Monday, November 14, 2011

Thesis Topic: Chosen

I'm writing on the phenomenology of prayer. God help me, right?

Prayer is unique because 1) it may be considered the religious phenomenon par excellence,* a foundation for religious practice generally, and 2) prayer offers (in my nascent perspective) one way of imagining the possibility of a point of contact with the transcendent that may come under true phenomenological description. This is important because more traditional phenomenology brackets away transcendence for being outside phenomenology's proper field of application, which comprises only what is immanent. So, as the subject of this sort of analysis, not only does prayer help to clarify the nature of religious experience, but if a methodologically sound analysis of prayer is possible and can even proceed on prayer's own terms, then there could be implications for the ongoing phenomenological project generally. This is only a tentative hunch, of course.

The idea is connected to a larger, ongoing debate in contemporary French phenomenology over the apparent movement towards more overtly religious themes and ideas, which has roughly occurred within the last thirty or so years. Prominent, traditional phenomenologists regard the exploration and description of prayer, transcendence, and related phenomena as a corruption of phenomenology, a theologizing—"[phenomenological] heresy,"** even. But the philosophers who have taken phenomenology in this transcendent direction, by interrogating the "givenness of the given" itself or by searching for an invisible ground for the domain of the visible, tend to regard their work as being more faithful to the core tenets of the discipline than the traditional phenomenologists themselves, for reasons that are as complicated as the context in which they are given.

Who knows which side of this debate is correct, if that's even a useful question? For my part, I wish only to re-tread a fresh but fairly well-trod path, hoping for illumination from whatever source will give a little light as I try to understand what it is that happens when we open our mouths and address ourselves to an invisible God.

* Jean-Louis Chretien, "The Wounded Word: The Phenomenology of Prayer"
** Jacques Derrida, leveling an accusation against Jean-Luc Marion, a phenomenologist associated with French phenomenology's purported "theological turn," for his belief in the possibility of the "saturated" phenomenon, unbounded by a horizon or the constitutive gaze of the subject. One species of "saturated phenomena" would be theophany.


  1. omg Marty. My first brief glace at this in the blogger reader made me think your topic was chosen-ness or something. Then I read the first line and it seemed like a pun, and I also thought to myself, "I know what phenomenology means."

    Then I didn't understand the rest. Literally.

    Good luck!

  2. I don't understand this at all, but I love prayer and I love you, so I'm excited.

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys! Sorry it was hard to read. I wrote it off the cuff very, very late one night; hopefully the final product (at 20,000 words) will at least do better for clarity.