News and Forthcoming Posts…

This week was the last week of our fall term here at Drexel, so things have been pretty hectic. I’ve got some news though and several forthcoming posts I thought I ought to let you know about. First the news. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs (Oxford, 2009) is now available in a Kindle edition. I wrote in an earlier post that it was available in an electronic edition, but the Kindle edition is superior to that earlier electronic edition.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Kindle, and of electronic books in general. I’ve just discovered iBooks and although I’m not as big a fan of iBooks as of Kindle books, I do like how the pages turn in iBooks and that I can read books on my iPod Touch (you can do that with Kindle books too, I just haven’t tried it yet). The wonderful thing about electronic books is that they’re cheap, they take up no space, and they are a huge boon to scholarship in that they are searchable, and copying and pasting chunks of text into notes or scholarly articles really speeds up both research and writing.

I’m excited to see Crumbs on Kindle because the one thing I did not like about that edition was that it had no index. The Kindle edition makes an index superfluous, though. Why worry about an index when you can search the whole book for any word or phrase you want? The downside of the Kindle edition  is that it doesn’t have the page correlations to the latest Danish edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works, Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, the way the paperback does, so if you plan to do serious scholarly work on either Repetition or Crumbs you will probably want to have both the paperback and the Kindle edition.

The Princeton editions of these works are not yet available in electronic format, so not only does the Oxford edition give you a better translation, it gives you one that is much more suited to scholarly work. If you have any doubts about the relative quality of the Oxford vs. Princeton translations, you can check out an excerpt of the former on The Smart Set website, or just download a sample onto your Kindle (you do have a Kindle, don’t you?).

Now for the forthcoming posts. I’ve been wanting to do a post on Joakim Garff’s talk at the AAR meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago. He made some good points that deserved a wider audience.  Garff graciously sent me a copy of the talk, so I’m going to do a post soon that will summarize and comment on it.

I also plan to do a post that will consist of an excerpt from the preface of Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier paa antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010). I translated the preface into English for a talk I gave for the Judaic Studies Program here at Drexel. The talk was very well received and made me think that other people might like to check out the preface as well.

Finally, I ran across a review of Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology (Baylor, 2010) in The Review of Metaphysics, so I plan to do a post that will summarize the review and provide some comments on it.

So there’s lots of good stuff coming soon!

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

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.

The Kierkegaard Car, etc.

The Kierkegaard Car

Check out the new license plate my husband thoughtfully got for me. Here is a link to the site where you can order one for yourself for just under $20! I’ve got another link I think you will like. A thoughtful reader emailed me recently that my translation of Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs is now available in an electronic edition through Google Books for $9.99. Is that cool or what! I promised I’d have an index for that book by this spring. I don’t need to do one now though because you can search the electronic edition and find anything you want. Electronic searches are much more effective at finding stuff than is a standard index. Still, if you bought the book on the assumption that you would be able to download the index I promised and you are put out because now you are going to have to spend another $9.99 to get a searchable edition of the book, just send me a scan of your receipt and if the date you purchased the book is after the date when I promised the index and before the date of this post, then I will send you a check for $9.99.

I’m not trying to make more money by encouraging you to buy the electronic edition. I’m just trying to save myself some unnecessary work. I’d rather be writing than spending my time producing an index. I love writing, not only am I working on the book Fear and Dissembling, I’ve also got a blog on my website where I post short essays on various topics ranging from religion to popular culture. You should check that blog out if you have not already. The most recent post “The Life of the Mind” actually mentions Kierkegaard. I’d be interested in any case, to see what other philosophers think of it.

I’m sorry I have not yet come with the promised post on Peter Tudvad’s excellent Stadier på antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews). This has been a busy term for me. We’re on quarters, so we just finished our spring term and I’m actually still grading exams. It was a wonderful term though. I teach two courses a term, but for the first time in my academic career, I had only ten students in each class and that made for a truly wonderful teaching experience. Why was I so busy with only twenty students total? Because for the first time I was able to allow every student the opportunity to rewrite every paper and quite a few students took advantage of that opportunity. It made more work for me, but it also made the term more satisfying for both the students and myself because they learned more and that made it clear to me that I was actually making a positive difference in their lives. That’s the point of teaching, of course, making a positive difference in one’s students’ lives. It is usually far from clear, however, that one is having such an effect. Sometimes I worry that I am actually having the opposite effect. That is, sometimes I worry that I am undermining their self esteem by giving them what they feel are low grades on their essays and because I do not normally have enough time to allow them to rewrite more than the first essay, I worry that this reduced self esteem will be the most significant thing they will take out of the class. I could quit having them write essays, I suppose, but then what would be the point of their paying the approximately $40,000 a year that it costs to go to Drexel? I’m not THAT entertaining. I feel as if I would be participating in an enormous fraud if I didn’t have them write essays, so I keep doing it, even though I often worry that I’m starting something that the rest of their instructors are not going to be able to finish.

That’s the real scandal in higher education if you ask me. Yes, it is horribly unfair to the legions of adjuncts and other “contingent faculty” that they are not paid better for their labor. There’s been very little discussion, however, of the injustice (if not outright fraud) of requiring students to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a “college education” that, because it so often delivered by overburdened instructors who do not have much time to devote to their students, is often less effective at developing students minds than would be watching public television. If I were in college now, I’d scream bloody murder if my instructors didn’t assign essays, and lots of them, and if I didn’t get extensive feedback on them and have as many opportunities as I wanted to discuss that feedback with the instructor. Faculty sometimes complain that too many students are in college simply to get that piece of paper we call a degree, but colleges and universities actually encourage that attitude by cramming too many students into classes with instructors who do not actually have time to teach. The message of that experience is that colleges and universities are in the business of selling degrees rather than of developing minds. Students aren’t stupid. They get it. That’s something Louis Menand fails to acknowledge in his recent piece in The New Yorker, Live and Learn” (for more on Menand see my Reading Notes The Life of the Mind“).  Students don’t understand the value of the humanities because we repeatedly send them the message that the humanities are not important, that the reason they are in college is to get the piece of paper called “a degree.”

I say “we,” but I probably shouldn’t because Drexel is actually a lot better in that respect than are many colleges and universities these days. I teach two courses a term, and Drexel will allow a course to run with as few as twelve students and sometimes, under special circumstances such as a particular course being required for a major, with even fewer than that. We are the exception though, not the rule, so those of us in higher education should stop complaining that our students don’t care about anything but getting that piece of paper and ask ourselves whether we aren’t encouraging that attitude and what we might be able to do to change it.