Stanley Cavell, Religion, and Continental Philosophy
Publication Year: 2014
The American philosopher Stanley Cavell (b. 1926) is a secular Jew who by his own admission is obsessed with Christ, yet his outlook on religion in general is ambiguous. Probing the secular and the sacred in Cavell’s thought, Espen Dahl explains that Cavell, while often parting ways with Christianity, cannot dismiss it either. Focusing on Cavell's work as a whole, but especially on his recent engagement with Continental philosophy, Dahl brings out important themes in Cavell’s philosophy and his conversation with theology.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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I am grateful for instructive comments and responses to drafts of various chapters in this book. My thanks go to Stephen Mulhall, Ståle Finke, Jan Olav Henriksen, Elisabeth Løvlie, Marius Mjaaland, Stine Holte, and Jonas Jakobsen. The writing of major parts of the book was made possible thanks to the funding of the Ethics Programme at the University of Oslo, where I also profited from participating...
List of Abbreviations
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“Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” Terry Eagleton asks, referring to the return of religion among intellectuals, in affirmation as well as criticism of it.1 Stanley Cavell also has quite a bit to say about God, as attested by the very existence of this book. But since religion is notably not one of the topics on which Cavell’s fame as a thinker...
1. Modernism and Religion
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Right from his entrance on the philosophical scene in the late 1960s, Stanley Cavell has insisted that philosophy is confronted with the same cultural problems, burdens, and commitments—collectively known as modernism—that confront art. From some moment during the nineteenth century, artistic conventions for representation and composition no longer seemed to be adequate...
2. The Ordinary Sublime
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I have argued that Cavell’s ambiguous relation to religion should be understood against a wider cultural backdrop of modernism. If religion and thus theology have become problematic yet not impossible, then we must expect such possibility to show up within what Cavell terms the ordinary. However, the ordinary does not provide the location for experiences of incontestable divine revelations, nor...
3. Acknowledging God
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Having presented Cavell’s openness toward the problem of religion, I now proceed to more theologically charged territory in order to explore some possibilities offered by Cavell’s philosophy. In doing so, I focus on one of Cavell’s signature concepts, namely acknowledgment. Although acknowledgment has a wide application in Cavell’s thinking—including our relation to the world, others, different...
4. Skepticism, Finitude, and Sin
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Acknowledgment is an interpretation of knowledge, Cavell insists, or perhaps an interpretation of what lies at the heart of any knowledge, entailing a certain sense of receptivity or responsiveness, a willingness to confess and reveal oneself in a practical and responsible reply to the other, the world, or as I have suggested, to God. But such acknowledgment presupposes a separation from that which one...
5. The Tragic Dimension of the Ordinary
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Following the Augustinian tradition, original sin is something that we are responsible for and hence guilty of, yet in another sense it is a destiny that befalls us. At stake is hence a fine balance between necessity and freedom, between personal guilt and delivery to destructive structures. Accordingly, acknowledging sin takes a personal sense of the I, confessing or revealing itself as the originator...
6. The Other and Violence
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Whereas the previous chapter elaborated what might be thought of as a destiny to which we must be answerable, I now turn to another, more active face of skepticism or sin, namely violence. What is the connection between violence and my relation to the other? How can the motives behind violence be understood, and how is it entangled with religion? Levinas’s understanding of how violence is...
7. Forgiveness and Passivity
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In the previous three chapters, I have attempted to outline what I have sometimes called an anthropology of finitude. The basic findings seemed less than cheerful, such that we are finite and mortal and yet revolt against our conditions (chapter 4), that we are vulnerable to tragic consequences because we speak and act in ways that outrun our previews (chapter 5), and that we, confronted with...
Conclusion: The Last Question: Self-redemption or Divine Redemption?
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In this book I have tried to elaborate the analogies and overlappings between Cavell’s philosophy and his religious perspective, either expressed philosophically or theologically. If such an undertaking might be deemed risky, it is because of Cavell’s own repeated resistance toward certain Christian depictions of the human state as helpless, fixed, awaiting supernatural aid, pursuing untimely...
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About the Author
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ESPEN DAHL is associate professor of systematic theology at the University of Tromsø. He is author of The Holy and Phenomenology: Religious Experience after Husserl and In Between: The Holy Beyond Modern Dichotomies, along with several articles on ordinary language philosophy, phenomenology, and the...
Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion