“When you see influential critics publishing major books with titles like The Genesis of Secrecy, The Great Code, Kabalah and Criticism, Violence and [End Page 733] the Sacred, Deconstruction and Theology, you know you are in the presence of a significant trend.” When the late Edward Said penned these words over two decades ago in his influential collection of essays The World, the Text, and the Critic, he perceptively took note of an intriguing intellectual trend. For Said, the turn to religion, particularly within the fields of literary theory and criticism, raised new questions regarding the role of the critic and the function of criticism. Unlike the late literary critic and theologian Nathan A. Scott, Jr. who wrestled with a earlier incarnation of this issue in his germinal essay of 1953 “The Relation of Theology to Literary Criticism,” Said (re)asserts the primacy of secular criticism as a critical theoretical and political practice in response to the many manifestations of this “significant trend.” Whatever one thinks of Said’s proposal, an acute strength of his project is the perceptive insight that he exercises in raising the issue, diagnosing the condition for this “significant trend,” and offering a constructive proposal in light of these new theoretical and political logics.
With this “significant trend” now an entrenched—but intensely contested—feature on the intellectual landscape, the issue of how to critically navigate and negotiate the challenge presented by the (re)turn to religion is not only one that must be taken up by literary critics. Indeed, for religious and theological studies scholars, the prominent position of religion on the intellectual agenda presents a critical opportunity to think anew our engagements with the very phenomenon of religion in our contemporary conjuncture. To this end, there have been many proposals advanced to meet this challenge in the academic study of religion ranging from proposals advocating various (re)readings of orthodox religious categories, frameworks, and sources to dialogic engagements between religion and contemporary European theory to radical epistemic and methodological interrogations of the very foundations, aims, and goals of the field of religious studies. Drew University theologian Catherine Keller makes a significant contribution to these efforts and opens up new avenues for research with her latest work of constructive theology, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming.
Face of the Deep develops a theologically robust and theoretically nuanced account of “the creation” that “emerge[s] from the topos of the Deep” (xvii). Keller eschews the overly formalist criteria of classical theology—“this dogma of origin,” she writes, “has exercised immense productive force”—in seeking to plumb the depths of a beginning(s) that does not evade the very chaos implicated in its becoming (xvi). The erasure of chaos that serves to authorize and legitimate a doctrine of creation ex nihilo inevitably shallows the deep in a violent and sterile orthodoxy and arrests the development of the theological imagination that in turn becomes impotent in the face of the very excess of creation. In order to rethink creation by offering a theology of a/the beginning, Keller’s text emphasizes the veritable imbrication of Jewish and Christian religious and intellectual traditions while drawing on the insights of contemporary theory, feminist theory and theology, literary theory, queer theory, and process philosophy and theology. Such a broad theoretical conversation is not “a [End Page 734] careless appeal to poststructuralism [that] runs the risk of a new enclosure within language, a sufficiency of ‘the text” (251). Instead, the theoretical exuberance developed in this text is an integral component in a critical retrieval “for theological reflection [of] the tehom inscribed ‘in the beginning’ itself (xvii). What results is a theological and theoretical amalgam brimming with thought-provoking insights for scholars to begin again to think not only the issue of creation, but the very question of religion.
Divided into four parts and fourteen chapters, Face of the Deep explores the recesses of history and tradition in tracking the dis/appearance of a beginning chaos and exposes the reader to the contingency, chance, and contestation that are part...