Religious Experience at the Limits of Language: Lévinas, Marion, and Caputo from a Post-Phenomenological Perspective



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In my dissertation, I explore the thinking of Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Luc Marion, and John D. Caputo, three late twentieth-century philosophers who consider the manner in which human desire for the divine is experienced within consciousness. I endeavor to provide a balanced reading of their views and then explore the question of whether phenomenology, rigorously applied, can provide a means for properly understanding religious experience. These three philosophers were influenced by the views of Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida, and accordingly, my dissertation considers the manner in which those views are understood and then followed or rejected by Lévinas, Marion, and Caputo. In my view, contemporary philosophy of religion struggles to find its voice, often facing criticism for its theological tenor and hyperbolic language. I attempt to offer a reasoned analysis of the way in which philosophy, properly considered, can view language-formation (the creation of meaning within consciousness) as an essential component of religious experience. In my analysis of the writings of Lévinas, I explore how he finds in language the means to articulate an experience of the divine that begins outside of Being in “saying” and culminates within Being in the “said.” I then delve into the philosophical basis for his break with Heidegger and his expanded reading of Husserl and consider the possibility that he failed to fully justify his arguments through phenomenology. Next I consider Marion’s attempts to provide convincing arguments for an expansion of phenomenology to include all phenomena “given” to consciousness, a project grounded in his readings—or possibly his misreadings—of Husserl and Heidegger. I will evaluate Marion’s argument that phenomenology may properly recognize the possibility of revelation from a divine source that resembles the God of Western religion. Marion contends that such phenomena are incomprehensible and, paradoxically, impossible; I explore the way in which this contention supports an expansion of phenomenology to consider the experience of meaning-creation that occurs when phenomena are manifested to consciousness in the manner claimed by Marion. I then consider the contributions of Caputo to this debate and his premise that experience of God occurs (if at all) through a deconstructionist undertaking; in particular, I explore the way in which his “radical” hermeneutics supplements the philosophical contributions of Lévinas and Marion. Each of these three philosophers offers contemporary philosophy a different means for describing the possibility of religious experience; however, all of them conclude that human consciousness experiences God—or the idea of God—as largely incomprehensible. My dissertation asks whether phenomenology could potentially embrace impossibility as so depicted. Similarly, it considers whether a fundamental unanswered question regarding a phenomenological understanding of religious experience is this: how can truth and meaning be found in divine manifestations that defy language and are claimed to be beyond human comprehension?



Lévinas, Emmanuel, Marion, Jean-Luc, 1946-, Caputo, John D., Philosophy and religion, Phenomenological theology


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