writing about the promise of this method, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen writes, “the fact that rationality lies across and links diverse reasoning strategies will also mean that we can step forth into cross-contextual discussion with personal convictions that we find rationally compelling, and at the same time be rationally compelled to open our strong convictions up to critical evaluation in interdisciplinary conversation.”