- Theology of Anticipation: A Constructive Study of C. S. Peirce
This book is as much an imaginative reconstruction, in a strong sense, of Peirce's theological position as a constructive contribution to contemporary theology. In the author's judgment, "we need a new kind of theological reflection on hope" (p. 13). That such an intelligent, informed, and conscientious scholar as Anette Ejsing has turned to C. S. Peirce in her efforts to construct a theological position attuned to the exigencies of our historical moment is itself a reason for hope. That her admirable efforts fall short of her ambitious goals is certainly no cause for despair.1 It is rather far more indicative of the immensity and complexity of the task than any deficiency or failure attributable to her. There is much to be learned from this book. There is, alas, much for its author to learn from others who have explored some of this same ground.
Indeed, for the inauguration of "a new kind of theological reflection on hope," greater attention to the various forms of contemporary despair would have been instructive. The anger into which the dashed hopes of religiously inspired persons, especially activists, has devolved is but a part (possibly a rather small part) of the story (see nonetheless p. 12). Seemingly intractable anger is but one of the human, all too human, faces of humiliated hope. On the issue of despair, no pragmatically inspired philosopher of religion has written with greater eloquence or force than Cornel West. Surely his writings on this topic other than the single title included in the References (The American Evasion of Philosophy) are pertinent to the labors of anyone devoted to inaugurating a historically nuanced conception of religiously rooted hope. West is such a convincing advocate of hope because he is such an insightful diagnostician of despair.
But Ejsing is far from neglectful of the contributions of two scholars who have done as much as most others to show in detail the relevance of Peirce's writings to the tasks of theologians and philosophers of religion. [End Page 103] In fact, her reconstruction of Peirce's position as a theology of anticipation is explicitly offered as an alternative to both Michael L. Raposa and Robert S. Corrington's reconstructions of Peirce's approach to theology (p. 8). Unlike Raposa's efforts in Peirce's Philosophy of Religion (1989), Ejsing's do "not lean on medieval scholasticism": and, unlike Corrington's in especially A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy (2000), they do "not espouse speculative religion" (ibid). The contributions of John E. Smith, Vincent Potter, and Donna Orange are mostly ignored, while those of Robert Neville and (most surprisingly) Peter Ochs are entirely neglected. The consequence of this is that Ejsing's study of Peirce is, in the pejorative sense, a far more scholastic work than it would have been had she seriously engaged with these thinkers, also a far more speculative one. Her authorial hope is, nonetheless, to inspire with this book a "new dialogue about Peirce's philosophy and the Christian believer's experience of hope" (p. 163; emphasis added). But very little of her study is devoted to the ordinary believer's experience of hope, while much focuses on what is likely to strike some readers as rather extraordinary theories of this orientation toward the future. Even so, her work is an informed, illuminating, and admirable study of what Peirce might have written on this topic.
This book is divided into five chapters. In the "Introduction," the author contextualizes her study of Peirce by identifying those facets of his project which most readily lend themselves to articulating a theology of anticipation and, then, by very briefly outlining some developments in contemporary theology allegedly calling for a recovery of hope. The facets of Peirce's projects she identifies in this regard are principally: first, "Peirce offers a very strong and uniquely American contribution to the theological project of reconciling the disciplines of philosophy and theology" (p. 4); second...