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The Trauma Issue | CfP

Since its inception, psychology has struggled with understanding and treating trauma. Freud was one of the first to become particularly interested in trauma in the wake of World War I, observing the psychological illness present in veterans returning home. The overwhelming experiences of intense dread and horror the soldiers endured created invisible scars, and he attempted to develop a framework for understanding those symptoms and behaviors.

The American Psychiatric Association defines trauma as “an exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.” Given this definition, trauma may be characterized as either harm to one’s self or as a result of witnessing the harming of others. Indeed, individuals who provide care in emergency zones–first responders, medical professionals, mental health practitioners–may also be traumatized by repeated or intense exposure to extreme suffering of others. By nature, the term trauma refers to a wound or a tearing of one’s paradigm that disorients an individual or a community with overwhelming fear and suffering.

The effects of trauma on individuals, communities, and cultures have become increasingly vivid in our collective consciousness over the two last decades, in part because of the number of soldiers with PTSD returning home from war. Perhaps relatedly, non-combat trauma has also been more widely reported. These traumatic events include mass shootings; acts of sexual violence within, but not limited to, university campuses, the military, various church denominations, and the prison system; crimes of sex trafficking; dramatic natural disasters; and modern day slavery. The traumatic images associated with these events floated by the media bear witness to the ceaseless presence of acute human suffering. Psychology has therefore been one of the primary ways we’ve attempted to understand the origins and behaviors of trauma, and offer ways individuals and communities can begin to cope. Indeed, it has become a defining area of the field.

As with developments in psychoanalysis, artists have similarly struggled to offer containment and representation to the elusiveness of trauma and the terrible, intangible rupture between the visual and the verbal. Whether it’s the spirituals sung by African slaves to cope with the suppression of their humanity, or the paintings of Caravaggio, who rendered graphic depictions of Scriptural texts with dramatic tenebrism, people throughout history have turned to art, music, and other creative expressions to give voice to ostensibly invisible wounds. Indeed the burgeoning field of art therapy (specifically for those suffering from the scars of emotional or physical trauma) has become a crucial means by which one can begin to bring visual representation to trauma’s rather invisible effects.

Yet despite its elusive effects, trauma and images of trauma remain largely unavoidable, both for the fact that we cannot completely control our environment in the age of technology, but also because evidence of it traffics constantly across the ubiquitous digital screens of our society. As such, theological and practical engagements with trauma are areas of growing attention and concern, even as Christianity’s engagement with the issue of trauma is not new. The Christian narrative does not shy away from trauma; rather, it moves into it, naming and addressing it. In the death of Jesus, God ultimately takes the traumatic into himself.

In this issue of The Other Journal we seek to investigate how theological voices are attempting to engage the issue of trauma. We are interested in how theology shapes treatment, how it attempts to name and engage wounds, and how trauma shapes theological reflection. Some apposite questions would be: How do we tend to the effects of trauma without simply lumping it into the larger problems of sin and evil or grapple with the lasting effects while offering hope for healing? What do we mean theologically when we speak of healing with regard to trauma? How does trauma impact a Christian anthropology? How might theologies that privilege the epistemological position of those suffering from trauma uniquely contribute to the conversation? How does visual representation of trauma bear witness to, negate or honor the invisible symptoms of traumatic experience? What meaningful word can the Christian tradition offer in the face of dread and horror in light of a suffering God?

Submissions may be emailed to submissions@theotherjournal.com. The deadline for submissions is February 1st, 2015.