- The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology & the Theological Turn by Jason W. Alvis
Nearly three decades after Dominique Janicaud's 1991 criticism of "the theological turn in French phenomenology," Jason Alvis delivers a sustained defense of the phenomenological viability of the turn by elucidating Martin Heidegger's phenomenology of the inconspicuous. In Being and Time, Heidegger says there is need for phenomenology only because the phenomena for the most part do not show themselves as they are in themselves. The later Heidegger becomes even more attentive to this theme of elusiveness or nonappearance of phenomenology's subject matter. Alvis's book exploits the resources of this Heideggerian emphasis and draws on some of the voices that comprise the theological turn in French phenomenology in order to explore the ordinary inconspicuousness of God.
Each of the eight chapters focuses on a different "inconspicuous" theme. The first chapter examines inconspicuous revelation by arguing that Jean-Luc Marion's saturated phenomenon can apply not only to the spectacular but to the inconspicuous as well. The second chapter focuses on inconspicuous phenomenology by offering a reading of Heidegger's later talk of a phenomenology of the inapparent (Unscheinbarkeit). Alvis prefers translating this as "inconspicuous" rather than "inapparent," because he wants to emphasize, against Janicaud, that the concept cannot be identified with the invisible as such. By Alvis's count, there are three possible interpretations of inconspicuousness: first, it may name the hiddenness that characterizes all of phenomenology's phenomena; second, it may name a hiddenness that in principle could be registered in any and all phenomena; third, it may name a hiddenness characteristic of one class of phenomena in particular. Alvis acknowledges that the first interpretation is generally favored, but his own preference is for the third. In this way, the divine would count as one of those classes of phenomena that are peculiarly marked by inconspicuousness. The third chapter attends to the inconspicuous lifeworld of religion in light of Heidegger's focus on world and with reference to Michel Henry's claim that the affectivity of life is prior to the world. For Alvis, the tension between life [End Page 127] and world opens the place for inconspicuous revelation. The fourth chapter focuses on inconspicuous liturgy and the reduction to the inconspicuous place of the Absolute that Jean-Yves Lacoste wields against Heidegger's closed conception of world. The fifth chapter turns to inconspicuous adoration present in Jean-Luc Nancy's deconstruction of Christianity. Alvis notes that Nancy's atheism shields him from Janicaud's censure even though his project exploits Heidegger's phenomenology of the inapparent to develop religious motifs, in this case the praise of the ordinary. The sixth chapter joins William Alston, Merold Westphal, and Anthony Steinbock in arguing against William James's reduction of religious experience to the realm of private feeling; the notion of inconspicuous evidence allows for an element of paradox concerning the question of warrant in religious experience. The seventh chapter details an inconspicuous faith by charting senses of forgetting at work in Jean-Louis Chrétien and in Heidegger, including the forgetfulness of being and the flight of the last gods. Alvis then suggests that such forgetfulness operates in the way that the act of faith recedes into the background of the life of faith, an experience he likens to the way the car recedes into the background while driving. The eighth turns to the inconspicuous God by examining Heidegger's explorations of hiddenness in the introduction to Being and Time. Alvis argues that inconspicuous phenomena and inconspicuous givenness provide an alternative to the idolization of incomprehensibility that marks much of the contemporary philosophical discussion of the divine.
The Inconspicuous God exploits a central if ambiguous concept in phenomenology to provide a thematic treatment of the mode of ordinary religious phenomena with reference to recent French phenomenological authors. God, the book argues, is not to be found in the spectacular but in the inconspicuous. This is a welcome emphasis in the contemporary conversation about the relation of God to...