Academic journal article Shofar

Deconstruction Anticipated: Koigen and Buber on a Self-Corrective Religion

Academic journal article Shofar

Deconstruction Anticipated: Koigen and Buber on a Self-Corrective Religion

Article excerpt

The following paper reconsiders Jacques Derrida's vision of a "religion without religion," the pristine, originary moment of the religious. What exercises Derrida are the dogmatic and exclusionary implications of the concept of revealed religion. I refer to David Koigen (1877-1933) and Martin Buber (1878-1965) as two philosophers who presented alternative ways to broach this problem. Rather than restructuring historical religion into a universal faith unfettered by the paradigms of Abrahamic religion, as Derrida does, they map a self-corrective religion. They thus allow for a new reading of key Derridean notions such as "performativity," "acts of faith," "possibility," "decision," and "ambiguity." Koigen introduced the term "meta-religion" into the debate on religion. I propose to extrapolate from his and Buber's writings on religion a concept of meta-religion that delineates a self-critical reflection on the foundations of theistic faith. What remained implicit in Koigen's writings gains a much more pronounced articulation in Buber's biblical hermeneutics as amplified by his philosophy of dialogue. Buber identifies basic faith postures in the biblical text that can furnish the discursive framework for a meta-religious reflection on the institutional and normative configurations of Judaism.

In a recent symposium sponsored by the Swiss daily newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, scholars and representatives of the world religions were chal- lenged to contemplate "what is a good religion."1 Phrased in a fundamentally ambiguous, even an artful way, the question effectively plays upon the increas- ing unease felt by many concerning the role of religion today. Yet the ques- tion also seems to presuppose the Enlightenment's critique of religion, which judges historical religions by their capacity to approximate pure rational faith, enabling them to dispense with institutional structures and hence their supposedly pernicious particularism. This critique betrays a profound misunderstanding of the complex cultural significance of particularism and fails to distinguish between institutional religion and "the religious." The latter term denotes primal religious impulses that often function independently of religion, and endure even when the institutions of faith are questioned and falter.

As a philosophical current that most uncompromisingly addresses the endemic injustices perpetuated in the name of religion, deconstruction resumed and redefined the program of the Enlightenment. By dislodging the religious from tradition deconstructionists seek a reformatting of religion. It seems, however, that the study of religion in a post 9/11 world requires a new approach to historical religion. Hence, it might be beneficial to rephrase the question and to ask whether a philosophy of religion can (afford to) disregard historical, institutional religion. In other words, can a "religion without religion" serve effectively as the edifice for a non-supersessionist faith? In addressing this question, one must acknowledge that an all-comprehensive definition of religion is inherently elusive. Nonetheless, with respect to the monotheistic conceptions of religion one may at least note a shared claim to a transcendent referent as the ultimate source of truth and visions of the good. This claim lies at the heart of the debate spurred by the deconstructionist critique of historical religion.

Is a self-reflective religion only feasible when the conceptual semantics of theistic religion is purged of what Jacques Derrida calls a "logic of presupposition"? Is such an exercise a sine qua non to attain the uncompromised, anti-foundational, and anti-representational "being-before" (l'être avant), that is, before revealed truth and its attendant dogmatic and exclusionary implications? Can the deconstructionist discourse on religion ground religion sufficiently such that it could exert the responsible "geopolitical" role the "new tolerance" that Derrida envisages, a religion "at the limits of pure reason" that would be "effectively universal" and thus "no longer be restricted to a paradigm that is Christian or even Abrahamic"? …

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