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Imagination & Incarnation

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

In the second volume of our work on Disney & Apologetics, Disney & the Moral Imagination, Holly Ordway analyzes the power of storytelling to evoke emotion and move that emotion towards some end. She argues that the incarnational nature of imagination is essential to moral judgment because before something can be understood as true/good, it must first be experienced as meaningful. It is the imagination, and not propositional content, which moves us, and the end toward which we are being moved—that which we are being taught to value and in which we are being led to invest our interests—is a theological concern. It is the embodiment of meaning incarnated into the particulars of a story which makes it accessible and transformative. Each story offers unique opportunities for vicariously experiencing the effect of moral choices and acquiring a broader sense of moral meaning which might be applied imaginatively to the moral complexities of life beyond our stories.

"A story embodies an idea; it particularizes it, gives it form in specific images, characters, settings, and events. This sort of embodiment can happen in forms that are not specifically narrative, such as drama or lyric poetry, but it happens most fully in stories. Expressed propositionally, an idea remains abstract, and could potentially give rise to an enormous range of stories. When the idea is incarnated into a story, it becomes specific and therefore engaging; we experience this character, this location, this sequence of events, these colors and shapes. By the very limitation inherent in these specific choices of story, characters, and images, the truth becomes tangible, more accessible, and potentially transformative"

While the question of moral metanarratives in pop culture—that is, moral grand-narratives observable across a series of stories and reinforcing common virtues and moral expectations—is certainly worth pondering (this is the approach of the first volume, Disney as Doorway to Apologetics Diaolgue), the approach of most of the chapters in the second volume (Disney & the Moral Imagination) aligns more with Ordway’s point that sometimes we must approach a narrative on its own terms.

There is much to consider in Ordway's chapter, in our work, but it is worth sharing a video in which she discusses her own 2022 work, Tales of Faith. Dr. Ordway's approach is quite similar to that of the Disney & Apologetics project, and she explains well, in the video, the value of cultural and imaginative apologetics--using literature and the arts to facilitate deeper inquiry and dialogue. Check out the video (and then buy our book and read her chapter!):


Holly Ordway is the Cardinal Francis George Professor of Faith and Culture at the Word on Fire Institute, and Visiting Professor of Apologetics at Houston Christian University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is the author of Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography and the award-winning Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages. Her other books include Tales of Faith: A Guide to Sharing the Gospel through Literature and Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith. She is also a Subject Editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies.

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