Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.

The current issue of Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory has a nice online review summary of the new book by Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.
Kearney is a specialist in the post-secular return to religion in Continental philosophy. He is someone whom I always read and never actually quote since his best function is to let you know what people are thinking and what is said at conferences. He is good at spotting trends, seeing convergences and somehow places the ideas of Yale, Chicago, the Sorbonne, and Oxford under one roof. He lets one see how Levinas, Ricoeur, Kristeva, and Caputo are received in the literature. His prior works include The God Who May Be and Strangers, Gods, and Monsters.

In this new book, Kearney discusses how people return to religion after modernity with a neologism of Anatheism. His model for this return is hospitality- a theme of Levinas, Derrida, and especially Ricoeur. One can get terminology from Kearney to explain much of the modern turn to Zohar mediation, or Rav Nachman.

The seven page summary review by the reviewer John Burkley is especially lucid and detailed. Below are some excerpts.

Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. $29.50

Anatheism is a fresh attempt to reconceive the possibility of the sacred for the 21st century, seeking a way, as the subtitle suggests, of “returning to God after God.”

So what is anatheism? Kearney describes it variously as a movement, a paradigm, an invitation, a wager, a drama; a position between, before, and beyond the division of theism and atheism; “another word for another way of seeking and sounding the things we consider sacred but can never fully fathom or prove” (p.3).
Yet it bids adieu to the God of metaphysics and traditional religion whose surname has long been “Almighty” taking seriously the critical and iconoclastic force of atheism.

Thus, anatheism works back from the experience of God-loss toward a genuine renewal of the sacred to recover forward a second, more mature faith. While insisting that anatheism is “nothing particularly new” (p.7), it seems to be of particular moment in this age where the gods have withdrawn. “Ana” – seeking ‘after’ (toward) God ‘after’ (subsequent to) the death of God.
Anatheism–seeking a rebirth of faith after the loss of faith.

The thematic core of Anatheism: Returning to God after God is the encounter with the Stranger and the event of hospitality/hostility. In this basket Kearney’s places all his eggs. While official theologies and the popular religious imagination typically emphasize stories of creation, salvation, miracles, power, or final judgment as inaugural solicitations of faith, Kearney takes up the neglected figure of the Stranger.

Abraham’s visitation by three desert strangers… an uninvited Stranger appears; in each case there is a moment of disorientation, perplexity, fear, perhaps trauma is not too strong a word; in each case the addressee must decide for or against the Stranger; in each case the host’s
welcoming of the Stranger opens from the Stranger a gesture for the promise of life, That, clumsily expressed, is the central dynamic of Anatheism, which “begins and ends with the epiphany of the divine in the face of the stranger (p. 149).

Mediation of these oppositions proceeds by way of five aspects of the anatheistic wager. One might call them interpretive attitudes or hermeneutical predispositions -imagination, humor, commitment, discernment, and hospitality–each crisply defined.

In each case, however, a reversal occurs… In the utter absence of a powerful and saving God a realization can occur that for God to be ‘we’ have to host ‘Him’, save ‘Him; if God is estranged and a stranger to this world ‘His’ coming depends our welcome.

Glossing on Ricoeur, Kearney writes, “The word of existence –which affirms the goodness of being in spite of its multiple estrangements….must be regrasped and reinstated.” The ambition of anatheism is “to disclose a site where the freedom of our will is rooted in a listening to a ‘word’ of which one is neither source nor master” (p.75).

The second half of the book (Interlude and Postlude) details the third moment of Anatheism: sacramental transformations in the everyday, mostly in secular scenes, specifically, at the levels of lived experience (Merleau- Ponty, Kristiva), literary imagination (Joyce, Proust, Woolf), and ethical-political praxis (Day, Vanier, Gandhi). Kearney puts on display a tapestry of anatheist or proto-anatheistic instances of mediation, acts of transformation, epiphanies where the secular and sacred mutually beckon and inform each other. Readers will find their own favorite and more illuminating examples.

The sacred for Kearney is “in the world but not of the world” (p.152). Hence the preference for the figure of the Stranger over a disembodied, otherworldly traditional Omni-God, and over the rather abstract and well worn master concept of postmodernism –‘the Other’.

He draws liberally on Ricoeur’s model of translation or “linguistic hospitality” defined as “the act of inhabiting the word of the Other paralleled by the act of receiving of the Other into one’s own home, one’s own dwelling.”2 Translation admits of no reduction of one language to another or to a third master language, but preserves the strangeness of the other while opening the host language to unthought possibilities.

Full review here

Any thoughts about applying anatheism to the post-secualrism all around us?
Any post-secular religious experience that you can think of that produces disorientation and perplexity?
Most important, how will the image of Abraham greeting the the visitor change religion as it replaces the sacrifice of Isaac imagery used by modernists?

14 responses to “Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.

  1. Any post-secular religious experience that you can think of that produces disorientation and perplexity?

    How about the look on a child whom one helps out in a disaster zone, or in one or another distant aid project one personally participates in? Or even better, how about witnessing a newborn being called Israel in recognition to Jewish involvement in post-disaster emergency aid?

  2. If you’ll accept the “latest thing” from way back in 2006 there is a pretty interesting book of essays called “The Neighbor” by the formidable trio of Zizek, Eric Santer aand Ken Reinhard. Zizek is Zizek, but the other two try to work on an idea of the neighbor as an alternative to the dualism of friend-enemy that you find both in the bible in some places and which is influential in identity politics and in the various binaries that permeate Jewish and Israeli thinking.
    Ken and Julia Reinhard have an interesting essay on Shabbus (I think in Diacritics) as creating a space within our world that enables us to etc.

    All this late Heidegger way of talking brings up in my mind the Nike slogan “Just Do It.” If it was so easy to be mamshich oros in a secular world, we wouldn’t need a book a month telling us how to renew the sacred or that atheism is so yesterday.

    • Thanks, Can you please find the reference to the Ken and Julia Reinhard essay on Shabbus? Do you like Eric Santer’s On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig?
      Do you think it is tougher to be mamshich oros today? You might be onto something. Can you explain?

  3. Reinhard, Kenneth, 1957-
    Lupton, Julia Reinhard, 1963-
    The Subject of Religion: Lacan and the Ten Commandments
    diacritics – Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2003, pp. 71-97

    I like the talk about ‘constructions’ which are somewhere between a fiction and an empirical idea. I associate constructions with something like the Rawslian ‘original position’ from which to derive moral and societal rules. If I remember correctly Santer thinks of Freud’s primal horde as a construction in the sense outlined above. This application of the primal horde’s ersatz anthropology to torah is brought out in wonderful ways by Robert Paul in his book “Moses and Civilization: The Meaning Behind Freud’s Myth.”

    As to the last question I think it depends on the person. For someone like me I both choose to live and invariably end up living in a secular intellectual world. When I study torah say chassidus or talmud I am de facto a tourist. I travel for a while and immerse myself in the thought of some rabbi who lived in a different conceptual world with very different rules of inference. I then return home, which is the world of the time I live in, both because my gashmiyus life depends on being in this secular world (health, livelihood) and because I want to live in my time, not in the Rambam’s time. Otherwise why bother living…seclude yourself in a library until you drop. OTOH others who live surrounded by the world(s) of torah and are only occasional tourists in this current olam hagasmi should have an easier time finding some ‘language’ that so becomes part of their being that they can use it as a tool for a deeper spirituality that produces structural changes in their self. And finally, to push this metaphor one more time, there are binationals who live in two places easily having intergrated both worlds, a sort of MO nirvana. These people from what I can tell are having a hard time of it, but the lonely man of synthesis is more of a YU theme and I’m not in a position to say much.

    • EJ-
      Thank you – I downloaded the article.
      But I still want to work through why it might have been easier in modernity than now. If modernity was filled with religious experience, existential leaps, I-thou encounters, and mysticism, then why was it easier than now with our renewing the sacred, anatheism, saturated phenomena, and confronting the other?
      Is it because the world was more secular so anything gave religion? It is specifically a Heidegger issue? Why did you lapse into Jewish sociology to answer a question about the post-secular age? Is tourism better than hospitality?

  4. From the shallow end of the educational and intellectual pool here, Rebbe Baruch of Medzibuz talked, almost plaintively, of a G-d who is a stranger in this world, and that by befriending G-d, even though you share nothing but your alienation, you reach a common ground.

  5. I don’t accept your sociology- theology dichotomy. When you are old it is difficult to enjoy the music of the young. The choice is acting like a fool or being an old fuddy duddy. This inability to be young when you’re old is not just a sociological fact. When I argued I/we live in a secular world irrespective of the association with Orthodoxy or the like, this is more than a subjective constraint. We bicultural Jews can’t/don’t readily create the sort of change that transforms. We can create experiences, but we don’t thereby become tzadikim; no one should give us a kvitel. We generally don’t end up living in higher more ethereal worlds by reading books about living in spiritual worlds.
    All your examples are from books. Writing about I-Thou encounters, led Buber and others to write more such books. Kierkegaard leaped from the aesthetic to the moral to the religious, but remained the same kvetch he always was. Heidegger was mystical all his life, yet managed without much strain to remain a Nazi until he died. . To say modernity was filled with religious experience is an exaggeration. I need more convincing it was easier to be religious in the twenties or fifties than now. I think ever since the 19th century for European Protestants and the early 20th century for Jews it has been difficult to maintain an enchanted premodern Jewish world.
    For Keaney the stranger is an infinite Other incarnate in finite others. For him each case brings forth from the Stranger a gesture for the promise of life, an epiphany of the divine. And on and on. My little metaphor of a tourist is far less Christian and has different aims. I wasn’t thinking of adventure travel to the Congo. I am referring to the obvious fact that many Jews are bicultural. Going between a secular world to a torah world is somewhere between visiting Miami Beach and visiting Shanghai. We are more or less comfortable in both worlds. Some buy condos in both worlds, other live in one and travel occasionally to the other etc. No big traumas, though many times temporary discomfort. We all travel, overall it’s fun and interesting. Not too many have epiphanies of renewed life.

    If anything is NOW it is the realization that the supply of people are endless, many are fungible and can be outsourced, and the heyday of humanism has long since passed. More Malchius (as in the R.H. tefilot) than Levinas.

  6. EJ-
    How do deal with all these blogs that ostensibly live in the Torah world and treat the secular world in tourist way? They seem to be living their careers in a Torah world. You seem to argue with these people on other blogs? Can you argue if you are coming from such a different place?
    Wasn’t your approach of two separate realms the Litvak approach of the 1950’s? Since you dissolve the theology-sociology distinction, well it had clear reasons for no longer existing and people not wanting to follow your approach. Yet, you seem to be keeping up with the new trends.
    After all this time, I thought you had a fragmented post-secular approach of non-harmony, non-resolution between realms. One can be business, feldenkrais, litvak, Lacan reader, and apocalyptic economist as separate fragmentary realms. I thought your approach is that we have many realms Torah, science, phhilosophy and we dont harmonize any of them. You seemed fragmentary post-modern. NOW, it seems that you are presenting in your comments a basic non-correspondence of two realms, religion and secular.

    I did not say that the 20th century was more religious or easier to be religious than now, I think the opposite. But it was not as secular as you make it. People did have their little existential epiphanies – even not from books.
    If we cannot live int he time of the Rambam anymore, then why do you keep bringing up Radical Orthodoxy? DO you see it as a viable present? It does not sound like it!
    Reading over your comments it seems like a specific self presentation of being a tourist. When you spend time on religious blogs, (and many blog owners would award you a title as best commenter) are you a tourist? You are the backbone of commentors that creates the very medium. It seems that you have kept up nicely with the times despite situating yourself in your own nostalgia. Our age is religious blogging and you are cutting edge.

  7. When we first started I didn’t realize I was speaking to someone who has read everything. I’ve been playing catch up ever since. In fact some close to me would say you’ve ruined my life. Instead of going fishing and such, I’m hunched over a book trying to understand your remarks. I constantly seem to be falling further and further behind, with more and more books to be read for which I pay retail.

    I am embarrassed by your compliments. Much is not true, but since we need/want as many compliments as come our way, I am grateful. I do indeed feel non- integrated worlds are not to be pushed away or covered up, but accepted. I favor a two world view as a solution both to Slifkin and biblical criticism. Like much of our tradition I try never to leave anything behind, I never graduate. I comment on uber -charedi blogs because the world is part of me from childhood on, and I feel a certain empathy with their struggles and aspirations. For me it’s all part of a full (Jewish) life, and there is no predicting the exact final outcome.
    The topic at hand was whether it is possible to be mamshich oros of kedusha when we don’t limit ourselves to a life of kedusha vetahara defined by learning torah. So we started off with a binary, frum-frum never leave the neighborhood, live ‘totally ‘ in a torah world, vs. torah- plus plus, where there are few limits to our curiosity and intellectual interests. I took it on myself to say I go back and forth from secular to torah, but in truth I think many are like me. We have vertical splits in our self, to use Kohut’s metaphor. We actively and consciously entertain many conflicting ideas, though not all at the same time or in a monolithic way. If you do science in the daytime and learn a shiyur at night you are in effect traversing many ways of thought and understanding. I said in effect Orthodoxy is one thing, but becoming a baal madreiga in ruchniyus through torah, when we are immersed in many conceptual schemes and languages is not very easy or likely.

    I have a problem with changing the zeitgeist every decade. You seem convinced we are ta da post- secular, and if the evangelical frumies sneeze we will feel or there is something analogous across the board in Jewish life. I feel there is a huge problem religious and religiously oriented people have in a secular world that doesn’t change very quickly. No new paradigm has become entrenched. If someone says we now live in a post secular age, I think it is minimally incumbent for that person to say how is what we feel and think today so very different from what we thought and felt during the post-modernist age?

  8. “If you do science in the daytime and learn a shiyur at night you are in effect traversing many ways of thought and understanding.”

    How is that different from someone 500 years ago who did business in the daytime and learned a shiur at night? Please elaborate on the difference between the current situation and the past.

  9. In the past the secular world was premodern as was the Jewish religious world; today the secular is modern or x-modern(post, late capitalist. post secular?). So that’s one difference. ESpinoza at the beginning

  10. Sorry…Cont… Even Spinoza at the beginning of the modern period could learn both Rambam and kabbalah (Cardozo?)and conduct a conversation with the central figures of European philosophy. Today people in the torah world today have nothing to say to modern thought in virtue of their torah knowledge. There have been zero to maybe a few articles from all the Brisker and all the lumdim and baalei musar that has been published in a peer reviewed psychology or philosophy journal. A student of torah is integrating the Ancient M.E., the Hellenistic Zorastrian world, Arabic philosophy, kabbalah, maybe Protestant and Enlightenment ideas which now must be understood in light of the present late modern world. The spread is much, much greater. The Rambam accepted a Ptolemaic system as did the ancients, we can’t etc.

  11. EJ-
    First day of new semester for me. i will catch up with discussion later in week.

  12. EJ – regarding philosophy, you are correct that the difference has widened. But very many practicing Jews are ignorant about philosophy (and, say, archaeology) yet knowledgeable about a field such as science. I question how their experience has changed compared to the past.

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