The Inconspicuous God


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Dominique Janicaud once famously critiqued the work of French phenomenologists of the theological turn because their work was built on the seemingly corrupt basis of Heidegger's notion of the inapparent or inconspicuous. In this powerful reconsideration and extension of Heidegger's phenomenology of the inconspicuous, Jason W. Alvis deftly suggests that inconspicuousness characterizes something fully present and active, yet quickly overlooked. Alvis develops the idea of inconspicuousness through creative appraisals of key concepts of the thinkers of the French theological turn and then employs it to describe the paradoxes of religious experience.

Introduction: Inconspicuous Turns: Heidegger and the "Inapparent" Theological Turn
1. Inconspicuous Revelation: Marion, Heidegger, and an Antinomic Phenomenality
2. Inconspicuous Phenomenology: On Heidegger’s Unscheinbarkeit or Inapparent
3. Inconspicuous Lifeworld of Religion: Henry’s "Life," Heidegger’s "World"
4. Inconspicuous Liturgy: Lacoste, Heidegger, and the Space of Godhood
5. Inconspicuous Adoration: Nancy, Heidegger, and a Praise of the Ordinary
6. Inconspicuous Evidence: Janicaud, Religious Experience, and a Methodological Atheism
7. Inconspicuous Faith: Chretien, Heidegger, and Forgetting
8. Inconspicuous God: Levinas, Heidegger, and the Idolatry of Incomprehensibility
Conclusion: The Spectacle of God: Inverting the Sacred/Profane Paradigm



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Published 01 June 2018
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THEINCONSPICUOUS GOD Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn
Jason W. Alvs
Indana UnvErsty PrEss
This book is a publication of Indiana University Press Office of Scholarly Publishing Herman B Wells Library 350 1320 East 10th Street Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
© 2018 by Jason W. Alvis All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses’ Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition. Manufactured in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Alvis, Jason W., author. Title: The inconspicuous God : Heidegger, French phenomenology, and the theological turn / Jason W. Alvis. Description: Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2018. | Series: Indiana series in the philosophy of religion | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018011094 (print) | LCCN 2018003891 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253033338 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253033321 (hc : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Philosophy and religion—France. | God. | Phenomenology. | Philosophy, French. | Phenomenological theology. | Heidegger, Martin, 1889–1976. Classification: LCC BL51 (print) | LCC BL51 .A53 2018 (ebook) | DDC 211—dc23 LC record available at
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Acknowledgments Inconspicuous Turns: Heidegger and the “Inapparent” Theological Turn Inconspicuous Revelation: Marion, Heidegger, and an Antinomic Phenomenality Inconspicuous Phenomenology: On Heidegger’sUnscheinbarkeitor Inapparent Inconspicuous Lifeworld of Religion: Henry’s “Life,” Heidegger’s “World” Inconspicuous Liturgy: Lacoste, Heidegger, and the Space of Godhood Inconspicuous Adoration: Nancy, Heidegger, and a Praise of the Ordinary Inconspicuous Evidence: Janicaud, Religious Experience, and a Methodological Atheism Inconspicuous Faith: Chrétien, Heidegger, and Forgetting Inconspicuous God: Levinas, Heidegger, and the Idolization of Incomprehensibility The Spectacle of God: Inverting the Sacred/Profane Paradigm Bibliography Index
M ANY INDIVIDUALS AND institutions have contributed to bringing this book about. First to be acknowledged is the outstanding editorial team at Indiana University Press, namely Dee Mortensen, Merold Westphal, and Paige Rasmussen, who have continuously supported the project from start to nish. Next, there are a number of research institutes that hosted me during my time of writing selections of this work, and they each provided substantive resources to complete such a task: the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Vienna, the Philosophy/Religious Studies Departments at Stanford University, and the Institut für die Wissenschaen vom Menschen (e Institute for Human Sciences). Further, the generous support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has provided nancial assistance through three research grants: “Religion beyond Myth and Enlightenment,” the EU bilateral FWF-SRA project “e Return of Religion as a Challenge to ought,” and more recently, “Secularism and Its Discontents: Toward a Phenomenology of Religious Violence.” There also are a number of individuals who have encouraged me in my work over the years. I would like to thank Jean-Luc Marion, whose work in phenomenology has furnished a means of seeing more clearly a way through the problems that here are introduced, and whose support as a teacher has been a lasting source of inspiration. A number of other colleagues deserve signicant recognition for helping me work through earlier drafts of the manuscript: Frank Seeburger, Thomas Sheehan, Michael Staudigl, Carl Raschke, J. Aaron Simmons, and Ludger Hagedorn. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Julia Alvis-Seidel, not only for her patience and support during the long process of writing this book, but also for her corrections of my occasionally sloppy German grammar.
Inconspicuous Turns: Heidegger and the “Inapparent” Theological Turn
When they [the French] think, they speak in German. 1 —Heidegger I wish I had not written my “Zarathustra” in German . . . I wish I had written it in French. 2 —Nietzsche
G OD IS NOT a spectacle. While at rst this proposition may seem easy enough to accept, its basic tendency is taken for granted far too oen, as it goes presumed that the phenomenality, givenness, or revelation of God necessarily is (or would be) spectacular. Recent postmodern theory reects this pseudo-Christian characterization of revelation, that life is staked on almighty events that must shock and awe us with entertained assuredness and splendor. e greater degree the spectacle, we are implicit to believe, the more sacred an event becomes and the closer to divinity it presents itself. Yet an insistence on the seemingly opposite of the spectacle of God,in nuce, that God is hidden and enigmatically inconceivable, presents more problems than it does solutions to this concern. e proposition that God is inconceivable runs the risk of leaving God unthinkable and—despite all well-meaning hopes to the opposite—therefore reducible to a static idol that conjures only a liminal or provisionary sense of wonder. Reference to such an unthinkable God unfortunately can instill an even greater degree of passivity, inadvertently circling-back to an even more vicious spectacularity. Both the spectacle of God and the pure inconceivability of God could be reduced to the same basic generative belief and anticipation: the phenomenality of God must operate according to a spectacular and bedazzling clarity. Instead, Divine phenomenality is counterspectacular, revolts against the many spectacles of our present social imaginaries by integrating within them as marginal to the point of even conjuring an attitude of ambivalence. Such givenness is not univocally mysterious or hidden, but is shrouded uniquely in the measure according to that which or who it intends to present and characterize. is God may be found where a spectacular phenomenality is suspended in favor of banality and ordinariness. Such a character trait could be seen as a corrective and shi from the dominant paradigms of understanding God (e.g., invisible and visible, supernatural and natural, present and absent) and toward one that experiences divinity as that which actively destabilizes any presumptions that there is but one, univocal form of phenomenality or presentation. Whatever slips conscious grasping as marginal and ordinary, and is integrated within the hustle and grind of everyday life is inconspicuous—thus, in following the rootconspicere iscounter-specere. Inconspicuousness characterizes what is like a wallower, fully present yet quickly overlooked by merit of not immediately seeming illustrious. As the GermanUnscheinbarkeitindicates, inconspicuousness is irreducible to visibility or invisibility (Unsichtbarkeit). It alludes the grasp of consciousness while still presenting an intelligibility and draws from the privation of its rootschein, a license, ticket, or warrant 3 (e.g.,Der Fahrschein, “travel ticket”) that references a thing’s status as candor or trustworthy. It is not simply—as many have rendered it in French—l’inapparent, but is insteadun peu frappant orpeu en évidenceby merit of not being striking or presenting its evidence on command, and by operating in the peripheries of consciousness. It is in these senses that God can be thought as inconspicuous. is book seeks to accomplish four primary aims through a phenomenological approach. One involves the constructive development of what Heidegger briey and somewhat ambiguously referred to as a “phenomenology of the inconspicuous,” which, if successful, would be a means of experiencing
!ore deeply that which does not attract attention, yet counteracts the privilegedformpresentation of 4 today in an era of social phantasm, illusion, and spectacle. e book takes seriously Feuerbach’s claim that “anthropology is the secret of theology,” and attempts to get beyond how our Debordian “society of 5 the spectacle” has helped fashion also a spectacle of God’s phenomenality. It of course is common knowledge that today’s Western societies are commodity and spectacle driven. From Hollywood to Wall Street, spectacles seek to command our attention, and we therefore remain aware of the need to limit our intake of them. However, it largely has gone unrecognized that phenomenological and theological thinking also may suffer from their implicit reliance on forms of givenness that arein nucespectacular, operating with an unrecognizable formation and totalizing education as to what is of value by merit of privileging and relying on matrixes of opposition germane to spectacularity. is kind of formation, which throughout the book is referred to as a “spectacular phenomenality,” disguises its operations, relies on its own secret theological devices, and feeds the habitual privileging of what is distinct, branded, and obvious, thereby entailing the autorejection of what is common, insignicant, or marginal. A second aim is to describe in greater detail the generative relation between Heidegger and those phenomenologists in France associated with the “eological Turn.” e book does so by describing and contextualizing Heidegger’s—at times ambiguous—development of inconspicuousness alongside investigations into Henry’s autoaffective life, Lacoste’s liturgy, Marion’s revelation, Nancy’s adoration, Levinas’s Other, and Chrétien’s hope—some fundamental concepts unique to this movement. It was Janicaud’s harsh critique in 1991 that Heidegger’s approach to the inapparent or inconspicuous (which is not a central concept in Heidegger’s works) was precisely the corrupt core on which these thinkers 6 relied for warrant to use phenomenology for theological agendas. Since then, secondary scholarship only has continued to reiterate uncritically Janicaud’s claim without a careful treatment of this concept, and whether or not Janicaud was right. Here, inconspicuousness is employed as an investigative lever for probing more deeply into some of the essential concepts each of the prominent gures in this movement have contributed to phenomenological theology. In this sense, the book seeks to understand better Heidegger’s phenomenology, and how aspects of inconspicuousness are imbedded implicitly within the work of those associated with the Theological Turn. A third aim, which oen is less explicit, is to employ inconspicuousness to issue a challenge within phenomenology to retrieve evidences unique to the description of religious experiences, and to do so in a way that resists a number of matrixes of opposition inherent within it, such as the twin extremes of: (a) an autodilution of phenomenology into epistemology (which abandons entirely Husserl’s calls for phenomenology to be rst philosophy); and (b) the entrapment of a subjective deism beholden to a solipsistic, warrantless, and private theatre of consciousness. is dichotomy furnishes an index of questionability as to whether or not phenomenology, the method that prides itself on presuppositionless descriptions of what appears clearly, is to autoreject whatever does not present itself as obvious in this world.Phainesthai, from which phenomenology’s namesake is derived, concerns what is made-to-open or is open-able (öffen-bar) in this world, and what shines or burns (Phaeithein, IPE rootbhā) in its being obvious and illuminated (related to the Greekphōs). If phenomenology cannot provide some way of at least paying closer attention to the phenomenality of theological life, then this method is diminished from adding anything new to what the ontic sciences of theology already are capable of providing with their own hermeneutic devices. To offer something new for theological thinking, a phenomenology of the inconspicuous would hope to provide a means of being more closely attuned to how things dynamically alter their state in the vicissitudes of consciousness neither as present, nor absent, but as present-absent, oentimes making the world itself a phenomenon up for description. is could be a path to thinking religious experiences, and while it is no new development to discuss the unique evidence inherent within such experiences, in this case inconspicuousness is employed to furnish more specicity as to how such a type of evidence could overcome dogmatic dichotomies and prejudices held between what does and what does not get illuminated or “shine” in the way most other phenomena do. e fourth, and most constructive aim of the book is to use this developed notion of inconspicuousness to take the work of each of these thinkers one small step further toward describing the phenomenality of God, which is claimed here to be just as important as the content or character