International Workshop „Derrida Religion Violence. Derrida on secular and religious reason“, 14.-15.10. 2019

Yvonne Sherwood

David Newheiser

Ward Blanton and Yvonne Sherwood

Michael Naas

Michael Staudigl and Michael Naas

Jason W. Alvis and Martin Koci

Zeynep Direk

Steven Shakespear and Kurt Appel

Kurt Appel

The important role of Derrida within the current discourse on religion and violence was explored in the context of a workshop (14-15 October) in Vienna, which was organized by Jason W. Alvis, Kurt Appel and Michael Staudigl. Well-known international scholars including Yvonne Sherwood, Ward Blanton, David Newheiser, Michael Naas, Zeynep Direk and Steven Shakespeare joined the workshop initiated by the Research Centre RaT in cooperation with the FWF-Projects Secularism and its Discontents (P-29599) and "Revenge of the Sacred" (P 31919).

Derridas essay Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the limits of reason alone was one of the most important points of reference for the workshop and shaped several contributions. In addition, the scholars also engaged with only recently published seminars and even yet untranslated texts by Derrida. Derridas thought on religion is not limited to a single text, period of his thought, or to a single religious tradition, but it is manifold and allows for a wide range of questions: What are the implications of Derridas interpretations of biblical figures and narratives for modern philosophy and modernity as such? In what way do current discourses on religion, migration and technology reflect Europes difficult and complex reading of the biblical heritage? Is Derrida a representative of an abstract universal religion (without religion) or rather a thinker committed to engaging with the concrete content of different religious traditions? What are Derridas contributions to the debate on secularization and its recent crisis? Does Derrida provide us with tools to analyze and criticize current political regimes that ideologically utilize a secularist agenda in order to conceal the misuse of religions for state power? Can Derridas approach to faith in terms of his reinterpretation of speech acts and performative action enhance our understanding of the language of faith and its repeated entangling of promise, perjury and forgiveness? What are the function(s) and the meaning(s) of sacrifice within the context of religion and violence? Is there an arche-violence at work within religion/s?

The speakers dealt with these and other questions in their lectures, responses and discussions. Yvonne Sherwood and Ward Blanton (both from the University of Kent) opened the session with a lecture entitled Sacrificial Fantasies: Abraham, Alterity and Visions of Europe.  In their paper, they revisited the biblical figure of Abraham and his far-reaching effects as a fundamental antitype of European philosophy (respectively in Hegel), self-understanding and even migration-policy. Starting from Derrida and Agamben they showed that current philosophical discourses on religion and technology right up to Foucaults notion of dispositif have their genealogy in Kants and Hegels debate on positive religion.

In his paper Derrida and Secularization David Newheiser (Australian Catholic University) dealt with Derridas approach to secularization. As he demonstrated, it includes an explicitly procedural understanding of secularization processes rather than an abstract notion of secularism. In contrast to J. Caputo, Newheiser explored how theologians might engage with Derridas reflections on concrete religious content and religious traditions rather than an abstract universal religion without religion.

Michael Naas (De Paul University) paper entitled The Accidental Seminar: Derrida on Essence, Accident, and Speech Acts underpinned the role of Derridas transformed understanding of accident by way of referring to some of his seminars. Paradoxically accident is no longer understood as purely accidental, but as an original accident inscribed in the very possibility of a phenomenon, which is therefore open for this accident from the very beginningits possibility is therefore at the same time its impossibility. Working with Derridas seminar on Le perjure et le pardon, Naas demonstrated that a perjury is inscribed in the possibility of forgiveness as such.       

In her paper Speaking of Derrida in Turkey: Anti-Secularism in Moral Education and the Right to Philosophy Zeynep Direk (Koç University) confronted Derridas thought on sovereignty with the political situation in Turkey. Starting from the thesis that a critique of sovereignty is at the center of Derridas writings, Direk analyzed current strategies of sovereign power to misuse religions for the all too mundane ends of an identity politics.  

In his paper entitled Plus quelle-même: The Sacrificed and Divided Animal and the Source of Religion Steven Shakespeare (Liverpool Hope University) engaged in a deep debate on the relation between sacrifice as a dividing figure and the splitting of the two sources of religion described by Derrida in Faith and Knowledge. In Shakespeare's paper, sacrifice was conceptualized as a passage opened by animal life giving way to what is more than itself (transcendence) and at the same time serves as the very limit that allows to shape what is human in the first place.