M.G. Piety

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Conference Report

In Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship, Uncategorized on November 25, 2011 at 11:20 am

AAR Book Exhibit

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is the single most important conference for Kierkegaard scholars. There are normally several sessions devoted exclusively to Kierkegaard, but this year there were an unprecedented five. The first was on Saturday  morning. It was co-sponsored by the Christian Systematic Theology Section and the Kierkegaard, Religion and Culture Group. The theme was Christology and Kierkegaard and the session was presided over by C. Stephen Evans of Baylor University. The second was later the same day. The theme of this second session was the work of Edward Mooney. This, for me, was a particularly interesting session because Mooney is as much a poet as a scholar and this was brought out well by the speakers. The third session was late in the afternoon on Saturday (yes, that’s right, there were three sessions devoted to Kierkegaard on Saturday). The theme of this session was esthetics and the speakers included Joakim Garff, the author of Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton, 2005) about which I’ve written.

I’m afraid I missed the session on Sunday morning that was devoted to Kierkegaard and Hermeneutics. I’d like to have gotten to that session, if only to see one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Tim Polk of Hameline, who was the session chair. My own paper was scheduled for the same afternoon, however, as part of a session devoted to Kierkegaard’s epistemology, so I spent the morning making the final edits. I made an important discovery at this AAR. If you read your paper directly from your computer, you can keep making edits right up until that last minute!

My paper was well received, though there were few questions. My guess is that this was because it addressed two subjects with which most scholars are not heavily engaged: Kierkegaard’s epistemology and patristics. Mine was also the first paper and people kept streaming in as I was reading. This was distracting, I’m sure, to the people who were already seated and, of course, the people who came late would not have heard the entire paper (the upside of this was that there was standing room only at the beginning of the session).  I met several patristics scholars, including Nathan Jacobs of Trinity International University, who came up to me afterward and told me they had enjoyed the paper and that they felt that there was a very strong relation between Kierkegaard’s thought to that of the Church Fathers. My brief exposure to this area of research supports this view. I plan to do a lot more work on this issue in the future and am grateful for the contacts I made in San Francisco.

One of the highlights for the conference to me was the number of sessions devoted to sex. There were at least a dozen such sections, including a joint session of the Evangelical Theology Group and the Religion and Sexuality Group, the theme of which was “Contemporary Evangelical Sexualities.” This session included a paper that, to my mind, had the best title of any paper at the conference: Erin Default-Hunter’s “Porn Again: What Pornography Can Teach Christians about Good Sex.” I don’t want to give the impression that I’m obsessed with sex or anything. I just think its nice to have such a clear demonstration that religious conviction is not, as is so commonly believed, inversely proportional to a healthy interest in sex. Sex is a gift from God. So I say go for it, you randy religion scholars!


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Kierkegaard and the Ante-Nicene Fathers on the Knowledge that Comes from Faith

In Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on November 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I actually started this blog at the suggestion of Baylor University Press. Baylor published my book Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology (2010) and they suggested that a blog might help to promote the book. I fear I haven’t written much here, however, on Kierkegaard’s epistemology, so I figured now was perhaps the time to say something about it. I don’t want simply to rehash what I’ve already said in the book, so I thought that instead, I’d give you a preview of the talk I’m scheduled to give at the American Academy of Religion conference in San Francisco next weekend. I’m going to speak, as the title of this post indicates, on Kierkegaard and the Ante-Nicene fathers on Christian epistemology.

I’m a philosopher by training, not a theologian, so I knew very little about the Ante-Nicene fathers before I picked up Hans Urs  von Balthasar’s English translation of Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies. I picked it up, actually, just for a little light reading. I’d become interested in early church history as a result of reading Bart Ehrman’s excellent Misquoting Jesus. Erhman’s written so many popular books on the early Christian church that you might be tempted to think he’s not really a serious scholar. Let me disabuse you of that notion. I had to make a trip over to the Advanced Judaic Studies Library recently in connection with the preparation of my upcoming talk and the librarian there, Joseph Gulka, put me on to Ehrman’s excellent The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.

I got quite a few excellent books on the Ante-Nicene Fathers from Penn’s library, and let me tell you, the similarities between Kierkegaard’s views on the nature of Christian knowledge and the views of figures such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria is really striking. I’m surprised I hadn’t read about these similarities earlier. I fear too many Kierkegaard scholars are either philosophers who know nothing at all about theology, or theologians whose backgrounds are exclusively in later periods. I won’t go into all the similarities here but will point out only one I intend to emphasize in my talk.

I explain in Ways of Knowing that Kierkegaard believes it’s possible to know the truth, or to recognize Christ as the truth. God, he observes, did not take on human form “to ridicule human beings. His intention cannot thus be to go through the world in such a way that not a single person ever came to know [vide] it. He does indeed want something of himself to be understood [forstaae].”[1]

The claim that knowledge of God is possible through an encounter with Christ may seem heretical to those who view Christianity as a religion based on faith. This passage from Crumbs is strikingly similar, however, to Irenaeus’ claim in Against the Heresies that “the Lord did not say that the Father and the Son could not be known at all [μη γινωσκεσθαι], for in that case his coming would have been pointless” (45) (Forgive the absence of diacritical marks. I’m not a classicist, so I haven’t yet figured out how to do them on the computer).

Irenaeus is specifically concerned here to reject the claim of the gnostic Valentinus that the message of the incarnation was God’s inaccessibility to human knowledge. “What the Lord really taught,” asserts Irenaeus, “is this: no one can know God unless God teaches him; in other words, without God, God cannot be known [ανευ Θεου μη γινωσκεσθαι τον Θεον]. What is more,” continues Irenaeus, “it is the Father’s will that God be known [αυτο δε το γινωσκεσθαι αυτον θλημα ειναι του Πατρος]” (45).

Interesting, eh? It should be interesting, anyway, to anyone who has read my book. But enough on my book. I’d like to take this opportunity to promote someone else’s book. I found a particularly interesting book as I was doing the research for this paper. It’s called Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Apophaticism (Oxford, 2006). I was so entranced with it that I went right to abebooks.com to see if I could get a copy. Unfortunately, the cheapest copy was $75. I then did a google search in the hope that I might find one for less than $75 and discovered that Amazon had a Kindle edition for $8.80! I LOVE Kindle! If you’re interested in Kierkegaard’s epistemology, then I recommend you check it out!


[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, tran. M.G. Piety (Oxford, 2009), p. 126.