Continental philosophy of religion (CPOR) has succeeded in many ways to question modern divides between philosophy and theology, thus opening up new, postmodern possibilities for encounter and dialogue. However, this process also has been perceived with suspicion from both sides. On the one hand, some philosophers accuse CPOR of a crypto-theology that colonizes philosophy; on the other hand, theologians often regard it as a Trojan horse designed to further weaken the fundaments of religion. This conference wishes to examine the complex relationship between contemporary philosophy and religion/theology by turning its attention to the vast field of phenomenology and hermeneutics. Its major tasks are to unveil the variety of religious topoi implicit within these disciplines and to further assess their potential for dialogue with theology.
Recent French phenomenology has expanded upon the notions of phenomenality, rationality, and the overcoming of metaphysics. Thinkers such as Levinas, Marion, or Henry have altered the very notion of transcendence and thus became valuable interlocutors for theology. Levinas’ work has been appropriated within theology, even within Catholic dogmatics, to the point of provoking some opponents to mock of his becoming a new Church father. In general, there is increasing awareness among theologians that theology cannot immunize itself from the ongoing weakening of traditional metaphysics and its assumed overcoming. Marion’s phenomenological thought has perhaps the highest, yet vastly unexplored potential for theology to respond to this challenge. What is required, on the one hand, concerns a thorough consideration of Marion's theoretical presuppositions without too quickly domesticating his terminology (e.g., saturation, revelation, gift, etc.) within a theological discourse. From the side of philosophy, on the other hand, Marion’s phenomenology rightly demands an attitude of bracketing the recurrent prejudices concerning a hidden theological agenda. Given this, the critical reception of this work allows and even necessitates the pursuit of general questions (as does every phenomenology of religion) in our search for a fragile equilibrium that neither hides behind a "methodological atheism" nor drifts into an unavowed theology. But tracing the line of demarcation also is an issue for theologians: are those philosophical topoi bearing a strong religious affinity (e.g., the call-response structure, topologies of the gift, love, gratuity, etc.) that we find at work in contemporary French phenomenology of religion (including thinkers like Chrétien, Lacoste and Falque) compatible with concrete religion(s) and their theology(ies)? And if so, to what degree? Do re-appropriations of Christianity (such as in the case of Henry's phenomenology or Vattimo's hermeneutics) deepen and enhance religious discourse, or do they rather run the risk of violently distorting the original self-understanding of a concrete religion?
Unlike phenomenology, hermeneutics always has maintained strong ties with theology, especially within a Judeo-Christian context, since this tradition was one of the birthplaces of hermeneutics. The kerygmatic character of the Christian message and its inherent historicity still forms a natural affinity to philosophical hermeneutics, which, since Heidegger, has extended its ambitions to promote an all-encompassing role of understanding, overshadowing and replacing the role of ontology. But this development of hermeneutics has led, simultaneously, both to proximity with and distance from theology. The constant weakening of ontology (disqualified as a strong and violent metaphysics of presence) has put in jeopardy the concept of transcendence, which traditionally has been at the core of religious self-understanding. This deconstructive (Caputo) and “nihilistic” tendency of hermeneutics (Vattimo) has not been accepted without contradiction. Indeed, it recently has been countered by its “metaphysical” opponents (to use Grondin’s terminology), who advocate for a “constructive” ideal of Gadamer’s method and for the reconciliatory character of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics. In Greisch’ hermeneutical anthropology, to mention just one example, still remains the “function meta” after the decline of traditional metaphysics. Finally, a truly unprecedented challenge for religion/theology is raised by the recent turn of hermeneutics towards sensibility and corporeality. This twist is recognizable not only in “carnal hermeneutics” (Kearney), but also in inquiries into the cosmic dimension (cosmopoetics in Caputo) or the “sensible transcendental” (Irigaray). All these lead to new, explicitly “material” understandings of religiosity.
As this short description has demonstrated, it is difficult to assess whether it is within the philosophical or the theological landscape that the variety of contemporary re-conceptualizations of the religious incites greater controversy: to start this inquiry, explore the related controversies, and assess their potentials for both fields, is the major intent of this conference. Thus viewed, it seeks to provide a place of encounter for different approaches to religion within the broader context of phenomenology and hermeneutics. It also welcomes contributions from other relevant disciplines – in particularly theology, with its own internal diversifications and confessional differences – that might help highlight the afore-mentioned tensions, and enrich the dialogue between philosophy and theology today.