Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Introduction: Futures of the Theological Turn

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Introduction: Futures of the Theological Turn

Article excerpt

The occasion for this special topic was a happy one for myself personally. My monograph, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology, was launched in Dublin in March 2016, following from a symposium on the theological turn in phenomenology. I am grateful that Jeffrey Bloechl and Felix Ó Murchadha accepted my invitation to deliver papers on the day. My colleague Ian Leask and I offered responses. The papers presently in the special topic below evolved out of this symposium, but they have expanded considerably on the topic originally discussed at the symposium. I have invited two other colleagues associated with Dublin City University to make contributions: Eileen Brennan, who is a lecturer in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University and editor of Études Ricœuriennes/Ricœur Studies; and Joseph O'Leary, who on occasion offers summer term modules on theology at Dublin City University.

As the six essays demonstrate, the future of phenomenology's theological turn occupies many terrains. There is no "one" future, but many. The appeal of the theological turn lies in its fertility, its open-endedness and thus unpredictability. No less than the contested nature of phenomenology after Husserl, the group of essays here is meant to represent a model of pluriformity, in which, therefore, we need not elicit a single, overarching definition of the theological turn. The invocation of fertility already presupposes plurality, in any context, I pause to note. With regard to the theological turn, fertility is conducive to the understanding that phenomenology and theology are discrete disciplines. As such, they are neither identical in canonical source material nor isomorphic in methodology. How could the interrelationship of phenomenology and theology remain dynamic and openended if they converged and overlapped in every detail (or even in most)? Such a question can scarcely be answered in a brief compass like the present introduction but its force can be lessened when it is noted that no such complete overlap can occur without doing conceptual violence to both disciplines. The future of the cross-fertilization of the two disciplines, then, would need to develop in a manner consistent with the spirit of Dominique Janicaud's opening salvo (though he posed it as an objection to cross-fertilization): namely, that "phenomenology and theology make two."1 Certainly we may see their ultimate aims come into conflict, but we need not insist on the conflict of the faculties. They are neither the same discipline nor are they antithetical. Can they not simply leave each other alone? Can they not simply run parallel to each other, disengaged and indifferent to what the other is claiming?

This may be one strategy, but it does not have to be the only option available to either the philosopher or the theologian. As Lacoste says, "philosophie et theologie 'sur-viennent.'"2 I take sur-viennent to translate to an idiom that invokes an interdisciplinary framework in which neither philosophy nor theology assumes the rank of ground or first discipline. They "overcome" rigid disengagement or entrenched conflict only to cultivate "fecundation reciproque."3 A chief question many post-Barthian theologians (does Luther too not refuse philosophy as the devil's whore?) neglect to ask: how can theology benefit from philosophy? Can philosophy not teach theology to say what it wants to say about Revelation with greater conceptual clarity, without presuming theology should give up on the fundamental mystery of faith in God? That is, philosophy and philosophical critique is not of necessity destructive, but rather helps to add conceptual precision to theological problems and debates. To return to Lacoste, philosophy is manifest in the margins of theological discourse, as an "interested spectator" and theologians must make wise use of philosophical method.4

Some see such reciprocity between philosophy and theology as a sufficient reason to overcome entirely clear disciplinary distinctions. …

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