Monday 10 March 2008

St Paul and philosophy in Vancouver

The most exciting and most événementiel theological conference of the year – “Saint Paul’s Journeys into Philosophy,” 4-6 June 2008 – now has its website up and running, and it’s open for registrations (early bird until 15 April). Here’s a note from the organiser, Doug Harink:

Join us for a conference which explores the critical appropriations of Saint Paul by recent and contemporary Continental philosophers, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jacob Taubes, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Žižek, and others. An international group of philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars and literary theorists will present papers on a wide range of themes arising from this recent philosophical appropriation of Saint Paul. Plenary speakers include Stephen Fowl, Paul Griffiths, Travis Kroeker and J. Louis Martyn. There will also be presentations by Creston Davis, Neil Elliott, Paul Gooch, Douglas Harink, Chris Huebner, Mark Reasoner, Jeffrey Robbins, Gordon Zerbe, Jens Zimmerman and others. To register, or to get travel and accommodation information, visit the website or email Doug Harink.

So don’t be an animal, be a subject – be there for the event!


byron smith said...

...recent and contemporary Continental philosophers, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche...
Nice to see this conference taking a long view of things.

Dave Belcher said...

Philosophers? I guess Paul Gooch and Jens Zimmerman sort of there actually going to be a conference at some point in the future, though, that will successfully get these "recent and contemporary Continental philosophers" together in one place with "theologians, biblical scholars," etc? Zizek seems to be cool with the Christians, but will it have been possible to get Agamben and Badiou to meet with biblical scholars and theologians to discuss St. Paul? I'm not sure they really care...because they aren't reading Paul in the same way that biblical scholars and theologians want to -- or inevitably will -- read Paul.

This isn't anything against this, which looks like a really good, conference; just seems funny how many St. Paul kinds of conferences there have been without the presence of the two most significant interpreters in this "new" vein, Agamben and Badiou (Zizek counts only referentially in my mind).

Shane said...

"St. Paul's Journeys into Philosophy"?

I dare you to ask each of the speakers to comment on St. Paul's only ex professo statement about philosophy from Colossians 2,8:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

I like philosophy a lot, but I seldom take any statements of the philosophers all that seriously. Paul I'm not so sure about, but I always take him seriously.

Badiou et al. seem to have things exactly backwards as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

A good quote Shane.

But isnt that exactly what the institutional church did, even via the form of the Bible itself.

The church and the self-appointed church fathers, and THEIR interpretations of the then available scriptures which were then edited to eventually become the Bible, became the locus and source of authority.

The church became both a very worldly power-seeking institution.
And "it" produced the Bible to fit in with, and justify its power. And its victory over and suppression of what are now called and dismissed as "heresies".

Thus we end up with the "living" Magesterium of Rome and that chap (Christ's "vicar") who has become the centre of a vast personality cult. Pure Barnum and Bailley.

I would also argue that it was Paul himself who was the intrumental catalyst that set of this inexorable train of events.

Anonymous said...

And I imagine that da Vinci painted us some clues to help us find out the "real truth", no?

Dave Belcher said...

Shane, but that's actually what's kind of brilliant about Badiou's and Agamben's readings of Paul: they can't really be dismantled on any other terms than their own...philosophy is required in order to engage their readings of Paul...this is also kind of why I suspect that they won't be showing up at these conferences that are for the purpose of "dialogue" between theology and philosophy or philosophy and biblical studies.

Shane said...

"They can't really be dismantled on any other terms than their own"

I'm unclear what this means or why it's supposed to be true.

I would have thought that proving Zizek wrong about Paul quite easy. Let's say that Zizek claims Paul is a marxist. (Maybe he doesn't claim exactly this, the argument will still go through mutatis mutandis):

Zizek says Paul is a marxist.
Paul is not a marxist.
Zizek is wrong about Paul.

We can rely on the support of actual biblical scholars for the proof of the minor premise. So, no, there's no reason you have to argue with Zizek, et al. from within the bounds of their own philosophy. If there are objective facts of the matter (which we have some kind of access to) then those facts are what should weigh heavy in our interpretation, not the latest fad infecting the Latin Quarter in Paris.

Anonymous said...

have you actually read any of these people?

Dave Belcher said...

Shane, the problem is that they don't care to get Paul "C" can't follow from "B," since they don't care if Paul really is or was a "Marxist" (they dismiss this objective fact) -- and this is not what they are saying anyway...they are saying that he offers the very ground for universalism.

Shane said...

@ M.O.B.

As it turns out, I have read a bit of the post-modern recolonization of religion literature.

Not very much of it is good philosophy. ("Gift of Death" by Derrida is kind of interesting, but a bit hard to evaluate for its cogency--like pretty much everything by Derrida, seemingly).

If you want to read something vaguely interesting about religion from the continental point of view try something by Merold Westphal or William Desmond. Or, Marion. Those are three philosophers who have done good philosophical work on what it is actually like to be religious.

@ Dave Belcher,

I know Zizek et al don't care to get Paul right. You've missed the point entirely--i'm saying that it ought to be vital to a christian theologian to get paul right. Zizek et al don't get him right, therefore they are of marginal importance at best for theologians.

Why in the world would i feel it necessary to try to demolish Zizek's interpretation of Paul from within Zizek's own system? That's foolishness.

Let's say I'm playing baseball. I don't give a damn if Zizek thinks the score is 40-Love with me down 2 wickets. Zizek is perfectly free to score the game howsoever he pleases--but he's not scoring baseball. I just wonder why so many otherwise bright baseball aficionados think that Zizek has suddenly discovered some amazing new insight into baseball with his revolutionary scoring system.

"We've been watching baseball all this time, and yet it took a non-baseballer to point out to us that we had been overlooking wickets all along!" They cry out.

And in response I just groan . . .

Shane said...

Hmm, two errata,

First, in my response to MOB I shouldn't have said "vaguely interesting". I think Desmond and Westphal are more than just vaguely interesting.

Second, to extend the baseball metaphor a bit further. There is no reason that I should try to learn Zizek's radical new interpretation of baseball to try to persuade him that the score isn't really 40-Love with me down 2 wickets.

Anonymous said...

Westphal and Desmond? Really? Desmond has some alright things to say, but Westphal (although a terrible nice person) is pretty boring/uninteresting in his work. I think Badiou/Zizek/Agamben have much more to say than someone like Westphal, you should give reading them a try.

Marion is pretty interesting; but when it comes to phenomenological accounts of religion coming from the continent Michel Henry cannot be missed; and Jean Yves LaCoste's work 'Experience and the Absolute' is brilliant.

Also, I don't see how Badiou/Zizek can't offer useful readings to Christian theologians. I've found Badiou's reading of Paul especially helpful/interesting, and think most theologians could use an 'evental' reading of Paul which takes into account the inauguration of Christian subjectivity.

Shane said...

I don't know Henry or Agamben's work that well, so I can't speak to them.

However, I have read some of this literature. (although nothing like the ridiculous mountain of it that seems to be published each month). I've read Zizek's "The Puppet and the Dwarf" and Badiou's book on Paul and Universalism and even some Vattimo. (Although, I have to say that I hadn't read any Lacan before I read "The Puppet and the Dwarf" so perhaps some of Zizek's weirdness can be explained by my lack of knowledge of Lacan's weirdness). At any rate none of this stuff really lit my fire.

I think you are underestimating Westphal: I think his essay on ontological xenophobia is a really fitting reply to the Heidegger/Levinas/Marion line trying to separate God and Being.

I actually do think some of that stuff in Heidegger and Levinas is good--it's just that it's a good criticism of Hegel and doesn't have anything to do with Christianity or the history of Christian theology. Even Marion admits that he was wrong in God without Being to accuse Thomas Aquinas of ontotheology. (This retraction is in a french medieval journal like Thomisme or something c. 1995 in an interchange with Boulnois and some other french medievalists. I could find the exact reference if you're interested.)

I have my own proof for this, which goes as follows:

1. Heidegger says that before the God of the philosophers one can neither sing nor dance nor pray.

2. Thomas Aquinas wrote hymns, QED.

Anonymous said...

I think that Westphal's work is more in the vein of secondary rather than secondary literature, even though he has developed a position that is distinctly Westphalian. Thus his work may not be as innovative as Henry or Badiou. But what I like about Westphal's work is that he exhibits a genuine *wisdom* in the way that he handles thinkers and ideas--even when he is dealing with the cutting edge and the radical (which often do not seem all that interested in wisdom). Perhaps this trait might make him seem boring if a person is looking for radical or scandalous innovation, but a lot of the time those attributes go along with transience, which is characteristic of all intellectual fads. Westphal is almost always impressive in his ability to cut through the jargon and enthusiasm and simply ask: how should we think about this?

Anonymous said...

Splendid, Shane, on Thomas! Though do you think the big Ox danced?

Tutu said that one should never trust a bishop who doesn't dance. I reckon it should be a requirement at every seminary.

(Btw, I took a course in modern dance at Wesleyan University back in the sixties, though I confess - Wesleyan then being an all men's school - it was bacause the teacher was female and wore a leotard.)

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