Christian Scholar’s Review Hamman’s “Growing Down”

BY DAN SARTOR on December 15, 2018

How is the presence of ubiquitous personal technological devices shaping human development and interpersonal relations? How might persons navigate this technological revolution in a way that deepens and enlivens personal development, relationships, and experience rather than truncates or diverts them? What does it mean to reflect Christianly about how people relate to technology? What spiritual implications exist to our use of technology in this virtual age? Jaco J. Hamman explores such questions through the lenses of Christian Theology and Object Relations theory, privileging the latter, in Growing Down: Theology and Human Nature in the Virtual Age. Hamman’s theology is broadly Christian, enfolding many denominational and theological traditions within historical orthodoxy in the Christian tradition. Indeed, Christian theology is more implicit throughout the work as a worldview foundation; it appears, otherwise, unobtrusively as content that buttresses and punctuates the bulk of the text, which explicates a Christian-friendly anthropology and practical insights from the Object Relations school of psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalytic theory and practice has progressed substantively since its genesis with Sigmund Freud. Growing Down reflects the relational turn of psychoanalysis, which now emphasizes relationality and interpersonal attachment over pleasure, sex, and aggression as primary drives that animate the human body and spirit. Donald W. Winnicott was one of the first psychoanalysts to promulgate this understanding of human functioning widely, which meshes nicely with Christian understandings of the Trinity, human relationality, and biblical love. Hamman does an apt job of expounding Winnicott’s thinking and applying it to the now global existential and interpersonal challenges of our modern technological milieu. All schools of psychoanalytic thinking and practice are steeped in jargon from within the psychoanalytic tradition; Hamman nicely tackles the monumental task of translating guild-specific language and concepts in a manner that is accessible to a broader audience. Background knowledge in psychoanalytic theory and language is helpful, but not necessary to glean benefit from this scholarly work. It is full of potential for real-world application, highlighting thoughtful observations and stirring important questions about how human beings relate to technology, themselves, and each other in the age of personal technology.

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