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Classical Themes and Modern Developments
What is secularity? Might it yield or define a distinctive form of reasoning? If so, would that form of reasoning belong essentially to our modern age, or would it instead have a considerably older lineage? And what might be the relation of that form of reasoning, whatever its lineage, to the Christian thinking that is often said to oppose it? In the present volume, these and related questions are addressed by a distinguished group of scholars working primarily within the Roman Catholic theological tradition and from the perspectives of Continental philosophy. As a whole, the volume constitutes a conversation among thinkers who agree in their concerns but not necessarily their conclusions. Taken individually, each essay concentrates on a range of historical developments with close attention to their intellectual and sometimes pedagogical implications. Secular reason, they argue, is neither the antipode of Christian thought nor a stable and well-resolved component of it. Christian thinking may engage with secular reason as the site of profound difficulties, but on occasion will also learn from it as a source of new insight.
Esotericism in Jewish Thought and its Philosophical Implications
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, great new trends of Jewish thought emerged whose widely varied representatives--Kabbalists, philosophers, and astrologers--each claimed that their particular understanding revealed the actual secret of the Torah. They presented their own readings in a coded fashion that has come to be regarded by many as the very essence of esotericism. Concealment and Revelation takes us on a fascinating journey to the depths of the esoteric imagination. Carefully tracing the rise of esotericism and its function in medieval Jewish thought, Moshe Halbertal's richly detailed historical and cultural analysis gradually builds conceptual-philosophical force to culminate in a masterful phenomenological taxonomy of esotericism and its paradoxes.
Among the questions addressed: What are the internal justifications that esoteric traditions provide for their own existence, especially in the Jewish world, in which the spread of knowledge was of great importance? How do esoteric teachings coexist with the revealed tradition, and what is the relationship between the various esoteric teachings that compete with that revealed tradition?
Halbertal concludes that, through the medium of the concealed, Jewish thinkers integrated into the heart of the Jewish tradition diverse cultural influences such as Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and Hermeticisims. And the creation of an added concealed layer, unregulated and open-ended, became the source of the most daring and radical interpretations of the tradition.
Elements of a Philosophical Theology
What does it mean to have a distinctively religious orientation toward reality? Martin J. De Nys offers a philosophy of religion grounded within the phenomenological tradition as a way to understand religious life. Focusing on the key concepts of sacred transcendence, religious discourse, and radical self-transcendence, De Nys contends that a phenomenological view of religion allows considerable diversity in regard to the possibility of religious truth. Phenomenology also helps to account for the dizzying variety of religious expressions and religious lifeways. Ultimately, De Nys reaches a universal and complete method of describing a philosophical approach to religious life. This compelling book plays a valuable role in describing human engagement with religion.
Provincial Belief and the Making of Joyce and Rushdie
In Conspicuous Bodies: Provincial Belief and the Making of Joyce and Rushdie, Jean Kane re-examines the literature of James Joyce and Salman Rushdie from a post-secularist perspective, arguing that their respective religions hold critical importance in their works. Though Joyce and Rushdie were initially received as cosmopolitans, both authors subsequently reframed their public images and aligned themselves instead with a provincial religious identity, which emphasized the interconnections between religious devotion and embodiment. At the same time, both Joyce and Rushdie managed to resist the doctrinal content of their religions. Conspicuous Bodies presents Joyce as a founder and Rushdie as an inheritor of a distinctive discourse of belief about the importance of physical bodies and knowledge in religious practice. In doing so, it moves the reception of Joyce and Rushdie away from what previous critics have emphasized—away from questions of aesthetics and from a narrow understanding of belief—and instead questions the assumption that belief should be segregated from matters of physicality and knowledge. Kane reintroduces the concept of spiritual embodiment in order to expand our understanding of what counts as spiritual agency in non-western and minority literatures.
Nietzsche, Affirmation, Religion
Challenging the dominant scholarly consensus that Nietzsche is simply an enemy of religion, Tyler Roberts examines the place of religion in Nietzsche's thought and Nietzsche's thought as a site of religion. Roberts argues that Nietzsche's conceptualization and cultivation of an affirmative self require that we interrogate the ambiguities that mark his criticisms of asceticism and mysticism. What emerges is a vision of Nietzsche's philosophy as the enactment of a spiritual quest informed by transfigured versions of religious tropes and practices.
Nietzsche criticizes the ascetic hatred of the body and this-worldly life, yet engages in rigorous practices of self-denial--he sees philosophy as such a practice--and affirms the need of imposing suffering on oneself in order to enhance the spirit. He dismisses the "intoxication" of mysticism, yet links mysticism, power, and creativity, and describes his own self-transcending experiences. The tensions in his relation to religion are closely related to that between negation and affirmation in his thinking in general. In Roberts's view, Nietzsche's transfigurations of religion offer resources for a postmodern religious imagination. Though as a "master of suspicion," Nietzsche, with Freud and Marx, is an integral part of modern antireligion, he has the power to take us beyond the flat, modern distinction between the secular and the religious--a distinction that, at the end of modernity, begs to be reexamined.
An ardent admirer and student of Emmanuel Levinas during the last decade of the philosopher's life, Michaël de Saint Cheron sat down with his mentor for these interviews, conducted in 1983, 1992, and 1994. Throughout, their conversations provide further insight into the key concepts of responsibility, transcendence, holiness, and the hostage for understanding Levinas’s notion of ethics as first philosophy.
As Levinas and Saint Cheron discuss a variety of topics — death and time in the philosophies of Heidegger and Bergson, eros and the feminine, the Judeo-Christian dialogue, Levinas’s differences of thought with Paul Ricœur, reflections on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the “end of history” with the fall of Western Communism — we can clearly see Levinas’s ceaseless engagement with the justification for living after such horrors as those of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Stalinism, Cambodia, or Rwanda.
Included here as well, following the interviews, are several essays in which Saint Cheron presents his own further considerations of their conversations and Levinas’s ideas. He writes of the relation of the epiphany of the face to the idea of holiness; of Sartre and, in particular, that existentialist thinker’s “revision” of Jews and Judaism in his final controversial dialogues with Benny Lévy; of the epiphanies of death in André Malraux’s writings; and of the radical breach effected in the Western philosophical tradition by Levinas’s “otherwise-than-thinking." Finally, Saint Cheron pays homage to Levinas’s talmudic readings in an analysis of forgiveness and the unforgivable in Jewish tradition and liturgy, culminating in an inevitable confrontation with the Shoah from the perspective of Simon Wiesenthal’s harrowing The Sunflower and some of the contemporary reactions to it.
Maimonides and the Outsider
James Diamond's new book consists of a series of studies addressing Moses Maimonides' (1138–1204) appropriation of marginal figures—lepers, converts, heretics, and others—normally considered on the fringes of society and religion. Each chapter focuses on a type or character that, in Maimonides' hands, becomes a metaphor for a larger, more substantive theological and philosophical issue. Diamond offers a close reading of key texts, such as the Guide of the Perplexed and the Mishneh Torah, demonstrating the importance of integrating Maimonides' legal and philosophical writings. Converts, Heretics, and Lepers fills an important void in Jewish studies by focusing on matters of exegesis and hermeneutics as well as philosophical concerns. Diamond's alternative reading of central topics in Maimonides suggests that literary appreciation is a key to deciphering Maimonides’ writings in particular and Jewish exegetical texts in general.