Type of Document Dissertation Author Rumfelt, Janet L. URN etd-07132009-195116 Title Idolatry, Magic, And Poetic Subjectivity: Breaking the Spell of Metaphysics in Jewish And Christian Postliberal Thought Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Religion, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Martin Kavka Committee Chair Sumner B. Twiss Committee Member Russell Dancy Outside Committee Member Keywords
- Philosophy Of Religion
- Philosophy Of Language
Date of Defense 2009-07-03 Availability unrestricted AbstractJoseph B. Soloveitchik and George A. Lindbeck both constructed postliberal, religious methodologies that drew on modern resources as a basis for the retrieval of tradition. In the proposed dissertation, I argue that their attempts, though laudable to the extent that they create space for tradition, fall short insofar as both ideologies manifest a tendency toward the reification of tradition. Thus, despite their best attempts to the contrary, their accounts of religion construct religious identity and practice according to a fixed or quasi-fixed script and close religion off from the insights and critiques of contemporary culture. This occurs because they reverse liberalism’s dialectic between tradition and culture by affirming tradition over culture. This weak dialectical relation seals religion off from a robust dialogue with culture, and subsequently their theorizing results in entombing both religious practice and identity within traditional conceptions. While they allow for some level of religious innovation, it is constricted by the quasi-a priori transcendental conditions (put forward by Lindbeck) or the a priori transcendental conditions (put forward by Soloveitchik).
I offer a Wittgensteinian critique of postliberalism’s methodology and argue that their theorizing collapses into idolatry owing to a flawed conception of language that holds their theorizing captive to metaphysical assumptions. Wittgenstein’s descriptive philosophy, understood as a kind therapy, offers both diagnosis and cure. Language becomes idolatrous when it is literalized, when it is taken to be a representation of reality. I draw on Wittgenstein’s criticisms of representationalism along with his use of the poetic imagination to show that religion can avoid the pitfalls of idolatry by constructing a robust dialectic between tradition and culture.
This creates theoretical space for the cultivation of a poetic, religious identity. Abandoning representationalist accounts of language opens the door to a poetic understanding of grammar, which unhinges religious practitioners from the metaphysics of representationalism and frees them to live within the fluidity of life, moving back and forth between tradition and culture.
In short, I show that Wittgenstein’s work can be appropriated in religion with the consequence that religious adherents are freed from living their lives according to a fixed or quasi-fixed script. Traditional textual resources are understood as offering poetic images, which must be put into a robust dialogue with culture. This poetic understanding of grammar allows for the use and play of images in the constitution of religious life and practice without literalizing or fixing any one of them.
Last, I argue that Wittgenstein’s poetics has an ethical import. Metaphysics can be violent insofar as it forces people to live or believe in a certain way. If they do not conform to the metaphysical assumptions put forward by their religious community, their identity is diminished or sometimes even violently stripped away. Wittgenstein’s work beckons readers to avoid the violence of metaphysics by freeing them to live within the “hurly burly” of life, moving to and fro between the traditional images that have sustained them and the new ones that confront them. His work cultivates a subjectivity that is ever opening outward toward difference and otherness.
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