The term deconstruction-and-religion
describes a nontheistic
mode of thought that proceeds from a theological
framework. In terms of dogmatic theology
, deconstruction-and-religion ranges from almost certainly atheistic
to out-and-out atheistic.
Those that take a deconstructive approach to religion identify closely with the work of Jacques Derrida, especially his work later in life. According to Slavoj Žižek, in the mid-to-late 1980s Derrida's work shifted from constituting a radical negative theology to being a form of Kantian idealism. John D. Caputo describes Derrida's work in the 1970s as a Nietzschean free play of signifiers while he describes Derrida's work in the 1990s as a "religion without religion.
A vital feature of Derrida's work later in life is the notion of undeconstructibility. In Derrida's thought, deconstruction exists in the interval between constructions and undeconstructibility. The primary exemplar of this relationship is the relationship between the law, deconstruction, and justice. Derrida summarizes the relationship by saying that justice is the undeconstructible condition that makes deconstruction possible. However, the justice referred to by Derrida is indeterminate and not a transcendent ideal.
The law is made up of necessary human constructions while justice is the undeconstructible call to make laws. The law belongs to the realm of the present, possible, and calculable, while justice belongs to the realm of the absent, impossible, and incalculable. Deconstruction bridges the gap between the law and justice as the experience of applying the law in a just manner. Justice demands that a singular occurrence be responded to with a new, uniquely tailored application of the law. Thus, a deconstructive reading of the law is a leap from calculability towards incalculability.
In deconstruction, justice takes on the structure of a promise that absence and impossibility can be made present and possible. Insofar as deconstruction is motivated by such a promise, it escapes the traditional presence/absence binary because a promise is neither present nor absent. Therefore, a deconstructive reading will never definitively achieve justice. Justice is always deferred.
Derrida works out his idea of justice
in Specters of Marx
and in his essay "Force of Law" in Acts of Religion
; he works out his idea of hospitality
in Of Hospitality
; Similarly for democracy
see Rogues: Two Essays on Reason
see The Politics of Friendship
; the other
see The Gift of Death
; the future
see Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money
God and deconstruction
Deconstruction-and-religion understands religion in terms of what is shared among the Abrahamic faiths
. In Derrida's work, there is a suggestive notion of a quasi-religion locatable in the cluster of concepts surrounding the affirmation of that which is experienced as undeconstructible. Derrida's acts of affirmation go by names such as the "unconditional without sovereignty," the "weak force" of the undeconstructible, and the "possibility of the impossible." Derrida sometimes suggested that such acts of affirmation can be used to describe "God."
Différance and negative theology
Derrida saw the God of negative theology
as a crude precursor to deconstruction's central concept of différance
. However, the God of negative theology
is qualitatively different than the idea of différance because the God of negative theology functions as an ultimate, higher reality where différance does not.
Différance is not God
Central to deconstruction is the idea of différance
. Différance is an anarchic nonconcept that makes a conception of language-as-a-play-of-signifiers possible. This French neologism
means both "differing" and "deferring," describing in its name its own operation in setting deconstructive language in motion.
Prior to différance, all Western conceptual schemes relied on one form or another of a transcendental signifier. A transcendental signifier is any metaphysical, hierarchical principle that presumes to determine which constructions of signifiers are "natural" or "proper." Examples of transcendental signifiers include Truth, God, Allah, Reason, Being, and various political ideologies. Différance is an alternative to and escape from the logic of the transcendental signifier.
Because employing the idea of différance precludes the possibility of positing a transcendental signifier, no historical conception of God can survive a deconstructive framework; even the God of negative theology falls short of différance. John D. Caputo has indicated that différance is not God and that the God of negative theology is a transcendental ulteriority while différance is a quasi-transcendental anteriority. However, negative theology and différance are kindred spirits insofar as they both desire what is absent, impossible, and incalculable.
In the essay "Sauf le Nom," Derrida centered his investigation of the notion of God around negative theology
and the poetry of Angelus Silesius
Proponents of deconstruction-and-religion believe that dominant contemporary explications of theology are inherently ideological, totalizing, and militant. In response, deconstruction-and-religion expresses itself through acts of interpretation. In taking on the process of interpretation, deconstruction-and-religion follows two tropes: active reinterpretation of the theological tradition and passive reinterpretation.
Deconstruction-and-religion operates actively when it theorizes in a new way. Deconstruction-and-religion begins from a deconstructive
framework that is both post-structuralist
. The framework provides a means of identifying and exposing illegitimate doctrines or interpretations from within monotheistic traditions. Through the use of careful historical
critique, and logical
scrutiny, deconstruction-and-religion resolves interpretive tensions from within theological discourses while at the same time creating space for unforeseen developments in theological expression.
Deconstruction-and-religion operates passively when it takes a historical, descriptive approach to analyzing the corpora of various traditions of theology. In its passive mode, deconstruction-and-religion examines theological traditions to take note of documented instances of reified
or unnatural theological concepts expanding only to later be dismissed or significantly transformed. An example of an unnatural concept rising and falling is the medieval Christian understanding of indulgences
. The historical deterioration or mutation of theological concepts is referred to as self-deconstruction
by Jean-Luc Nancy
. The idea of self-deconstruction echoes Friedrich Nietzsche's
idea that the highest Western values devalue themselves.
John D. Caputo on weak theology
John D. Caputo
has a distinctive approach to deconstruction-and-religion that he calls weak theology
. According to Caputo, the distinctive reinterpretive act of weak theology has resulted in the notion of the weakness of God
. The paradigm of God as an overwhelming physical or metaphysical
force is regarded as mistaken. The old God-of-power is displaced with the idea of God as an unconditional claim without force. As a claim without force, the God of weak theology does not physically or metaphysically intervene in nature.
Essentially, the idea of God in Caputo's thought is an alternate name for particular manifestations of undeconstructibility. The idea of God as an undeconstructible follows a line of ethical thinking that moves from Martin Buber to Emmanuel Levinas to Jacques Derrida. Caputo works the idea out in the following way:
Jean-Luc Nancy on self-deconstructed Christianity
Following Derrida's criticisms of the metaphysics of presence
, Jean-Luc Nancy
understands Christianity to be act-based and focused on an undeconstructible understanding of hope
. Nancy thinks of Christianity as the "religion that provided the exit from religion," and posits that it consists in the announcement of the second coming
, known as parousia
. For Nancy, because Christ is central to the formation of value and meaning in Christianity; because parousia
is an announcement of a Christ to come; and because the promised return of Christ involves the return of a person who lived in the past, then Christianity as a framework of thought supports the notion that 'traces' of the non-present (i.e. past and future) are constitutive of the present. As a result, the Christian concept of parousia
poses ontological questions about the conditions of possibility of concepts like identity, subjectivity, consciousness, and experience, among many others. In Nancy's thought, the concept of parousia reveals that we humans are no longer mortals who are saved by faith in an immortal being. Rather, the concept reveals that we are beings who are capable of accepting or rejecting non-self-presence. The acceptance of non-self-presence is what Nancy understands to be the heart of Christian 'faith.'
Bernard Stiegler on the prostheses of faith
The French philosopher Bernard Stiegler
, following the archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan
, understands the human distinction to consist in a third kind of memory
: in addition to the genetic memory recorded in the DNA
molecule, and individual nervous system memory, human beings are the creatures capable of using organized, inorganic matter, that is, tools, technology, writing, and everything that records a human gesture (as Stiegler puts it: "humans die but their histories remain"). Stiegler calls this tertiary memory
, and it is the beginning of the human possibility for the individual to adopt a past they did not themselves live (when, for example, an immigrant to the United States adopts George Washington
as part of his or her past). In his article, "Derrida and technology: fidelity at the limits of deconstruction and the prosthesis of faith," Stiegler uses this concept of tertiary memory to conduct a reading of the Derridian corpus. In so doing he reaches the following conclusion:
- (1992) The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, by Simon Critchley
- (1993) Against Ethics - Contributions to a Poetics of Obligation with Constant Reference to Deconstruction, by John D. Caputo
- (1995) On the Name, by Jacques Derrida
- (1996) The Gift of Death, by Jacques Derrida
- (1997) The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, by John D. Caputo
- (1998) Religion, with Jacques Derrida & Gianni Vattimo
- (2001) Acts of Religion, by Jacques Derrida
- (2005) The Future of Religion, with Richard Rorty, Gianni Vattimo, & ed. by Santiago Zabala *
- (2007) Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity, by Jean-Luc Nancy
- (1982) Deconstructing Theology, by Mark C. Taylor
- (1987) Erring: A Postmodern A/theology, by Mark C. Taylor
- (1993) Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, by Hamid Dabashi
- (1995) Desiring Theology, by Charles Winquist
- (1997) Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, ed./auth. by John D. Caputo
- (1999) About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture, by Mark C. Taylor
- (1999) Epiphanies of Darkness: Deconstruction in Theology, by Charles Winquist
- (1999) Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas, and Contemporary French Thought, by Simon Critchley
- (1999) Truth and Narrative: The Untimely Thoughts of Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhani, Hamid Dabashi
- (2000) "In the Absence of the Face," by Hamid Dabashi. In Social Research, Volume 67, Number 1. Spring 2000. pp. 127-185.
- (2001) "Derrida and Technology: Fidelity at the Limits of Deconstruction and the Prosthesis of Faith," by Bernard Stiegler. In Tom Cohen (ed.), Jacques Derrida and the Humanities
- (2001) On Religion, by John D. Caputo
- (2004) Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint, by Helene Cixous
- (2004) Sufism and Deconstruction, by Ian Almond
- (2006) Philosophy and Theology, by John D. Caputo
- (2006) The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, by John D. Caputo
- (2007) After God by Mark C. Taylor
- (2007) After the Death of God, with John D. Caputo, Gianni Vattimo, & ed. by Jeffrey W. Robbins