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Encountering the Secular

Philosophical Endeavors in Religion and Culture

J. Heath Atchley

Publication Year: 2009

In Encountering the Secular, J. Heath Atchley proposes an alternative to the understanding of the secular as that which opposes the religious, and he turns to American and Continental philosophy to support his critique. Drawing from thinkers as disparate as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gilles Deleuze, and engaging with contemporary literature and film, Atchley shows how the division of experience (individual, cultural, political) into the distinct realms of the religious and the secular overlooks the subtle ways in which value can emerge. Far from arguing that the religious and the secular are the same, he means instead to suggest that the dogmatic separation between these two realms gets in the way of experiencing an immanent value, a kind of value tied neither to a transcendent reality (e.g., a god or an ideal) nor to a self-centered reality (e.g., pleasure or knowledge).

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

It first bears acknowledging that several chapters of this book, in slightly more primitive renditions, have been previously published. An earlier version of chapter 2 was published in Literature and Theology; of chapter 3 in JanusHead; of chapter 4 in Journal of Speculative Philosophy; of chapter 5 in...

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Prologue: Encounter

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pp. 1-7

Think of what happens in an encounter. Someone or something is seen, perceived, sensed, maybe even confronted. And to merit the word encounter such a meeting could not be an ordinary one, one part of a routine or set of conventional expectations. Perhaps it is a surprise, or especially intense. When awaking in the morning, I...

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1. Confrontation

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pp. 9-27

One of the gifts that the practice of philosophy can give is the ability to see complexity in a plain way. Alongside this gift is the understanding that complexity is not merely the domain of philosophers, physicists, or politicians—that complexity is one synonym for texture and with texture something good arrives to...

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2. Silence

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pp. 28-46

We frequently connect silences with secrets. An inability to speak could mean an unwillingness to reveal. There is something inside that must remain hidden, something that is only for certain eyes or ears, the initiated, the adequately mature, or the chosen. The likely response to such silence is resentment followed by pursuit....

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3. Mourning

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pp. 47-71

What more is there to say? Is there anything left that is unsaid? Time has passed now. Have we not said all there is to say about the events that have come to be known simply as “September 11”? The most obvious (and perhaps the most responsible) answer is...

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4. Presence

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pp. 72-91

When I cruise the forty-three television channels available to me (and that’s basic cable), simultaneously being enchanted and disgusted by much that I see (similar to Kant’s description of the sublime), I cannot help but think that the culture in which I find myself is less articulate than ever. Such a diagnosis of the low standard...

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5. Enlightenment

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pp. 92-110

It is a question most of us never ask: What exactly is enlightenment? Even if one is a practicing Buddhist, the concern is more likely to be how to become enlightened; the object of knowledge being fully revealed only in attainment. Such a question, of course, would not occur to the enlightened. As a word, as a concept...

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6. Disturbance

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pp. 111-124

What do we expect from a disturbance? The paradox of such a question should be obvious: Disturbances are typically things we don’t expect—interruptions of the ordinary, the routine, the established. A disturbance becomes an issue only when there is a desired consistency of condition that is vulnerable to change....

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7. Practice

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pp. 125-141

Philosophy is at its best when it is not itself. Signaling from foreign places not so far away, the discourse known as philosophy keeps its charge (or relevance) by denying itself a comfortable bed in which we can always find it. Indeed, we habitually look for philosophy in a routine place (a history, a tradition, a method, a discipline), but...

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8. Event

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pp. 142-159

In the midst of a cultural environment typically deemed secular, the question of how value happens is (thankfully) an open one. What does it take to say that something matters? Even more, what does it take to realize that life itself matters? If one is caught in a traditionally religious environment, then such questions are...

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Epilogue: Endeavor

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pp. 161-163

Now, think of what happens in an endeavor. Attention and desire drive deliberate effort. When we use the term endeavor as a noun, it implies a project, an activity with a design and goal embedded with hope and expectation. We want our endeavors to succeed, to achieve the satisfaction of our wants and needs. Complexity,...


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pp. 165-178


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pp. 179-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780813930411
E-ISBN-10: 0813930413
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813927817
Print-ISBN-10: 0813927811

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 753977915
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Encountering the Secular

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Subject Headings

  • Culture -- Philosophy.
  • Secularism.
  • Religion -- Philosophy.
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