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Micro Reviews #8 “Religious Experience and the End of Metaphysics”

Overall Rating: 8/10

I recently picked up a this short compilation at a small used bookstore and eagerly made my way though it.  Religious Experience and the End of Metaphysics is comprised of a collection of articles–originally written for a seminar “Religious Experience in the Wake of Modernity” at the Catholic University of Louvain, 1999-2000–edited and prefaced by (noted Levinas Scholar) Jeffrey Bloechl of Boston College.

While a comprehensive examination of every chapter is beyond my current attention span, the book as a whole stands together in surprising uniformity, and it should be possible to speak in broad strokes about its presentation.  As the title indicates, the subject of this volume is twofold, on the one hand is religious experience, particularly (though not exclusively) of the mystical variety.  On the other, is the continental philosophic tradition seen specifically through the lens of Heideggerian thought.  Drawing upon the work of Heidegger, Marion, Derrida, Levinas, as well as a wide variety of religious traditions both Eastern and Western these thinkers question the nature of God, the relationship between cultural/historical development and religious ultimacy, and the universality of religious insight.

Overall, the contributions to this volume are of considerable quality, although a few noticeably stand out.  In “The Work and the Complement of Appearing”, Jean-Yves Lacoste reexamines Heidegger’s famous analysis “The Origin of the Work of Art.”  Here, seeming to reveal the influence of Michel Henry, Lacoste elaborates a theory of direct aesthetic affectivity.  Yet, challenging both Heidegger and Henry, Lacoste proposes that this affectivity does not carry the absolute quality that it is generally attributed and instead positions affectivity itself within the larger project of factical interpretation.

In “Derrida and Marion” John D. Caputo reveals the Husserlian genesis of these two influential thinkers, marking out the ways in which they both sought to move beyond Husserl’s strict understanding of intentionality and fulfillment.  Contrasting Derrida’s freeing of intentionality (through the abandonment of intuition) from Marion’s supression of intentionality (though a surplus of intuition), Caputo critiques the latter by way of the former.  Citing the inability of Marion to bridge the gap between non-conceptual intuitive givenness and concrete knowledge; Caputo argues that it is only through faith that one can move from pure saturated givenness to “God.”  “Marion comes around to confessing that givenness requires an intention that intends something not given that we can and must belive, that we also trust and love.” (p. 132)

Overall, this volume is a satisfying read and a helpful supplement to those who are already familiar with the debates surrounding the “theological turn” of post-existentialist French phenomenological thought.  Recommended for anyone interested in phenomenology, philosophic theology, mysticism, or 21st century continental philosophy.