Global Phenomenologies of Religion and their Implications for Philosophical Anthropology

Professor Satoko Fujiwara, University of Tokyo

Together with international colleagues I have recently published a book that reveals how the Phenomenology of Religion (PoR) has been accepted and developed in ten different national contexts (S. Fujiwara, D. Thurfjell and S. Engler eds., Global Phenomenologies of Religion: An Oral History in Interviews, Equinox, 2021). The book project originally aimed at an intergenerational dialogue between senior scholars who had witnessed the rise and fall of PoR and younger scholars for whom PoR had always been of mere historical interest. In the course of a series of interviews, the project soon turned out to be a refreshing way to view and assess the multifaceted history of the study of religion as a discipline. This paper/lecture will present its key findings and attempt to draw suggestions for the reformulation of the PoR as Philosophical Anthropology (PA). Reflections on the history of the PoR in Japan may play a unique role in the attempt because the Japanese PoR has largely been formed as PA from the beginning though with a variety of understanding as to PA. Moreover, from an internationally comparative perspective, it is not difficult to observe implicit PA in the works of scholars who have usually been categorized as anti-PoR (I will focus upon J. Z. Smith as an example). This colloquium’s call for PoR as PA can thus open up both wide-ranging and in-depth discussions over shared and unshared presumptions of the study of religion.  

Professor Satoko Fujiwara is Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo, and she is also General Secretary for the International Association for the History of Religions, the major global institution for the Study of Religions. Her research interests are comparative study of religious education and theories of religion, most recently she has conducted work on the Phenomenology of Religion and produced an important book on the topic with two colleagues. 

Engaging and Disengaging Religion: A Hermeneutic-Phenomenological Approach

Professor Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

To show how the phenomenology of religion may be rescued from (some of) its critics by approaching it as a (well-understood) philosophical anthropology, I proceed in two steps. First, I aim to show how some of the 20th century hermeneutic-phenomenological accounts of the phenomenon of religion are already on their way to such an approach and, indeed, can in fact be understood as a pre-emptive rebuttal of or response to the criticisms at stake in the ‘theological turn’ of phenomenology and critical theory, respectively. I illustrate this by briefly developing the exemplary cases of Heidegger’s “Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion” and Ricoeur’s concern with a twofold hermeneutics of religion in the 1960s. While their perspectives are, in a sense, outdated by their emphasis on Christian religion alone, their hermeneutic-phenomenological approaches do offer a clear example of how the emic claims of a religion can be taken seriously and of how the combination of detachment and attachment – or: disengagement and engagement – exactly plays out in these respective phenomenological approaches to religion. Second, taking these exemplary cases as a guideline, I aim to develop in a more systematic way how a hermeneutic-phenomenological approach aims to see religion as a cultural expression or testimony of basic experiences of human life and existence that asks for both interpretation and critique, as the epistemological forms of engagement and disengagement. 

Professor Gert-Jan van der Heiden is Professor of Metaphysics and Philosophical Anthropology at Radabout University, Nijmegen. He examines problems from metaphysics and ontology in light of recent developments in phenomenology, hermeneutics and contemporary French thought. He is interested in the motive of speaking for the other in hermeneutics. He studies how the concept of contingency determines the landscape of contemporary ontology. With others he investigates why the Letters of Saint Paul are so often read in contemporary philosophy.

The Turn of the Flesh

Professor Emmanuel Falque (Faculté de philosophie Institut catholique de Paris)

The translation of the word Leib into different languages, especially into French, constitutes a problem that guides the whole history of phenomenology, and even the philosophy of religion. Originally, Emmanuel Levinas translated the word Leib not by the French ‘chair’, corresponding to the English ‘flesh’, but by ‘organic body’. It is under the double impetus of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricoeur that the French translation of the word Leib by ‘chair’ or ‘flesh’ came about. This ‘turn of the flesh’ then determined the whole history of phenomenology’s confrontation with the philosophy of religion. Superimposing the ‘Word made flesh’ (sarx) onto ‘the lived experience of the body’ (chair or flesh) or onto ‘the living body’ (the organic body), constitutes the way in which the Christic Incarnation is interpreted in light of phenomenological incarnation. With, or alongside, the ‘theological turn’, I will therefore here outline a ‘turn of the flesh’ [or ‘carnal turn’] of French phenomenology. 

Professor Emmanuel Falque is Honorary Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Paris. He specialises in patristic and medieval philosophy, phenomenology, and philosophy of religion. Of particular interest are his ‘philosophical triduum’—The Metamorphosis of Finitude (Fordham UP, 2012), The Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Fordham UP, 2016), and The Guide to Gethsemane (Fordham UP, 2019)—, and Crossing the Rubicon: The Borderlands of Philosophy and Theology (Fordham UP, 2016). 

Conversion: Phenomenology's Anti-Naturalist Attitude

Professor Hent de Vries (New York University, Cornell University) 

There is a reason Edmund Husserl invokes the theological trope “conversion [Konversion]” as a critical term describing the well-known epoché or suspension-cum-bracketing of the naturalist interpretation of the psyche and its world. This talk tracks the motif of conversion towards the anti-naturalist attitude in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology and Cartesian Meditations, together with its analogical terms in authors such as Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jean-Luc Marion. What emerges is a more complex understanding of the relationship between religion and spiritual experience, theology and philosophy than has been suggested in the standard reception of phenomenology’s distinctive “turn.”

Professor Hent de Vries is Paulette Goddard Professor of the Humanities and Professor of German, Religious Studies, Comparative Literature, and Affiliated Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He is currently serving his second term as director of the summer School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University (SCT), Ithaca. In 2018, he was the Titulaire of the Chaire de Métaphysique Étienne Gilson at the Institut Catholique, Paris. In November 2020, he was the recipient of the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises, one of the Grands Prix awarded yearly by the Académie Française. He is the editor of the book series “Cultural Memory in the Present,” published by Stanford University Press. His research interests are Modern European thought, history and critique of metaphysics, philosophy of religion, religion and violence, religion and media, literature and t​emporality. 

Psalm 33,9 'He speaks and then it is present'
Reflections on language, the human being and time in the early modern Christian tradition

Professor Anna Vind (Section of Church History, University of Copenhagen)

In my paper I will try to show through historical textual examples how the biblical texts spur a distinct aesthetic comprehension of language, which gives rise to a particular understanding of what it is to be a human being in time. In criticism of scholastic concepts of logic and dialectics (with roots in Petrarca) the italian humanist Lorenzo Valla develops an – admittedly widely discussed – redirection of the relation between res et verba. Language and rhetoric are put on the throne as queen(s), subjugating thought and philosophy. This reorganization, occasionally labelled ‘The Latin Language Turn’ (Ann Moss) and not only endorsed by Valla, distinctly marked the time of the reformers: Both Melanchthon and Luther were deeply involved with reorganizing the artes liberales, with hermeneutics and concepts of translation, but, it seems, in quite different ways. Comparing the two, we may see how Luther combines the new focus upon words with the characteristics of the biblical texts in a quite novel way. Whereas Melanchthon works with a given semantical frame within which utterings make sense (a concept of dialectics and res before and over rhetoric and verba), Luther is much more radical and turns things around with specific reference to the Bible – and in line with Valla. The differences between the two reformers lead to different understandings of what it is to be a human being in time: different views of anthropology, different concepts of time and different understandings of the arts.

Professor Anna Vind is Section Head of Church History in the Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen. She does research in Luther’s anthropology, the concept of faith and the Christian life, with special attention to his understanding of language, music and images. She undertakes research in the Lutheran tradition in Denmark and Germany between the Reformation and modern times. She also has interest in Phenomenology and recently edited a volume of papers on In/Visibility.

What is Enlightenment 3?

Professor Oliver Davies (Emeritus Professor of Christian Doctrine, Kings College London) 

In his close study of Kant’s Was ist Aufklärung?, Foucault proposes that this text is an appeal to history and to progress in history, while also being an expression of the actuality, and the possibly transgressive actualities, of the now. We might paraphrase this as living in the tension between history, as a factum, and the immediacy of our own processes of becoming, with all their possibilities. Foucault makes it clear that this philosophy needs to become interdisciplinary on the one hand and yet also practice-centred on the other, in ‘practices envisaged simultaneously as a technological type of rationality and as a strategic game of liberties’. These have their ‘practical coherence in the care brought to the process of putting historical-critical reflection to the test of concrete practices’. Foucault concludes his essay with the words ‘I do not know whether it must be said today that the critical task still entails faith in Enlightenment; I continue to think that this task requires work on our limits, that is, a patient labor giving form to our impatience for liberty.’.

I propose in this paper that the interdisciplinary science of the present day (evolutionary science together with social neuroscience) can offer us new understandings of a basic structure within the human which governs how we can realize our liberty. This is a ‘deep’ linguistic structure, previously unconfirmed as a complete, though open, one. The implications of the structure are that our self-awareness has evolved from within long term, species wide practices which constitute the forms of our belonging within the environment, through cultural affordances. Our capacity for freedom is realized in each of these forms of belonging where we consent to the wholeness and openness of the unity of mind and body, of mind in body, as this occurs conditionally within an environment.

The argument developed here supports the view that the emergence of this newly discerned structure, in its social form, is itself accessible in phenomenological terms, in accordance with its structural nature. We know it as a prior form of belonging which is accessed in small scale community. But to this we must add a further, more critically refined, level. As explicitly cosmic, we can also begin to define this structure in the specifically open terms of a phenomenology of religion. Religions are the largest and, arguably, deepest forms of community belonging that are present on the planet. Within the context of practices involving both ‘structured’ embodiment and our capacity for learning, it may become possible for us to derive from phenomenology of religion a new and more capacious ‘phenomenology of humanity’. If this can in turn be driven by a ‘virtuous circle’ of new and tested practical knowledge in the area of human social practices, then we may find that structural misapprehensions can be corrected or ‘healed’ through new forms of channelling our freedom, in ways that can change behaviour across both religious and cultural divides.

Professor Oliver Davies is Emeritus Professor of Christian Doctrine, King’s College London. He is a British systematic theologian who has made contributions to the study of medieval mysticism, early medieval Welsh and Irish spirituality, and contemporary Systematic Theology. He presently works in the fields of neuroscience, theology and social transformation.

Orders of Discourses and Levels of Phenomenology in the Study of Religions: The Conceptual Modeling of a Religious Tradition and its Anthropology in Medieval India

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen (Oxford University)

When we study the history of religions, we primarily study the continuity and change of traditions through time. Since we are not merely describing the world as it is ‘in itself’, but rather ‘letting be seen that which shows itself’ by creating knowledge of it through our conceptual models, questions of phenomenology and modeling directly influence the way we study these traditions and also what we understand them to be. Through a model of orders of discourses and levels of phenomenology in the Study of Religion(s), this paper intends to show the relevance of a Phenomenology of Religion whose intellectual object is the integration of text into practice. It is argued that Indology and the Study of Religion tend to work on different analytical and phenomenological levels in their approach to modeling religious traditions and that this has resulted in quite different writings of the history of religions in India. The point is illustrated in relation to the conceptual modeling of goddess traditions in medieval India or what has become known as Hindu ‘Śāktism’ and its vertical push/pull Śākta anthropology.

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen is a Research Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Member of the Theology and Religion Faculty, University of Oxford. He teaches courses on Hinduism, Sanskrit and Pali as well as Key Thinkers and Manuscript reading. He is a historian of religion with an interest in Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion and with a focus on Śāktism and the tantric traditions in medieval India and Nepal. He is the Research Director and Manager for the Śākta Traditions research programme at the OCHS. His book publications include an introduction to Hinduism (2015), translations of the Bhagavadgītā (2009) and the Haṭhapradīpikā (2021) as well as a Danish Sanskrit Grammar and Reader in two volumes (2014). He is the editor of Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism (2016) and has written a number of articles on Śāktism, yoga and tantra in Danish, German and English.

A Semantic Interpretation of Rudolf Otto’s Religious Theory

Professor Yoshitsugu Sawai (Professor emeritus of the History of Religions, Tenri University)

My presentation is a semantic attempt to clarify the totality of Rudolf Otto by describing the characteristics of his religious theory, characterized by such key-terms as “the holy” and “the numinous.” In his academic life, Otto had three “faces,” i.e., a Christian theologian, a philosopher of religion, and a scholar of comparative religion. In the History of Religions, his religious theory is often regarded as the beginning of the phenomenology of religion. The phenomenologist Edmund Husserl called Otto’s book Das Heilige “a first beginning for a phenomenology of the religious.” Max Scheler, one of Husserl’s disciples, also praised Das Heilige as a book of the phenomenology of religion. In his life, Otto worked on the study of Indian religious thought while conducting Christian theological studies as a Lutheran theologian. His concept of the “wholly other” (das ganz Andere) certainly has the meaning of “God” in his Christian theology. From his perspectives of comparative religion, however, this same term semantically implies the “ultimate reality” of other religious traditions: “Brahman” and “God” (Īśvara) in Hindu tradition. This example shows us how the same religious concepts used by Otto may contain different implications in different religious traditions. In my presentation, on the basis of my analysis of his religious theory, I will semantically elucidate the nature of his religious perspectives.

Professor Yoshitsugu Sawai is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Tenri University. He has published books and articles on the Vedānta philosophy of Śaṅkaran religious tradition and the “Oriental Philosophy” of the Japanese philosopher Toshihiko Izutsu in Japanese and English. His research interests are in the theories of comparative religion, Indian philosophy, and Tenrikyo theology. He will soon publish a book on Rudolf Otto, Rudolf Otto and the Foundation of the History of Religions.

Human Experience in the Study of Religion: Phenomenology, Verticality, and the ‘Natural Desire to See God’

Revd Dr Philip Moller SJ (Oxford University) 

In the later twentieth-century, the phenomenological method in continental philosophy has provided considerable resources for the analysis of religious experience in human life, especially as it pertains to the ‘horizontal realm’ of what might be said to be capable of being grasped. Such phenomenological analysis, in turn, is capable of supplying evidence and a certain horizontal ‘givenness’ for those engaged in the study of religion, especially if it is employed as a complement to more the traditional methodologies in that field. Nevertheless, both phenomenology and religious studies, in their differing ways, overlook the unique dimension of human experience which possesses a ‘vertical’ rather than a horizonal structure, and which specifies that which is oriented beyond the present realm. By contrast, the Christian theological tradition has held to the notion that the human in her experience is possessed of an innate, natural desire for the transcendent, known as the ‘natural desire to see God’. In this paper, it is proposed to argue that the current concentration on the ‘horizonal realm’ of experience in both phenomenology and religious studies also requires a further, complementary focus on the ‘verticality’ of human experience, especially as it manifests in the phenomenon of human desiring. It is the principal contention here that the tradition of the ‘natural desire to see God’ indicates a crucial example of ‘verticality’ for religious studies, and this paper explores how this might be plausibly said to be also true for the contemporary era.

Revd Dr Philip Moller SJ is a Junior Research Fellow in philosophical theology, working at the intersections of philosophy and modern theology, especially as these arise in the context of contemporary society. He is particularly interested in the arenas of ‘natural theology’, metaphysics, epistemology, and human knowledge of God; philosophical and theological anthropology; modern Catholic theology; the nature and method of Christian theology; and religious belief, law, and public policy. The Ressourcement project and methodology of the French Jesuits, especially Henri de Lubac, are central to his researches.

Geometry of Embodiment: Husserl with Tertullian

Dr Nikolaas Deketelaere (Catholic University of Paris/Australian Catholic University)

This paper presents the experience of human embodiment as the foundation for two distinct discourses: phenomenology and theology. Insofar as phenomenology is concerned, Husserl famously refers to the body as the ‘zero point’ of all subsequent intentional orientations, meaning that it is the body that makes phenomenality possible. Insofar as theology is concerned, the Fathers of the Church emphasise the intrinsic connection between Revelation and Incarnation, meaning that God is only revealed insofar as he enters into a human body. At the same time, however, by facilitating certain experiences, embodiment precisely precludes others: though the subjective body makes all phenomenality possible, in doing so it makes the objective body transcendent to that phenomenality; likewise, though the Incarnation of God makes his revelation possible, it does so precisely by making him appear as a human being rather than manifesting divinity as such. Drawing on Husserl and Tertullian, as well as their contemporary French interpreters, the paper therefore argues that embodiment constitutes not only the ‘zero point’ of all experience (whether religious or not) but equally its ‘vanishing point’. Moreover, it suggests that the relationship between these two points then needs to be described before any phenomenological analysis can take place (because it concerns the ‘vanishing point’ of phenomenality), namely in a ‘geometry of embodiment’ that sets the terms on which things can appear to intentional consciousness (because it concerns the ‘zero point’ of phenomenality).  

Dr Nikolaas Deketelaere is a researcher in philosophy at the Catholic University of Paris and the Australian Catholic University. Previously, he studied philosophy at the University of Leuven and obtained a doctorate in theology at the University of Oxford. He works in phenomenology, philosophy of religion, as well as philosophical anthropology, and focusses on critical engagements with the so-called ‘theological turn’ of recent French phenomenology. 

Phenomenology and Contemplation

Professor Kevin Hart (The University of Virginia)

Edmund Husserl’s meta-philosophy makes him an unusual figure in twentieth-century philosophy: he affirms the task of philosophy to be reflective, meditative, or indeed contemplative (Reflexion, Besinnung). Only in a reflective state, which Husserl believes can become a permanent achievement of the philosopher, can one examine the noetic-noematic correlation and thereby grasp how phenomena are constituted. In this respect, he is to one side of the current of modern philosophy, which generally regards the discipline as oriented toward analysis, critique or struggle. One of the first attacks on Husserl’s meta-philosophical position was Heidegger’s: the tranquility co-ordinate with reflection does not give us what we need in order to register Sein. Rather, we need to be attuned to deep boredom or Angst or another “mood” at the dark end of the spectrum. Husserl’s orientation to reflection invites us to ponder the roles that contemplation might play in his thought; it also invites us to think of phenomenology as contributing to the history of contemplation and thereby casting an oblique light on possible ways of construing the relation between Christianity and phenomenology. 

Professor Kevin Hart is Edwin B Kyle Professor of Christian Studies in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Virginia. Professor Hart works primarily between the worlds of Philosophy and Theology, and also in the field of Religion and Literature. He is currently editing Jean-Luc Marion: The Essential Works for Fordham UP. He is also in the process of revising essays to be included in two collections: one that is provisionally entitled: The Iconic Moment: Poetry and Christianity , and another with the working title From the French: Essays on French Philosophy and Theology. His main project is The Phenomenology of the Christ. He co-edits the book series “Thresholds: Philosophy and Theology” for Notre Dame UP; he serves on the Comité Scientifique d’Oeuvres d’Emmanuel Lévinas (Grasset), and sits on the editorial boards of Cahiers Blanchot, Christianity and Literature, Expositions, Faith and Philosophy, Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory, and New Literary History. Hart is currently working on a study of Catholic contemplation provisionaly entitled: Contemplation: To the Kingdom of Silence. The book seeks to show that, on the one hand, the Catholic contemplative tradition, especially in Richard of St Victor, foreshadows phenomenology as developed in the twentieth century and, on the other hand, that phenomenology in the twentieth century can learn a great deal about the scope of manifestation by reading Richard. The book covers a variety of other topics, but is at present in a fluid state as it is being written.

Knowing By Heart

Professor Anthony Steinbock (Stony Brook University) 

In the context of ‘generative loving’ this lecture advances a philosophical anthropology of the beloved and a metaphysical phenomenology. The lecture begins with a phenomenological description of loving from the first-person perspective of myself as beloved. After discussing the metaphysical implications of the things themselves through loving, and accordingly understanding phenomenology as inherently metaphysical in scope when describing loving, the lecture addresses the mode of givenness of loving as revelatory where persons are concerned. The first-person experience and description of the beloved, which is also a second-person one, is received from the perspective of loving in the mode of givenness, epiphany (the religious sphere), and from the perspective of loving in the mode of givenness, revelation (the moral sphere). Through epiphany as loving, we are revealed to ourselves most fundamentally as beloved. Any other revealing act-movement points back in its own way or clarifies and disposes us to this fundamental revelation of loving and being given as beloved. From here, the lecture gestures toward a philosophical anthropology of loving, and suggests that loving is a process of participating another. 

Professor Anthony Steinbock is Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University. He specialises in Phenomenology, Contemporary German and French Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Social Ontology, and Aesthetics. His published books include:  It’s Not about the Gift: From Givenness to Loving (Rowman & Littlefield Int., 2018), Limit -Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl (Rowman & Littlefield Int., 2017),  Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart (Northwestern, 2014; 2015 Symposium Book Award),  Phenomenology and Mysticism:   The Verticality of Religious Experience  (Indiana, 2007/2009; 2009Edward Goodwin Ballard Book Prize in Phenomenology),  Home and Beyond:   Generative Phenomenology after Husserl (Northwestern, 1995). He is the translator of Edmund Husserl,  Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic (Kluwer, 2001). His current book projects include  Schema of the Heart: Loving and Hating, and  Vocations and Exemplars: The Verticality of Moral Experience. He serves as editor-in-chief,  Continental Philosophy Review, and as general editor, Northwestern University Press “SPEP” Series. He is the director of the Phenomenology Research Center.

Gadamer’s Orchard: Phenomenology and the Role of Religious Studies in the Destiny of Humanity

Dr Jessica Frazier (Oxford University) 

This paper will look at what Gadamer thinks we are doing when we explore unfamiliar ideas, adding new interpretations, and creating new contemporary culture as we go. It will focus on his accounts of education about other cultures, and what disciplines like the Study of Cultures and Religions are doing to reality itself through their work. In the beginning, Phenomenology was often concerned to end philosophy’s ‘mummification’ (as Nietzsche put it in Twilight of the Idols) and breathe new life into our efforts to understand our own living participation in the world. The work of Hans-Georg Gadamer continues these wider, almost ‘religious’ goals of phenomenology in two ways – it reveals our hidden identities as creative conduits of reality, and it shows how different activities like education, cultural interpretation, community building, and reflection about our own health, all facilitate this. We will see that, for some phenomenologists, fields like Religious Studies are part of a larger destiny.

Dr Jessica Frazier is a University Research Lecturer teaching for the Theology and Religion Faculty on Hinduism and Theories of Religion, and for the Philosophy Faculty on Indian Philosophy. Her research explores key philosophical themes across cultures, from Indian classical theories of Being to twentieth-century phenomenology. Her books explore conceptions of reality, the self and the good across cultures, focusing on classical Indian metaphysics and German phenomenology, and my forthcoming books explore Indian approaches to Being, definitions of the material and the divine, and Gadamer’s distinctive “hermeneutic” ontology. She is also the managing editor of the Journal of Hindu Studies (OUP). Her work on Hindu ideas translates them into global terms, so that we can all think in new ways about issues that shape our society: the nature of a good life, justice and human rights, metaphysics, the goals of community. I anchor these perspectives in classic texts, and bring them into conversation with academic philosophy and existential concerns.

The contribution of Philosophical Anthropology to (any) Phenomenology of Religion: What is the phenomenon to '-ologise'?

Professor Jeppe Sinding Jensen (Aarhus University)

This lecture will offer some consideration on the theoretical objects available, a generous poly-methodic attitude; the ‘subject’ is rich enough to involve a multitude of voices, not competing but contributing. It is good to apply some conceptual ‘cleansing’ to the field. In this case, my take on the problem builds on a view of religion in the organizing of human social morality. 

Professor Jeppe Sinding Jensen, Reader (emer.), dr.phil., Aarhus University, Denmark. B.A. Classical Arabic and Islamic studies, M.A. History of Religions. Early research on religious psychologies and comparative studies, later turning to cognitive theories of religion, moral psychology and normative cognition. He has written extensively about comparative studies in numerous articles and monographs, e.g. in Myths and Mythologies (2009) and phenomenologies of and in Religion, e.g. The Study of Religion in a New Key (2003), What is Religion? (2nd ed. 2019). 

Hinduism, History, and the Phenomenology of Verticality

Dr Lucian Wong (OCHS)

This paper argues that a phenomenology of what has been dubbed ‘verticality’ (Steinbock 2007, Flood 2019) can be profitably deployed in the service of historical explanation vis-à-vis the study of religions. It makes its case with special reference to the study of Hinduism. Responding to recent invocations of Rudolf Otto’s concept of the ‘numinous’ as providing a resource for theorising the vertical blind spots that pervade histories of Hindu religious actors, the paper proposes Martin Heidegger’s early work on religion as offering a potentially more fruitful way forward in this regard—one which takes ‘the historical’ seriously yet nevertheless provides genuine access to the vertical dimension of religious life. And so, rather than a phenomenology of religion that privileges appearances to consciousness and which thereby threatens to short-circuit historical explanation, we are presented with a pathway to a phenomenology of religion that proceeds from factical life experience and which can thus be harnessed to speak directly to the historical treatment of religious traditions. The paper will demonstrate the explanatory force of such a phenomenology in relation to an example from the study of modern Hindu devotion (bhakti). 

Dr Lucian Wong is the Baba Bhuman Shah Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS). He has published articles on various aspects of modern Hindu intellectual history and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and co-edited The Legacy of Vaiṣṇavism in Colonial Bengal (Routledge 2020). He currently co-directs the Rethinking Hinduism in Colonial India research project and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism research programme of the OCHS. He is also an editor of the Journal of Hindu Studies (OUP).

Phenomenology and Mystery: Erich Przywara’s “Reductio in Mysterium”

Revd Carl Scerri (Oxford University)

Erich Przywara is best known for his work on the notion of the analogia entis. In his magnum opus bearing the same name as the Scholastic notion, he offers a renewed reading of the analogy of being: it is not a conceptual framework which encapsulates God and the creature within a common understanding of Being but a dynamic path going from the creaturely realm towards the Divine mystery. Indeed, Przywara identifies the analogy of being with the reductio in mysterium, i.e., a going back (re-ductio) into mystery.

My paper will focus on the reductio in mysterium – an axiom that was coined by Przywara himself and picked up by Edith Stein in her works on phenomenology and mystery. Przywara’s choice of words carries interesting implications: the term reductio is a clear reference to phenomenology. In fact, Przywara himself admits, in his preface to Analogia Entis, that his work is influenced by the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger. In my paper, I will argue that Przywara is subscribing to the phenomenological method and, in a similar way to Ideas and Being and Time, attempts to go back, to employ a re-ductio, towards the more original ground of philosophy. However, in Przywara’s case, this more original ground is constituted neither by the Transcendental Ego nor by Being, but by the mystery that structures creaturely existence. In other words, Przywara proposes a different kind of phenomenology. His is a phenomenology of mystery, for the reductio uncovers the irreducible mysterious constitution of the human being. In this light, the analogy of being takes on a new meaning: it is not simply a proportion between the being of the creature and that of the Creator, but rather a participation of the creaturely mystery in the greater Divine mystery.

Revd Carl Scerri completed his undergraduate studies in philosophy and theology in Malta and furthered his studies, at graduate level, in Paris, at the Institut Catholique de Paris and the Sorbonne. After completing an MSt in Modern Theology, he is currently a DPhil candidate in Theology at Campion Hall, University of Oxford. 

John Zizioulas and Emmanuel Levinas on Totality, Otherness, and the Possibility of Communion

Revd Matthew Dunch SJ (Oxford University)

Emmanuel Levinas provocatively claimed that “All philosophical thought rests on pre-philosophical experiences” (Ethique et infini).  This influence is often unconscious and available only retrospectively but nonetheless threatens the neutrality of phenomenological reflection. The paper considers the possibility of communion with the Other as pre-philosophical religious commitment manifest in the phenomenological. The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas’s sees in Levinas an attractive path for ontology to move beyond totality and Heidegger’s reduction of the “Other to the Same”. Levinas’s account of otherness frees human beings from totality, yet the Other constrains the self. Zizioulas finds in Levinas’s ‘I’ constituted by encounter with the Other an account consonant with early Christian understandings of the person. Zizioulas criticizes Levinas on the possibilities for verticality and relationship in philosophical terms but ultimately along confessional lines. For Levinas, one approaches God only through ethical praxis directed to the neighbor as Other. For Zizioulas, liturgy is the realization of otherness and communion both with the human and divine Other. Phenomenology helps to articulate rather than arbitrate this division.

Revd Matthew Dunch SJ is doing a DPhil in the Theology and Religion Faculty at Oxford, exploring spiritual pedagogy. He has a Master of Arts degree in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, where he explored challenges to empathic understanding posed by radically divergent bodily conditions of interlocutors, particularly those caused by disability. He earned Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees (as well as their eccelsiastical analogs the Bachelor of Theology and License of Theology) at Regis College at the University of Toronto. His theological work focused on the relationship of mysticism and ethics. He taught philosophy for three years at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. His teaching included courses in ethics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion. He also developed service learning ethics courses centered on homelessness and outsider art.

Mediating verticality in community – the phenomenological vision of Nicholas of Cusa

Revd Joseph Simmons SJ (Oxford University)

Nicholas of Cusa’s De Visione Dei helps us notice how the act of receiving a work of art is never done in vacuo (any more than its crafting was accomplished ex nihilo).  I examine the famous account of Cusa gifting an icon (presumably of Christ) to the monks of Tegernsee, instructing them to hang it above while move around below, letting the eyes follow each as he wanders.  Where an earlier aesthetic vision places the viewer in one predetermined point vis-a-vis the painting, Cusa’s vera icona of Christ inverts the gaze while allowing pluriform reception: the icon’s eyes mark the perspectival point of infinity, from and to which all gazing flows. Each wandering monk reports the icon’s eyes following him around the room at the same time.  The infinite gaze remains graciously present to each monk in his quantum finitude, with each perceiver visually attuned back to the infinite.  Importantly, understanding the whole (kath’holou) of this schema requires not only vertical (visual) but also horizontal (auditory) attunement: the monks are instructed to report what they see to one another.  Cusa’s phenomenology (avant la lettre) of aesthetic framing demonstrates that attunement to a work of art happens in communities of reception and verification.  I extend his analysis to see how phenomenology of religion likewise occurs in communities of reception.

Revd Joseph Simmons SJ is an American Jesuit, currently writing his doctoral thesis at Campion Hall, Oxford on writers of fiction ‘bothered by God’.

Desiring Dharma: Anthropotechnics and Ritual in the Mīmāṃsāsūtras

Dr Samuel G. Ngaihte (Manipur University)

Although a major component of the Mīmāṃsāsūtras revolves around the exegesis of the injunctions of the Veda in relation to the elaborate practice of sacrifice, Jaimini introduces his project as a dharmajijñāsā. This curious introduction, when placed in the wider context of his concern for developing the intrinsic intelligibility of sacrifice in the midst of a growing criticism over its continuing efficacy and relevance, discloses the dialogic manner in which Jaimini seeks to reimagine the nature and vitality of sacrifice as a meaningful practice for the Vedic tradition. In contrast to the functional representation of sacrifice as a communication or site of ‘covenantal’ exchange between the humans and the gods (or deities) in the quest for phalas, Jaimini repostulates the act of sacrifice as an art of fulfillment whose realization is firmly reliant on the ritual subject’s desire for the invisible dharma. This focus on the subject allows us to disclose the fabrics of the human vertical tension that constitutes the ‘homo repetitivus’.

Dr Samuel G. Ngaihte is an interdisciplinary scholar who is currently pursuing research work in the Northeast of India. He is also a faculty member of the Philosophy Department (Manipur University, Imphal). His publications include Vedic Practice, Ritual Studies and Jaimini’s Mīmāṃsāsūtras: Dharma and the Enjoined Subject (Routledge, 2019) and Christianity and Empire in South Manipur Hills: Senvon Encounter and the Dialogic Zo Peoples (Regnum, forthcoming 2022).

Becoming Who You Are: Holiness and Person

Professor Gavin Flood FBA (Oxford University)

The Phenomenology of Religion adopted (or mis-adopted) a Husserlian model in which through the epoché, the deep subject of consciousness can view the flow of the objects of consciousness, the cogitationes, and move from the natural attitude to the phenomenological mode of analysis. On this view, holiness is a cogitatum, an intellectual object of inquiry, the intuition of perfectibility or even of God as an intellectual object. But this model is problematic. What was a virtue – the suspension of the question of Being behind appearances – is revealed to be a hindrance to a deeper understanding of the nature of the human and its relation to holiness.  To get some leverage on the category of holiness, we need to describe the shift from transcendental ego to existential encounter, from disembodied self to embodied person. Phenomenology in the twentieth century has provided three accounts or re-descriptions of person as other than transcendental ego, Heidegger’s Dasein, Merleau-Ponty’s embodiment or flesh, and Ricoeur’s narrative, positions that have been modified mostly in the Francophone world with accounts of pre-linguistic experience by Romano and a co-belonging view of person by Housset. With these developments in the background, I wish to present a view of holiness as comportment to verticality linked to conceptions of person as a task of becoming (Heidegger) and as wanting to want oneself (Housset). We might say that holiness is part of such desire to become who one is, which means that with holiness we have an orientation towards verticality and a sense of becoming that moves towards – but never reaches – the notion of fullness. Such an orientation is articulated through a narrative structure, the story of a life framed by birth and death, and culturally expressed as a journey. This is not a perennial philosophy because such a view respects the radical difference in conceptions of verticality across civilizations, but it is a universalist position in the sense of recognizing such a human drive and the cultural forms that articulate processes of becoming. It is also a metaphysically realist position in positing invisible constraint on the appearances of holiness.

Professor Gavin Flood FBA is Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion in the Theology and Religion Faculty at Oxford, Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, and academic director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. His research interests are in medieval Hindu texts (focused on Shiva), comparative religion, and phenomenology. Among his publications are Religion and the Philosophy of Life (OUP 2019).