The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion

The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion


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What is the future of Continental philosophy of religion? These forward-looking essays address the new thinkers and movements that have gained prominence since the generation of Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, and Levinas and how they will reshape Continental philosophy of religion in the years to come. They look at the ways concepts such as liberation, sovereignty, and post-colonialism have engaged this new generation with political theology and the new pathways of thought that have opened in the wake of speculative realism and recent findings in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Readers will discover new directions in this challenging and important area of philosophical inquiry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253013880
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion Series
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Clayton Crockett is Associate Professor and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Central Arkansas. He is author of Radical Political Theology: Religion and Politics after Liberalism.

B. Keith Putt is Professor of Philosophy at Samford University. He is editor of Gazing Through a Prism Darkly: Reflections on Merold Westphal's Hermeneutical Epistemology.

Jeffrey W. Robbins is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, and Director of American Studies at Lebanon Valley College. He is author of Radical Democracy and Political Theology and editor (with Clayton Crockett) of Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism.

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The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion

By Clayton Crockett, B. Keith Putt, Jeffrey W. Robbins

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2014 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01393-4


Is Continental Philosophy of Religion Dead?

John D. Caputo

Jacques Derrida is dead. Now they are all dead—all the soixant-huitaires. So, is it over? Is Continental philosophy—and by extension, Continental philosophy of religion—as we know it dead? For a younger generation of philosophers, the so-called theological turn is the last straw. If the religious turn is where Continental philosophy ends up, supplying a final place for religion to hide before the "singularity" arrives, then Continental philosophy is dead. If it is not, the first order of business is to kill it off. What good is Nietzsche's death of God, if we still have to deal with religion? This critique goes well beyond the familiar attack on Continental philosophy by analytic philosophy. It seeks to replace both "unconcealment" and "language games" with a more ruthless realism, a more materialist materialism, a more uncompromising objectivism, aiming to put an end to Continental philosophy as we know it. When I say "as we know it," I mean the program announced by Kant when he says "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." That is what Quentin Meillassoux, who is spearheading this attack, calls "fideism," delimiting the reach of the mathematical sciences in order to leave the door open for religious faith, resulting in Continentalists who wear thick glasses and find their way with a stick, moving about in the shadows where religion carries out its dark business.

I think there is a legitimate complaint here. The Kantian path in postmodernism is an abridgement that reduces it to apologetics. That is why I pursue a Hegelian route, even as I criticize the lingering alliance of Hegel with classical theology. What is called the death of God by Hegel, unnerving though it be to classical theology, is really a moment in the infinite life of God. God's plasticity, pace Malabou, cannot possibly include explosion, annihilation, or extinction. But if the new cosmology proposes the death of the universe in total entropic dissipation, and if God's life is inscribed in space and time, as Hegel insisted, then God's death, too, is final. The entire history of the universe is an explosion (the Big Bang) of which we are the debris. Nonetheless, I think the new critics do not see what they have stumbled upon. They are like someone who finds a Picasso in the attic but does not know anything about painting. Their nihilism is not without value, and it is not for nothing—but they know nothing about that. They identify our being-nothing, our cosmic precariousness, but they are know-nothings about the value of nothing, about what I call here the grace of nihilism or the nihilism of grace. My hypothesis then is this: there is a religion without religion in Continental philosophy that is articulated in a radical theology of grace, of the grace of chance and the chance of grace, which I will call being-for-nothing. The new critics are a nail in the coffin of Continental philosophy of religion in the Kantian mode, but not in its more radical Hegelian mode.

Physics as Metaphysics and the New Wonder

These new critics cannot be answered in the standard way, by cupping our ears and shouting "scientism," for two reasons. First, physics is the new metaphysics. It is the study of the universe as if there were no living things. The difference between the sun, the figure of the good in Plato's allegory, and the flittering shadows on the wall is only a matter of velocity—its transience is so drawn out that we do not notice that it too is flaring up and dying off. Physics is the study of a real without a good, a real we have no reason to presume has any care for us, and all the metaphysics we are likely to get. Continental philosophy has made a profitable living out of the critique of metaphysics, but if metaphysics means an account of things beyond physis ("life," "birth"), a world without life, before or after life, then physics is more and more doing the heaving lifting in what was called metaphysics in the past, and metaphysics never gets any further than physics. When contemporary theoretical physicists speculate that at bottom what we call the physical universe is composed of vibrating filaments called superstrings, I very much doubt that the traditional metaphysicians, unequipped with either mathematics or experimental evidence, have anything to add. The cosmic schema to which contemporary physics at present subscribes is not far from the youthful Nietzsche's fable about a distant corner of the universe in which proud little animals invented words like "truth." I will call the fantastic voyage from the Big Bang to entropic dissipation the "basic schema," the largest overarching context, the ultimate setting or, to employ an expression Laruelle picked up from Marx and Engels, the context "in the last determination" of human life. Not that it really is the last, but that it is the latest. The most likely hypothesis, according to physicists today, is that the universe is headed for total destruction, when a "trillion trillion trillion years from now," as Brassier says, the "implacable gravitational expansion" will have pushed the universe "into an eternal and unfathomable blackness." The lights will have gone out in Heidegger's Welt even as Wittgenstein's language games will prove to have been played with dead languages, resulting in a wordless, worldless void, eerier than the one with which Genesis began.

Second, physics is the new wonder. Contemporary cosmology is stealing philosophy's wonder. It has taken possession of the very ground in which philosophy is supposed to plant its roots—wonder and the imagination. We do not need to be swept up in the Tao or the "wow" of physics to concede that contemporary physicists are out-imagining, out-wondering, out-wowing the philosophers. Not only do physicists know more mathematics than the philosophers, but they also have more imagination and produce more stunning views of reality. Our desire for the impossible (whose aporetic structure is Derrida's central intuition) is more and more satisfied by the counterintuitive advances made by the special and general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible is well named. The events of quantum mechanics are "absurd," says Richard Feynman, and the strange results of speculative cosmology today quite outstrip the extraordinary events recounted in the Scriptures, so that what is impossible for human beings is possible in the quantum world. The thirst for an "other world"—of which the literary-imaginative structures of heaven "above" and hell "below" are almost irresistible figures—is alive and well. This thirst, however, is being quenched today by other means. The Platonic "super-sensible," the theological "super-natural," and the mystical "super-essential" are giving way to superstrings. Heaven is giving way to the heavens, to the extraterrestrial, to the galaxies far, far away. The mythic structure of two-worlds metaphysics and its Platonic metaphorics is becoming increasingly incredible with each passing revolution of the earth around the sun.

Coping with Correlation

When it comes to natural science, Continental philosophy has spent most of its energies in a Kantian mode of critically delimiting science—trying to contain it, not to study it, and trying to deny knowledge (science) in order to make room for phenomenology or cultural analysis (or whatever we are doing that year). Consequently, it is badly positioned to deal with the current criticism that the "outbreak" of religion has brought to a head. I emphasize that I am not describing the new physics in terms of scientific "reductionism." Science is not reductionism but an explosion of wonder and imagination, of the possibility of the impossible. I am not trying to reduce theology to science or science to theology. I am not trying to reduce anything but to adduce the work of imagination in the collaboration between the theological and the scientific. I want to do so by examining what has sparked the sell-off in Continental philosophy, that is, "correlation" and "fideism."

Suppose that physics is metaphysics in the sense of dealing with the real, where the real is taken to mean what is there as if we were not there—as if we had never been born or had all perished in some cosmic catastrophe. Even so, when we are there, when we are real, the real has, for precisely that time, acquired another stratum of reality with a texture and complexity all its own that merits and requires our attention. That may seem too obvious for words, but it bears repeating in view of Meillassoux's criticism of "correlation," a view so "fundamentalist" about objectivism as to accuse the likes of Foucault and Derrida of creationism! If the speculation about superstrings is experimentally confirmed, that will be the much sought-after "theory of everything" (TOE), uniting relativity and quantum theory. But physics will remain in an important way "incomplete," and we must be careful about how we understand its incompleteness and not fall into the egregious mistake made by Meillassoux. Physics is related to the study of life at large and of human life in particular, not as "being" is related to "appearance" or as the "thing in itself" is related to some supposedly subjectivist "correlation," but as the physical basis of things is related to everything that is built upon that basis, as the founding stratum is related to the strata that are founded upon it. Physics provides the basic schema of what everything is at bottom, but not of every relationship found within the real. It is the theory of everything material but not of everything that matters. Physics may well seek the theory of "everything" but not of everything about which we need a theory. Granted, physics governs everything, but it does not give an account of every way in which things can be approached. The basic reason the roof leaks when it rains ultimately goes back to string theory. But by the time you got from string theory back to the roof, the house would be soaked. Life and human life are no less real than the subject matter of physics. Even if human and animal bodies are short-timers in the cosmic scheme of things, they are fascinating moments in which the universe shows what it is made of, what we are made of. I advocate not a reductionistic materialism but an open-ended materialism, just as Zizek thinks that matter is all, but the all is a non-all, and as Malabou describes a "reasonable materialism" that does not turn life into a cybernetic or neurological program. Derrida, Zizek, Malabou, and I are all "materialists" in the sense that we do not think there are two worlds, one in space and time, the other transcending space and time. That is why I would supplement physics with a "poetics," while Malabou emphasizes transformational "plastics," and Zizek introduces "parallax shifts."

The real is the "absolute" in the sense of the world that is there whether we mind it or not, but it is not a world without minds. Physics opens its doors for business by means of a decontextualization (removing us from the picture), but decontextualization is followed by recontextualization. The "absolute" is drawn into a "relation," a perplexing situation that is well described (as the realists to their credit recognize) by Levinas (of all people) when he speaks of a relation whose terms are continually absolving themselves from the relation, a conundrum familiar to any Jewish theologian—ever since Yahweh told Moses to mind his own business (Ex 3:14). Derrida called it a relation without relation, which we might extend to a "correlation" without correlation. "Correlation" does not, pace Meillassoux, "reduce" the universe to the dimensions of our "world" or dissolve its autonomy. On the contrary, the ever-expanding universe becomes the ever-widening "world" of which we are an irreducible, if increasingly minuscule, part, a point first noticed by Pascal. Correlation means not that the universe belongs to us but that we belong to it. Correlation does not "reduce" the world to us, but releases us from our contraction to ourselves, and the more we learn about the universe, the less contracted we are. A medieval realist like Aquinas said that a knowing being differs from a non-knowing being because the latter is contracted to itself and the former is expanded into and "becomes all things" (an Aristotelianism that Meillassoux reads backwards, as if Aristotle has said all things become us). I distinguish "cosmos" or "universe" from "world" or "life-world," that is, the place where we live. The universe is the ultimate or widest sphere of decontextualization, while the world is the widest context. The universe is the determination in the last instance in its order, just as the world is the determination in the last instance in its order, and these two orders are not adversaries but correlates. I think that Hegel saw this but, as the young Hegelians complained, in an upside-down way.

The problem of epistemological "correspondence" cannot in principle arise in any adequate account of correlation, because "we" are the very issue of the correlation. As Heidegger (no "worldless subject") and Wittgenstein (no "private language") well realized in strictly philosophical terms, we do not have to "build a bridge" to the world. In fact, we cannot. If the bridge were not already there, we would never be able to build it because we would not even exist. We do not construct a correlation, because the correlation constructs us. We are plants, sprouts shooting up from the local conditions in which we have been produced, in just the way that vegetation started to shoot up when the ozone layer grew thick enough to shield the earth from the ultraviolet rays of the sun, and in just the way that that the color spectrum available to our vision has been fixed by the astronomical composition of our sun, which has set the terms of light sensitivity that we call "sight." Anyone who asks whether or why what is going on "in us" correlates with what is going on "out there" is asking the wrong question. We are out there, and we are the correlation. "Immer schon" as Heidegger liked to say. Accordingly, physics needs to be supplemented by biology, and biology by the study of anthropos, not in cleanly separated strata, but in a continuum of complexity that allows for gaps when thresholds are surpassed, following along the lines described by Zizek's notion of parallax gaps. "Matter" is all, but this all is a "non-all," admitting of countless complexifications all the way from supposedly "inert" bodies—an intolerable notion if mass and energy are simply different expressions of the same thing—to human-animal bodies, in which the "energy" of so-called inert bodies is "intensified," as Deleuze would put it.

What we call in English the "humanities" belongs to the study of the real, of human reality, and its subject matter is as real as real can be. The humanities cultivate the disciplinary eyes and ears to follow the tracks of human life's finer, more complex correlations, these more deeply contextualized strata of reality, in their finer lacings and interlacings—as when Husserl spoke of a need for a vocabulary describing things that are "notched, scalloped, and lens-shaped." The authentic notion of "correlation" lies in the relations among the anthropological, the biological, and the physical strata, requiring us to understand the finer and nonformal features of the relationships that emerge among human beings and between human beings and the nonhuman universe that precedes and engenders them and will survive their demise. That is why we require the collaboration of neuroscience and Continental philosophy of the sort we see in Catherine Malabou.

Derrida's work is crucially situated between physics and anthropos, between nature and culture. The most fundamental point made by Derrida—superficially the most "literary" of the Continentalists—is that life is structurally inhabited by death, not only by being shot through by an inescapable mortality, but by being already marked and inscribed by the neutral, automatic, and technical structure of différance. Derrida's earliest philosophical argument was made against Husserl's phenomenology of the Lebenswelt, where he insisted precisely upon the impersonal-anonymous structures of "spacing" that inhabit the life of living speech. Of Grammatology is a deconstruction of the nature/culture divide in Rousseau and his modern anthropological followers where différance is shown to be the "dead" differential technology in living speech. If the very physis of the human zoon is logos, and if logos presupposes différance, and if différance is techne, then human "nature" is from the inside out always already technological. He adduced a "materialist" point in Husserl against Husserl, when Husserl made the "Origin of Geometry" dependent upon the technology of writing. We have never been purely human; there has never been any pure human life. The "principle" of life in living things is not the anima, the soul, but death, that is, a structure of anonymity. There is nothing about différance that restricts it to the human. Indeed, as a structure of spacing and timing, différance also provides a way of thinking about the nonhuman "merely" physical universe. The "correlation," then, is the chiasmic intertwining of the human and the nonhuman.


Excerpted from The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion by Clayton Crockett, B. Keith Putt, Jeffrey W. Robbins. Copyright © 2014 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Back to the Future
Part I. The Messianic
1. Is Continental Philosophy of Religion Dead?
John D. Caputo
2. Friends and Strangers/Poets and Rabbis: Negotiating a "Capuphalian"
Philosophy of Religion
B. Keith Putt
Response by Merold Westphal
Response by John D. Caputo
3. On Faith, the Maternal, and Postmodernism
Edward F. Mooney
4. The Persistence of the Trace: Interrogating the Gods of Speculative Realism
Steven Shakespeare
5. Speculating God: Speculative Realism and Meillassoux’s Divine Inexistence
Leon Niemoczynski
6. Between Deconstruction and Speculation: John D. Caputo and A/Theological Materialism
Katharine Sarah Moody

Part II. Liberation
7. The Future of Liberation
Philip Goodchild
8. Monetized Philosophy and Theological Money: Uneasy Linkages and the Future of a Discourse
Devin Singh
9. "Between Justice and My Mother": Reflections On and Between Levinas and ?i?ek
Gavin Hyman
10. Verbis Indisciplinatis
Joseph Ballan
11. Overwhelming Abundance and Every-Day Liturgical Practices: For a Less Excessive Phenomenology of Religious Experience
Christina M. Gschwandtner
12. Counter-Currents: Theology and the Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion
Noëlle Vahanian

Part III. Plasticity
13. The Future of Derrida: Time between Epigenesis and Epigenetics
Catherine Malabou
14. On Reading – Catherine Malabou
Randall Johnson
15. Necessity as Virtue: On Religious Materialism from Feuerbach to ?i?ek
Jeffrey W. Robbins
16. Plasticity in the Contemporary Islamic Subject
John Thibdeau
17. From Cosmology to the First Ethical Gesture: Schelling with Irigaray
Lenart Škof
18. Prolegomenon to Thinking the Reject for the Future of Continental Philos

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