Reader in Religion
Critical Religion, for me, involves the intersection of several disciplines: theology, religious studies, philosophy, literature, the arts, hermeneutics and critical theory. My background is in English literature and theology, but I have since come to see how religion, both as a discipline and as a cultural phenomenon, is integrated with other modes of thinking and practice. ‘Critical’, in my work, follows the limits of religion through to other areas of thought and other cultural productions necessarily. This is not because religion or theology stands to learn something from these other areas, as if it was a question merely of enhancement; it is because, in my thinking, religion is crucially defined by these other areas, as much as these other areas might be defined by religion. The critical nature of religion thus leads to a kind of organicism, whereby to read a poem, to ruminate on the possibilities of Being, to work out whether there is a distinction anymore between the sacred and the secular, to question the dogmatism of a certain institution or structure, to dissect the blandishments of certain media, to interpret a text, to compose a piece of music, to worship in a church or a mosque or a temple, to think about the nature of prayer or to pray about the nature of thinking – all these constitute the doing of religion. Theory and practice are here enmeshed: conceptualisation crosses with creativity, critique with tradition, rationalisation with ritual, distance with retrieval. It is along such intersecting lines that I have tried to mark out my teaching and my research.
In my earlier monograph Poetics of Critique (Ashgate, 2003), I tried to show how critique, or the critical practice of engaging with texts, is a kind of poetic endeavour, a poesis in and of itself. There I tried to bring together theology, religion, philosophy and literature in an experimentally integrative manner. In my next monograph Auden’s O (SUNY, 2103), I argue that the ruling concept of the One (unity, universality, etc.) within the Western traditions of religion, philosophy and art begins to give way in Modernity to what I have called the “figure of the O”, a figure that can be construed in manifold ways (zero/nothing, artificer’s circle, hermeneutical circle, the wholly Other, etc.). In my view, this O, which finally overcomes the sovereignty of the One in the 20th century, acts as a critical ground-clearing, and enables something new to emerge. The critical force here retains a creative dimension. In my most recent book, Hegel and the Art of Negation (I.B. Tauris, 2013), the nature of the critical enterprise continues to be tied both to a sense of separating or sundering and to a sense of originating or bringing into existence. Religious thinking remains crucial here, since religion, even in its traditional habit, calls on us both to forsake (ourselves) and to bind (ourselves). ‘Critical religion’ then keeps these two – binding and forsaking – in tension.
One of the ways the notion of the ‘critical’ is manifested throughout my work, as indeed throughout much of Modernity, early or late, is through an understanding of hermeneutics. In its technical sense, hermeneutics is the art, or science, of interpretation. It was most often associated with a sacred text, until the rise of philosophical hermeneutics that helped to mark the modern project. To acknowledge that something needs interpretation, that what is given is not simply a transparent fact or truth, is intimately related to the critical enterprise, itself devoted to the unmasking of that which parades as unequivocal reality or truth. Virtually all my work I consider in some sense to be exploring the question of hermeneutics, whether the object to be interpreted is a traditional text (sacred or otherwise), a doctrine, a concept, a philosophical system, a work of art, a social practice, a gender, a politics, a pedagogy, or what is has been called a ‘cultural imaginary’. And it is because I feel hermeneutics as a critical discipline has been so under-considered, both within academia and without, that we have built in the study of hermeneutics within our Masters degree programmes, to highlight the critical nature of reading “texts” as central to all our intellectual, social, and spiritual endeavours.
I welcome enquiries about supervision in any of the areas stated above, or, summarily, in: religion/theology and literature, religion/theology and the arts, religion/theology and continental philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, et al.), hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur, et al.), critical theory, and negation. Please contact me directly using the form below.
Presently, I am supervising doctoral projects on the following topics:
- Mauro Di Lullo (Maurice Blanchot and the New International)
- Paige Medlock (Mass Meditation – Art Works as Advocacy)
- Páraic Réamonn (Church of Scotland and Zionism)
Past doctoral supervisions have included research on the Poetics of Prayer, Kierkegaard, and Religion on the Internet, for example. The range of these topics shows the kind of territory ‘critical religion’ covers, and its deeply interdisciplinary nature.
For more information on other courses I teach, and links to my various publications, see my School staff page.
To see all my blog postings on the Critical Religion website, click here.