Symposium Introduction

On Standing Between

I often think that part of what makes Continental philosophy of religion attractive to so many is its ability to disrupt our assumptions and our expectations about what we so often take for granted in (and about) “religious” communities. There is something deeply compelling about rekindling dynamism in relation to that which has seemingly become all too stagnant. And yet, one of the things that consistently worries me about Continental philosophy, generally, is the way in which it can sometimes appear like there are no anchors onto which one can hold. There often seem to be no places where we can gain our footing in order to move forward more confidently. Indeed, whenever one attempts to argue for such possibilities, it can feel like there are legions of deconstructive scholars waiting just off stage to jump in with objections of foundationalism, objectivism, or essentialism. This makes the task of conscientious Continental philosophy difficult because it would seem that even being able to engage in the scholarship at all requires that one be convinced of all sorts of things as true, and yet to operate in the field seems to require that one is so aware of the inescapable play of power that even the idea of “truth” at all becomes quite suspect. How then do we proceed? How do we oppose foundations and yet recognize the need rationally to support our claims, actions, and identities? How do we challenge objectivism and yet stand for the non-subjectivist truth that should guide our social, moral, and existential lives? In other words, even if “there is no outside of the text,” it is still the case that human-caused climate change is true whether we like it or not.

I have written quite a bit about such epistemic issues that I find to bear upon contemporary Continental philosophy. In particular, I have thought for a long time about the ways that philosophy of religion can both admit of the critical hermeneutic awareness called for by deconstructive phenomenologists and also of the historical determinacy according to which religious communities exist and function. As the debates in this area have shaped up over the past couple decades or so, there has emerged a distinction between those who deconstructively defend a “religion without religion” and those who, like myself, have called for a (similarly deconstructive) alternative of “religion with religion.” Although I continue to think that there is much work yet to be done in this area, and I hope to continue to wrestle with these issues moving forward, sometimes it is important to take a step back and ask whether the very framing of the debate is well-suited to the questions with which we are now confronted.

Joeri Schrijvers’ Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life is a book that gives me pause about my own commitments and invites all of us working in the field of Continental philosophy of religion to take a breath and reconsider where we are standing and what it would mean to move forward from there.

Admittedly, Schrijvers’ book is not for the uninitiated. It is, instead, a book by a scholar written for scholars. Reading this book is sort of like what my mom used to refer to as “family talk.” It does not introduce the major players in the debates, but instead intervenes in the conversation in which they are already participating. Yet, this book is not at all merely critical. It is not simply proscriptive, but more impressively and originally, articulates what might be possible if those of us on either side of the “with” or the “without” (or even the “with/out,” which is really how nearly everyone on both sides would choose to describe their own position!) were to resist more effectively the problematic dichotomies that occasionally threaten to throw us back into the oppositional logics that we all have attempted to overcome.

Schrijvers’ basic starting point is Reiner Schürmann’s question: ‘“What is to be done at the end of metaphysics’ once ‘being’ is unhinged from God[?]” (Schrijvers 2016, xi). “The main thesis of the book,” Schrijvers notes, “is that, with a great many of contemporary thinkers (traditions are important), we should stand up and not think of this world, its finitude, and its politics as mere world, mere finitude, mere politics, mere tradition, and mere capitalism. Something transcends all this, and we know not what. This difference, we think, between faith and belief, between finitude and mere finitude, is all a contemporary and secular phenomenology of religious life seeks to install” (Schrijvers 2016, xi). This thesis is profound in its humility and religious awareness, while also encouraging a new approach to the outmoded conceptions of atheism that dominate the contemporary philosophical landscape.

For Schrijvers, standing “between faith and belief” is where we all find ourselves as inheritors of traditions of “religious” meaning. Regardless of one’s own relation to theism, say, such traditions mark out the contours of embodied material existence while also resisting any suggestion that our existence is irreducible to that materiality. That is, “religion” highlights that there is always a more in relation to which we become aware of our lack of understanding, our embodied inadequacies, and yet that “more” does not need to be conceived as within the framework of being such that it is beyond our understanding only due to our own ontological status. Instead, the “lack of being in default,” as Schrijvers describes it, is constitutive of the human condition in ways that yield a “minimal universalism” and “might give way to a joy and an affirmation” (Schrijvers 2016, 311). In an almost Kierkegaardian way, Schrijvers attends to the upbuilding thought that in relation to God (or “God”) we are always in the wrong. Here the humility of existing “after metaphysics” yields a solidarity among all the others with whom we share this situation.

Turning, unexpectedly and impressively, to Peter Sloterdijk and Ludwig Binswanger as resources for understanding the bonds of “love” that unite not only this human condition, but also initiate the philosophical task, Schrijvers is not content simply to point out the limitations of the “with” and the “without,” but goes further and offers a positive articulation of how standing “between” does not amount simply to sitting on fences. In this way, he opens new spaces for inhabiting the difficult middle ground after foundations and yet not without justification; beyond objectivism and yet still with a deep commitment to objectivity as a discursive reality; critical of religion without being against it. In this way, we Continental philosophers of religion can all learn more effectively how to envision a future for our field by reading Schrijvers.

In the end, I admit that I am not sure that I am convinced by all of Schrijvers’ arguments regarding the specifics of God, faith, and religious truth, but I am convinced by the need to be challenged by it in order to get a better sense of the stakes not only of his view, but of my own. Throughout his authorship he has developed the uncanny ability to show the fault lines in positions that even those holding the positions, as well as those critical of them, often overlook. He is a careful reader and an earnest writer and I hope that this symposium brings more attention to his important work.

The contributors to this symposium, Justin Sands, Megan Fritts, Bradley Onishi, and Colby Dickinson, all offer robust critical engagements with Schrijvers’ work. As a testament to the wide-ranging and yet substantive content of Schrijvers’ book, the contributors all engage entirely different debates and discourses in relation to which Schrijvers’ can be situated: phenomenology, Kierkegaardian approaches to the philosophy of love, secularity, and critical political theology. In this way, this symposium is one that I hope invites engagement far beyond Continental philosophy of religion. Even if the book itself is quite technical, the conversations that it can stimulate need not to be similarly situated. Indeed, if Schrijvers is right, then philosophy at its most basic is a call to love others more effectively. Love can mean many things, but it would certainly include hospitality toward engagement with one’s critics. Schrijvers, Sands, Fritts, Onishi, and Dickinson all model how we can live into such love without, thereby, abandoning the very real and very important sites of disagreement that remain.


Works Cited

Schrijvers, Joeri. Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016.



A Prolegomena to Any Future Theology?

 “Have you reeaad Onto-Theological Turnings?” Joeri Schrijvers asks me, with more than just a little side-eyed smirk. As a first-year PhD student in the research group in which Schrijvers was my senior at KU Leuven’s Faculty of Theology, I had just posed to him the idea that perhaps onto-theology worked in philosophy much like original sin did in systematic theology. I was a few chapters into Schrijvers’ Onto-Theological Turnings, and once I got to p. 207, where he analyzes Emmanuel Levinas’ notion of God as a “fixed concept” within theology and ontology, I saw that he was ahead of me. That onto-theology, like original sin, is inevitable:

This stop (i.e., God as a fixed concept), then, is always and already there: there are others besides the others, being is in the neighborhood of otherwise than being, and ontotheology is haunting theology. . . . It is thus that Levinas makes room for the ontotheological mode of procedure, assuming that, taken in the sense of an improper appropriation of the divine, ontotheology is inevitable and belongs to the thinking of transcendence. Ontotheology, then, would amount to the unsurpassable idolatry of all conceptions of transcendence, whether it be on the part of an individual or a community. Furthermore, one should not pass easily over the fact that in the account of the third party, ontotheology is linked to politics, for is it not in the latter that divine power is all too readily turned into a power over the divine? (Schrijvers 2011, 207–8)

Here, Schrijvers begins his argument of onto-theology’s inevitability because of its link to politics, something he explores more in depth in his new book, Between Faith and Belief. It also follows my link to sin, as mentioned above. However, on p. 230, he took it further and recognized that such a link devalues the theological concepts I sought philosophically to justify:

Ontotheologically, the pair sin-redemption would appear as a perfect fit, an adequatio rei et intellectus if you like, and changes into a system where the relation between terms complete and complement one another. The point is that such a privative manner of conceiving sin and redemption would remain stuck in an immanent and negative conception of transcendence and would yield a false sense of certainty with regard to salvation: salvation as the adequate fulfillment of a certain need for redemption. (Schrijvers 2011, 230)

I will skip the argumentation for how Schrijvers arrived at this for the sake of time.1 But for me, at that moment, I knew that not only had he arrived at my inclination first, but that he had conceived of its problematic implications far better than I ever could have. We were already friends, but I realized then that he was the right person to mentor me through the myriad difficulties of phenomenology. And so he has.

I eventually became the English language editor for many of his articles, his book An Introduction to Jean-Yves Lacoste, his second PhD dissertation in philosophy, and eventually Between Faith and Belief.2 I am not claiming to be an expert on his thinking, but I have seen throughout his work a nagging question concerning the critique of metaphysics and its implications to the relationship between theology and philosophy. This question had also played out in real time at KU Leuven. Although we both would certainly agree that our training there was exceptional, it was difficult to navigate the waters between theology and philosophy without being dismissed by either side. To be a crypto-theologian or a crypto-philosopher was an anathema. Schrijvers’ Onto-Theological Turnings was a book that held both titles, depending on who dictated the terms. Schrijvers’ next project turned to Jean-Yves Lacoste, an author he was already exploring throughout his research.3 Even though this project yielded international respect and praise through his various publications and speaking engagements, it was not well regarded in Leuven circles. Many valued the research output, few appreciated the research. When he turned to Jean-Luc Nancy, an author who reads (to me, at least) as an antipode to Lacoste, the reaction was similar.

This matters for us as readers of Between Faith and Belief because it reveals a searching throughout Schrijvers’s work, a searching for what I think is an intellectual foundation, or justification, for theology. Consider comments like this from Onto-Theological Turnings: “This nontheological account I am advancing here with (but perhaps also against) Lacoste thus need not be confused with an antitheological manner of looking at being-in-the-world, for such a nontheological account might be the appropriate way to configure the encounter between God and human beings as a free and singular, that is in each case mine, encounter” (Schrijvers 2011, 236–37). Once onto-theology became inevitable, for Schrijvers, I think he began to question how one could even do theology. Moreover, I think that he places himself alongside Jean-Luc Marion and Levinas when he argues that they “display a certain reluctance toward theology” (Schrijvers 2011, 272, emphasis in original). Questioning the grounds of your own discipline is popular in today’s academic world, but only if you arrive at an affirmative conclusion; at an apologetic defense of your discipline. Schrijvers’ work does not, it remains ambivalent.

Regardless of his Leuven colleagues, Schrijvers persisted and I have the inclination that this persistence motivates his appreciation for Lacoste’s phenomenology. Although Lacoste is a theologian, he is also a phenomenologist that knows the limits and scope of his method. This is something that Schrijvers readily appreciates, even though it still calls into question his own theological discipline: “One can, however, only applaud that, in a time where every link between phenomenology and theology has become suspect in advance, a thinker [meaning, Lacoste] remains contrary to this tendency and declares, without further ado, the appearance of God to be [only] a possibility” (Schrijvers 2010, 93). Through Lacoste, or one could say alongside Lacoste, Schrijvers is also appreciative of the phenomenological method and the question of onto-theology to approve the legitimacy of theology. However, he also cannot find the means to delegitimize it, likewise because of his appreciation of phenomenology.

An Introduction to Jean-Yves Lacoste continues this thinking with a close reading of Lacoste on his own terms. In this way, the work is more reportage than argumentation. However, when one considers the last statement of the book in light of Onto-Theological Turnings and the current book, Between Faith and Belief, something jumps out:

It goes without saying too, that Lacoste’s latest position is at risk of the trouble of anarchy: the trouble with anarchy is that anarchy means trouble. The problem with ontological anarchy is the same as that of every anarchy: it unsettles order in such a way that all order becomes impossible. This is why I found it necessary at times to ask exactly where the difference is between the sacred of the earth and the saint of liturgical experience and how it would manifest itself. One might wonder too whether, with the “laying down” of spiritual experience within the flux of life, the difference between a sort of banal ontological divertissement and spirituality can still neatly be made. Liturgical experience, in other words, can evaporate in the realm of ordinary life and so dispose of its verticality.

If, finally, Être en danger is the optimistic counterpart of Expérience et Absolu, it is sure to arouse considerable debate. Lacoste’s increasing refusal of systematic theology and the eclipse of a certain kind of eschatology already makes one wonder whether a theology (and if so, what kind?) might be written in response to and in dialogue with Lacoste’s latest work. (Schrijvers 2012, 189–90)

Between Faith and Belief begins with such anarchy and Schrijvers explores it in the text’s first chapter through Reiner Schürmann’s understanding of philosophy after Martin Heidegger (Schrijvers 2016, see chapter 1). For Schrijvers, this anarchy is the source of theology’s unsettling and instability (and of philosophy’s, for that matter).4 Interestingly, Between Faith and Belief rarely ever mentions Lacoste, but one can see that Lacoste is far from ignored in spite of his textual absence (see Schrijvers 2016, 93, 168, 254, 301, 314). Consider this in the general conclusion:

Whether it be Schürmann’s ontological anarchism, resorting to the sovereignty of the philosopher overseeing the turmoil of everydayness or Caputo’s sacred anarchy, unable to escape the sovereign God lurking behind and subtly controlling the Christian reversal of values, the lesson to be drawn here is perhaps that nothing is easier than turning the anarchist strand of thinking, and its thinking without principle, into a principle after all. This is, in effect, what the chapter on Schürmann might have shown and what we have elsewhere concluded with regard to Lacoste’s latest work: the trouble with anarchy is that anarchy means trouble. Its being “without principle” all too easily resorts to a somewhat gnostic counter principle, where it is construed as an effort and struggle against the injustices and evils of institutions and powers. (Schrijvers 2016, 301, the “without” emphasis is in the original, the second emphasis is added)

Onto-theology’s political nature fuels this work, and this unsettling anarchy refuses to be tamed by any theologies or philosophies which attempt to overcome or surpass it. This is also what unsettles nearly every important text Joeri Schrijvers has written: first when reading Levinas and Marion’s response to the Heideggerian critique, then further explored but not satisfied in Lacoste’s phenomenological theology, and later examined and mined for its deeper unsettling within Jacques Derrida and his commentators Jean-Luc Nancy, John Caputo, and Peter Sloterdijk, amongst others.

Throughout them all, Schrijvers’ thinking has been an attempt to deal with the failure of overcoming, the failure of being “in default.” This is why Between Faith and Belief is constructed first and foremost as a secular phenomenology: “This work, then, is written somewhat in praise of secularization, as the academics of the day go a long way with what has been termed as the ‘postsecular’ and so perhaps are led astray” (Schrijvers 2016, 2; see also xi, xiv). Within this secular framework, he proposes a “minimalistic universalism of sorts,” which at first seems innocuous but I think actually unveils the importance of the text: Between Faith and Belief is a work which seeks to understand the conditions of possibility for any life with belief, for any religious life especially, and therefore for any future theology (Schrijvers 2016, 2). It does so by arguing that onto-theology’s inevitability reveals that trying to do away with metaphysics (and I am quoting myself here) “fails to see the problem for what it is. And it is here that [Schrijvers’] fidelity to secularism shines through: he is not trying to make an argument that one needs Christianity to proceed with everyday being-in-the-world, but one does need whichever tradition within which one resides or chooses. Christianity may not be necessary, but what makes it Christianity—the ‘between’ of ‘faith and belief’—is necessary” (Sands 2018, 120). Schrijvers sees that we must past through philosophy and secularism in order to establish the rationale behind why one would even turn to theology, why one would even desire a religious life, because he needs to show why anyone would even have or hold onto beliefs and, ultimately, a Weltanschauung. I would not go as far as to say that Schrijvers is trying to build the foundations for how Lacoste’s phenomenological theology can establish a liturgical experience that does not “evaporate in the realm of ordinary life,” but that nagging concern is hidden yet persistently present throughout Between Faith and Belief. Furthermore, Schrijvers trusts in the limits of phenomenology, reminding himself and others of the importance of beginning without the assumption that theology is possible in order to argue that it is.

Others in this symposium will write about the content and argumentation of this book, so I will set that aside for a moment and focus on the motives and movements Schrijvers takes to understand the conditions of possibility for a religious life and its subsequent theology (see, Sands 2017, 11–24). He begins with the anarchy created by, or perhaps without, metaphysics; he questions whether the so-called exhaustion of metaphysics (and Christianity in particular) is an exasperated state of what to do now. Nancy’s work, he finds, cannot do without the Christianity it seeks to live without. Likewise, and as a mirroring image, Caputo’s religion without religion cannot do without the religion that makes it possible. The anarchy remains, albeit occluded in the convoluted attempts to overcome a life without metaphysics.

The best option (and perhaps only, for Schrijvers) is to embrace the fault of onto-theology; to accept that it is always already a part of our being-in-the-world, especially so when we establish any and all beliefs. Regarding onto-theology, we are always already in default: “The human being, I suggest, is in default, like one can be in default when one fails to pay back a loan” (Schrijvers 2016, 303). Here, Schrijvers has a lot in common with Kierkegaard, that “in relation to God,” if there ever is such a thing (pace Schrijvers, appropriating Derrida), “we are always in the wrong” (Kierkegaard 1990, 423). However, Schrijvers does not take a leap of faith toward belief, nor does he see faith and belief in merely religious modes; his route passes through Binswanger’s concept of love as a critique of Heideggerian care, and it is love that traverses between the faith of being-in-the-world and our (defaulted) beliefs established within that world. This is why the “between” of Between Faith and Belief is of upmost importance: whether one finds Schrijvers’ account of Binswanger’s concept of love convincing, it alleviates the trouble of anarchy by accepting that we have to believe in something in spite of ourselves and our fallibility.

What Schrijvers has done is locate where our fallibility lies, and although it looks much like original sin, to suspect that they are one and the same, or at least adequate analogues, deflates both the theological and philosophical concepts in question. Being in default allows us to create understandings of our fallibility such as the concept of sin, but the facticity of this being in default cannot be sin itself. For then we have undervalued just how faulty we are by establishing an immanent, negative concept of transcendence for the sake of the certainty that the tandem notions of sin and redemption provide. Joeri Schrijvers has read Onto-Theological Turnings. Likewise, Binswanger’s concept of love cannot be an analogue to salvation, because, as Schrijvers states in different ways throughout the final third of the book, we sometimes love badly, and also sometimes love the wrong persons and things (Schrijvers 2016, 276). Schrijvers has maintained the limitations of a secular phenomenology to describe faith, belief, and what passes between them. In so doing, he has only recognized an “ontology incarnate” that opens us to understand how what we love in our everydayness establishes what we believe while pointing us back to the event of faith which provides the impetus for any love or belief in the first place (Schrijvers 2016, 291).

This is why I have mentioned, with a certain side-eyed smirk, that Schrijvers could have subtitled this book “A prolegomena to any future work in philosophy of religion and/or phenomenology” (Sands 2017, 11). One can tell in Between Faith and Belief’s conclusion that Schrijvers feels a bit more settled on how we come to have beliefs, how religion and theology is possible, even. However, he does not go further than that. He only stops at the conditions of possibility. After writing on and on about this nagging question of onto-theology, agonizing over its anarchic movements throughout postmodern or contemporary thinking, is he ready to move forward with theology, perhaps writing in his own words to where theology goes next? If so, then I would like to add another subtitle and ask Schrijvers if this work is also “A prolegomena to any future theology?” Lacoste is hidden throughout Between Faith and Belief, is Schrijvers now ready to incorporate the theological, in spite of his reluctance toward theology and his refusal, alongside Lacoste, of a certain type of systematic theology? Is he now ready to take up and engage the dialogue he locates at the end of An Introduction to Jean-Yves Lacoste?

Even though his work was treated suspiciously as either crypto-theology or crypto-philosophy, it was not in vain. I do not think he would have arrived at the conclusions presented in Between Faith and Belief without this pressure, this pressing of doubt about where, exactly, he stood in regards to academic disciplines. This pushed him toward elevating method over a particular academic discipline, and his fidelity to phenomenology, having the discipline to remain within phenomenology’s scope, makes his work. If he were to write a theology, if there ever could be such a thing, I doubt it would satisfy his critics, but it might satiate a certain religious life, a desire for belief located just after being in default. The question is, then, after all his preparatory analysis, is he ready to write a theology?


Works Cited

Kierkegaard, Søren. 1990. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. Edited and translated by Howard Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sands, Justin. 2018. Review of Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life, by Joeri Schrijvers. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 26, no. 1: 118–22.

Sands, Justin. 2017. “After Onto-Theology: What Lies beyond the ‘End of Everything.’” Religions 8, no. 98.

Schrijvers, Joeri. 2017. “Anarchism and Phenomenology.” In Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy, edited by Nathan J. Jun, 484–504. London: Brill.

———. 2016. Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: State University of New York Press.

———. 2012. An Introduction to Jean-Yves Lacoste. Farnham: Ashgate.

———. 2011. Onto-Theological Turnings? Albany: State University of New York Press.

———. 2010. “Note: God and/in Phenomenology; Jean-Yves Lacoste’s Phenomenality of God.” Bijdragen: International Journal in Philosophy and Theology 71, no. 1: 85–93.

  1. I have also written about this elsewhere, see Sands 2017. I have written a book review of Between Faith and Belief, which argues similar points to what I am saying in this essay, see Sands 2018.

  2. For those who have read his work, just remember I did the best I could! Schrijvers loves his run-on sentences which makes him hard to quote at times.

  3. Lacoste even comes through as the hidden interlocutor in Onto-Theological Turnings. Even though he gets less attention page-count-wise, his thinking becomes just as important to the work as Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion, the authors mentioned in the subtitle. See, for example: Schrijvers 2011, 211–15, 217–19, 230–36.

  4. He has also recently published an anthology chapter on anarchy and phenomenology. Although I do not discuss it here for the sake of time, it follows along the same argumentation I am presenting, see Schrijvers 2017.

  • Avatar

    Joeri Schrijvers


    Response to Justin Sands

    I owe thanks to Justin Sands in many, many ways: I knew already that he was a good friend, but I didn’t know that he was such a good reader of my work. I need to confess that this is a difficult text to respond to—Sands not only has a very keen sense of what happened at my old university, he also seems to push me where I do not really want to go. In the field of theology, that is.

    I do think that Between Faith and Belief is more open to theology than Ontotheological Turnings was, if only because the latter in effect presents itself as “nontheological.” I must say that I’m quite surprised that Between Faith and Belief had so little effect on the theologians (but we all know the theologians!), since, well, the theological implications of the book should stare them in the face—the word “incarnation” is probably the most mentioned word of the book! I do recall a long, long conversation with Sands in Amsterdam on these implications, and I know he recalls this conversation too: there is no need to repeat these implications here.

    What I want to do, is set some things straight, because Sands indeed has made some astute observations. The (almost) absence of Jean-Yves Lacoste in Between Faith and Belief, for instance, or the conclusion of my An Introduction to Lacoste asking “what kind of theology” would befit the new phenomenology of Être en danger. Little did I realize, then, that this was a question raised toward myself as much as it was a question for Lacoste. I do not remember whether I told this to Sands, but I did ask the question to Lacoste once, upon a visit in Paris. I remember Lacoste looking at me and saying, “I would not know.” Until this day, I believe, Lacoste has not yet written the theology suitable to the phenomenological insights of that book and his more recent theological works (Recherches sur la parole and Thèses sur la vérité for instance) make little or no mention of this particular phenomenology. This is hardly a response to Sands, I admit, but I need to say that the rephrasing of the “liturgical” experience as a “spiritual” experience to the point that the former in effect loses its verticality and gets caught in the (anarchic) turmoil of everyday experience is something I still very much applaud. This is also why I never was troubled by Lacoste’s theology. On the contrary, I’ve never read a thinker in which the bridge between philosophy and theology felt so natural as Lacoste: the links between the “phenomenon” semper major and Deus semper major are so evident that this kind of correlationist theology, for me, seems to be the best way for theology to proceed. I should add, too, that Lacoste’s theology is a theology that is lived and stems “from experience” as it were. I have always respected this much, much more than the distant (not to say cold!) theology I experienced here in Leuven.

    One more thing: Lacoste is not totally absent from Between Faith and Belief. When Lacoste and I got acqainted, one of the first things we exchanged was our “love” for Binswanger. So, I knew he had read the thinker that I, back then in 2001, was very eager to read—I had to wait until 2014, though, when preparing my PhD in philosophy!

    In a sense, one might understand Between Faith and Belief as a correlational theology similar to that of Paul Tillich, although it refuses the “answers” that theology brings to the questions of contemporary culture. This is why the book is so difficult to understand, I think, by “the theologians.” In this regard, the book presents the bare minimum of what theology today could look like, but it does so from a distance. The bridge on the cover of the book seems to make this point quite correctly. Between Faith and Belief attempts to bridge the distance between philosophy and theology (remember that it was written when I was transferred from the faculty of theology to the faculty of philosophy) or, as Sands has it, between “the faith of being-in-the-world and the beliefs within that world,” but it does not go the distance. The book cover hints at the other side, but does not go there.

    Sands is right, once again, to argue that Between Faith and Belief alleviates the trouble with anarchy that my previous works had sensed. I still think it is my most constructive project and that it may be seen as the optimistic counterpart of Ontotheological Turnings? Sands’ sense that the former book makes room for theology is correct, but I do think that its discovery of love as the name for “the between of faith and belief” is what is most important. It names the gap, the hole and the lack (of which Ontotheological Turnings? already spoke) differently. It is more at ease, and happy even, with the fact that the “truth of the system might lie outside the system” (as Caputo defines deconstruction somewhere). Between Faith and Belief has no qualms in naming this relativization “love,” and sees a possibility for love in dealing with this change within the sytems, in unsettling the system ever so gently. This, too, is why I admire Sands’ response to the book: no one else has seen so clearly that “being in default” does not overlap with sin as little as “love” does with “salvation.” Again, the book takes its distance from theology—especially when theology presents itself as the “answer” to the questions contemporary culture poses.

    I have not yet answered Sand’s poignant question: am I ready to write a theology? It is hard for me to answer such a question. To be honest, I always thought that I would have time to write a theology much, much later when some of my more pressing questions were answered and also after I improved as a phenomenologist! But now, “after” academia, I’m quite sure I won’t have the time to do the serious study that such a theology would require. I do think, though, that there is room for a progressive theology today, amidst all the relativisms of postsecular and identitarian theologies. Even more so, I still think that it is rather urgent, lest theology dissolve into a mere academic discipline focusing on, say, church history or outdated thinking . . .

    There are quite some pointers, though, for theologians in Between Faith and Belief and I would lie if I’d say Binswanger’s “ontology incarnate” has nothing to do with theology. This “aporia” of incarnation has never left me since I wrote the book and I must say that I’m often quite surprised by this thinking of incarnation. It would be worth the while to try and apply it to the theological incarnation and consider exactly just how “the word became flesh” if seen from a phenomenological perspective where meaning meets matter.

    Other themes, too, are important. Binswanger, I think, offers an update of the theological doctrine of participation. Today I think it is very hard to do theology without this doctrine, whereas at the time of Ontotheological Turnings? I thought one could no longer do theology if one would stick to this doctrine!

    Let me consider, then, one more theme which I think Sands might have missed somewhat, namely the theme of “the presencing of God” which, I believe, is mentioned already in Ontotheological Turnings? (Schrijvers 2011, 233). If anything, I think that Between Faith and Belief has shown or intimated at least how such a presencing might be conceived: if Ontotheological Turnings? showed how the presencing of God would be similar to the presencing of things, Between Faith and Belief showed how such presencing takes place in love.

    I regret not to have more of an answer for Sands, but he knows that in many, many ways I had to say, and have said, farewell to theology. In any case, the distance that needs to be bridged to write such a theology would involved a lot of time, a lot of study and, who knows, some experience. It would also involve a lot of Heidegger, perhaps some von Balthasar. Is there, for these things, still room at the contemporary university?


    Works Cited

    Schrijvers, Joeri. 2011. Onto-Theological Turnings? Albany: State University of New York Press.

Megan Fritts


Kierkegaard and Binswanger on Faith’s Relation to Love

A Response to Schrijvers

In Joeri Schrijvers’ (2016) book Between Faith and Belief, Schrijvers discusses various answers to a deceptively simple and yet complex question: What can be said for religious faith “at the end of metaphysics?” Although Schrijvers engages a variety of thinkers in the elaboration of his thesis, he takes particular interest in Ludwig Binswanger, a Swiss existential psychologist, whose contemporaries include Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Buber. Although Schrijvers does not discuss it in his manuscript, it is important to note that Binswanger was heavily influenced by the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. This influence is particularly apparent in Binswanger’s understanding of the transcendental nature of human love. Demonstrating the degree to which Binswanger draws on Kierkegaard, Elisabetta Basso writes, “What is undeniable, in any event, is the fact that Kierkegaard is almost everywhere present in Binswanger’s work” (Basso 2011, 35). Anyone familiar with Kierkegaard’s authorship should also be able to see his ideas shining through Binswanger’s work; but what are as interesting as their similarities are their divergences.

In this engagement with Schrijvers’ book, I will attempt to think alongside him by presenting a Kierkegaardian response to Binswanger’s notion that love does not involve a uniquely religious stance towards the world. If Binswanger is right about the nature of human love, it is a transcendental being-beyond-the-world-in-the-world, which is essentially focused on the beloved, but where the beloved only happens to be the individual that she is. Furthermore, this stance makes us, as it were, more than ourselves, and while it is compatible with religion, it does not require any sort of religious stance. It is this notion of the beloved, however, which is at odds with Kierkegaard’s, otherwise similar, take on human love—which takes the identity of the beloved to be critically important to the transcending nature of the love, and where love between the lover and the specific beloved must be, at its core, uniquely religious.

Kierkegaard’s discussion of such transcendent relationships can be primarily found in Fear and Trembling. Therein, we encounter two parallel anecdotes describing a tragic case of love: the biblical Abraham and Isaac, and the Knight and the Princess. In each case, the two individuals find themselves caught in a paradox of love, which makes the continuation of the relationship appear impossible. The paradox takes the following approximate form: (1) true love between the lover and the beloved is impossible; (2) in order for the lover to become who he must be, he must have the beloved; (3) the lover will become who he must be. Silentio describes instances of such paradoxes as providing possibility conditions for a movement of faith, self-realization through this love is only possible with such a movement.

Schrijvers on Binswanger

Schrijvers presents Binswanger’s psychology of love as a response to certain features of Heidegger’s work. Specifically, Schrijvers understands Binswanger as coming up against Heidegger’s notion that Dasein is most authentic when it is being-toward-death. According to Heidegger, it is in being-toward-death that my being is most truly “my own” (Schrijvers, 223), such that I am transformed into an authentic mode of being-in-the-world. Binswanger, however, is concerned that Heidegger, in his focus on death, ends up neglecting human love as another source of transformation and self-creation. As Schrijvers notes, “Binswanger is looking for a tertium datur between the ontic preoccupations of everyday Dasein and the ontological heroism of authentic Dasein that faces (the possibility) of his or her imminent death” (Schrijvers 2016, 233). For Binswanger, alternatively, love between two humans, especially romantic or erotic love, allows one to “give [oneself] as an ‘I’” (Schrijvers 2016, 234).

Binswanger’s love also makes a funny thing of time. When the self becomes essentially oriented toward the other, time becomes either a tool to use for the benefit of the other (or, perhaps, a gift for her (Schrijvers 2016, 236)), or an irrelevant aspect of the world to which the two lovers are utterly immune. Schrijvers describes this aspect of love as not exactly a matter of timelessness, but of “worldlessness” (Schrijvers 2016, 234). Although not entirely outside of the world, the two lovers create their own haven within it, where time and space exist, not as limits, but only as tools to be used for their togetherness.

Finally, there are two more features of Binswangerean love that Schrijvers highlights: (1) for the lover, the particular beloved both is, and is not, the one who is loved; (2) this love is compatible with a stance of religious faith, but does not require it. Regarding (1), Schjrivers contends that, for Binswanger, while “empirically” the beloved is the particular person she is, and that particular person is who my love is directed toward, “factically” I could have fallen in love with anyone else (Schrijvers 2016, 239). My love for you does not “exhaust the essence of love,” and for Binswanger this seems to be an important feature of a sort of love which is essentially universal.

Regarding (2), Schrijivers points out that Binswanger “speaks not of God” in most of his work, remaining “admirably secular,” given his topic of choice (Schrijvers 2016, 7). Nonetheless, Schrijvers contends that Binswanger’s notion of love allows for, or perhaps even invites, a version of Christianity. This is because love for the beloved does not “exhaust the possibility” of love, but rather makes one into the sort of being who can enter into a universe of love. Still, Schrijvers admits that such a psychology of love does not require or entail a stance of religious faith. Schrijvers explains the situation as follows:

Recall that what I am seeking in and retrieving from Binswanger is a secularism that does not exclude something like faith, as this is perhaps the least bad way to proceed in a world where “secularism” still remains truthful to the current “state of affairs.” But for faith and religion, too, it is perhaps better to deal with a secular context, instead of assuming that the option of faith is as viable as any other. (Schrijvers 2016, 8–9)

Schrijvers thinks that Binswanger’s psychology of love will give him just that; and, perhaps, it does. But the idea of a radical, self-making love that is not essentially religious encounters pushback in the works of Kierkegaard upon which Binswanger drew so heavily.

On Kierkegaard

“It was my only wish, it was my bliss.” With these words, which refer to Isaac, Silentio imagines a possible Abraham speaking as he relinquishes hope (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 32–33). For twenty-five years Abraham anticipated the birth of Isaac, propelled not only by the natural longing of a father for a child, but by the promise of God that this son would be the first of innumerable descendants who would form God’s chosen people. Through Isaac, Abraham was to become the “father of many nations,” and the fulfillment of this promise hung entirely on the late and long-awaited birth of this son. Abraham loved passionately the child who was his promise, purpose, and joy. As Silentio phrases it, Isaac was the “whole content of his life” (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 57).

In the parallel tale, Silentio speaks of “a young swain [who] falls in love with a princess, and the whole content of his life consists in this love” (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 57). The Knight has fallen deeply in love with a woman he can never be with; she is the purpose of his life, though she can never be his. Like Abraham’s father love, the Knight’s love for the Princess goes far beyond ordinary romantic love and attachment. It is a “self-making passion” (Jech n.d., 21), a love through which the single individual can come to have a self. In both tales, we can see the form of the tripartite paradox played out:

(1) Love between the lover and the beloved is impossible.

Abraham must kill his son, and the Knight (for some reason) can never be with the Princess.

(2) In order for the lover to become who he must be, he must have the beloved.

Without Isaac, Abraham cannot become the “father to many nations.” Likewise, the Princess is the “whole contents” of the Knight’s life.

(3) The lover must become a self.

And not just any self—Abraham must become the father to many nations, and the Knight must become the lover of the Princess. In this way, Kierkegaard also diverges from Binswanger, as the lover does not just happen to love any particular individual. Indeed, the lover could not have such a self-making love with any other because no other person would make him into the self he must be.

That humans do not start out with a fully-formed self is a theme explored more fully in The Sickness Unto Death: “Man is a synthesis of the finite and the infinite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self” (Kierkegaard 1946 [1849], 147). The tripartite paradox of a self-making love creates the possibility conditions for what Kierkegaard calls the “double-movement of faith.” This double-movement is the combination of two different responses to the paradox: the movement of “infinite resignation,” and the movement of “faith.” In order to illustrate these two different responses to the paradox, Silentio famously introduces two characters: the Knight of Infinite Resignation and the Knight Faith.

The first Knight performs the first sort of movement, “infinite resignation,” which is a movement away from the finite incarnation of the beloved. Indeed, the Knight no longer has any need to bother himself with such a worldly thing. Instead of dismissing his love for the Princess (a weak move, and impossible), or longing after her finite form (a life of sorrow and futility), the Knight chooses to dwell on his love in the realm where nothing can touch it—the infinite. The Knight of Infinite Resignation remains in a state of having the beloved infinitely resigned. Accordingly, he spends the rest of his life loving this dream, perfectly preserved in the realm of Ideality. As Silentio explains:

So when he has thus sucked into himself the whole of love and absorbed himself in it, he does not lack courage to make trial of everything and to venture everything. He surveys the situation of his life, he convokes the swift thoughts, which like tame doves obey his every bidding, he waves his wand over them, and they dart off in all directions. But when they all return, all as messengers of sorrow, and declare to him that it is an impossibility, then he becomes quiet, he dismisses them, he remains alone, and then he performs the movements. (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 53)

Yet, the Knight of Infinite resignation does not have faith. He does not have a self that is able to relate to the world, having surrendered his ties to the finite, and he lacks this kind of self because he has surrendered his beloved. In order to have faith, in order to commune with God, it is necessary to have a self that is fully in the world. This is why the Knight of Faith must, after infinitely resigning the beloved, make a second movement: the movement to faith. Silentio admits that “the movements [of resignation and faith] are frequently confounded” (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 59). Accordingly, he goes on to note the difference between them:

In resignation I make renunciation of everything, everything. . . . By faith I make renunciation of nothing, on the contrary, by faith I acquire everything. . . . Faith is precisely this paradox, that the individual as the particular is higher than the universal . . . yet in such a way, be it observed, that . . . through the universal becomes the individual who as the particular is superior to the universal. And yet faith is this paradox—or else . . . there never has been faith, precisely because it always has been. In other words, Abraham is lost. (Kierkegaard 1941 [1843], 59, 66)

It is clear, then, that the only way this self-making love can be realized (as opposed to relegated to the realm of Ideality via infinite resignation) is by making the movement of faith “by virtue of the absurd.” Faith, then, for Kierkegaard, is not merely compatible with such a self-making love, it is an essential feature of any such relationship.

So Kierkegaard and Binswanger agree on the initial, default condition of human selfhood as defined by a type of individualist lack. They also agree on the solution to such a lack—love. Additionally, they both put forth a view of love as a sort of transcendental experience, which makes us, to put it simply, more than ourselves. We become the relation that we come to have to our beloved—we become a lover. Yet, for Kierkegaard, such an experience requires—indeed, it essentially is—a stance of faith. But why?

The Paradox of Love and Necessity of Faith

The point of departure between these two figures is the place of religious faith in the phenomenon of self-making human love. While Schrijvers reads Binswanger’s love as leaving room for, though not requiring or entailing, religious faith, Kierkegaard finds the notion of this sort of love essentially to be the possibility condition for the movement of faith.

Kierkegaard’s take on the role of faith in love stems from the fact that human beings begin life in debt, in a state of lack—specifically, we lack a self. As previously noted, this essential human lack of self is a key point of agreement between Kierkegaard and Binswanger. As Schjrivers writes:

If being unfolds with lack, gaps, and holes (Heidegger), then it not only falls to the human being to “endure” (Aushalten) such ontological insufficiency, it also is such a lack. The human being, I suggest, is in default, like one can be in default when one fails to pay back a loan or return a borrowed item. If, for Binswanger, the world is what lacks love, this is so because the human being fails to love properly (just as Heidegger’s Dasein most often fails to be authentic). (Schrijvers 2016, 303)

Binswanger himself attributes this notion of lack to Kierkegaard. Indeed, Basso notes the attribution of such ideas to Kierkegaard in Binswanger’s works:

In this context, Kierkegaard is mentioned also―together with Heidegger again—in order to oppose to such an experience of “existential loss of the self” a “principle of the self” as “existential realization,” which consists in the awakening of the self from irresponsible and non-autonomous everyday life―that is, the “self as ‘they are [Man]’”―to the “authentic self.” (Basso 2011 40; citing Binswanger 1932, 25)

What Binswanger doesn’t seem to see, however, is that this essential lack, this “finitude,” in Kierkegaard’s words, makes the sort of love Binswanger describes impossible. That finite beings could expand beyond themselves, become whole through a very particular love which itself requires two whole individuals, is a paradox. Such a chasm of between us and the realization of this ideal can only be spanned by a leap to faith, a repetitive movement, of resigning the beloved and, in faith, receiving her back.

There are, perhaps, more similarities than divergences between the ideas of these two thinkers. Still, as it concerns the topic of Schrijvers’ book, it seems crucial to note Kierkegaard’s particularly weighty voice as concerns the role of faith in love. If Kierkegaard is right that a stance of religious faith is necessary to make sense of the possibility of love, then this might affect how plausible one finds Binswanger (Or religious faith! Or love!). In any case, perhaps Kierkegaard provides an option for those still looking for a notion of faith that can be grasped “at the end of metaphysics.”


Works Cited

Basso, Elisabetta. 2011. “Ludwig Binswanger: Kierkegaard’s Influence on Binswanger’s Work.” In Kierkegaard’s Influence on the Social Sciences, edited by Jon Stewart. Ashgate, 2011.

Binswanger, Ludwig. 1932. “Über Ideenflucht.” Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie 28, no. 2: 183–202.

Jech, Alexander. “The Cross of the Self: Reading Kierkegaard as the Single Individual.” Unpublished manuscript.

Kierkegaard, Søren. 1941. Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

———. 1946. The Sickness Unto Death. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schrijvers, Joeri. 2016. Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  • Avatar

    Joeri Schrijvers


    Response to Megan Fritts

    I’m extremely grateful to Megan Fritts for pointing me to the similarities between Kierkegaard and Binswanger. Her response even made me pick up Binswanger’s Grundformen again—such a lovely book!

    I must confess, right away, that I’m not much of a Kierkegaardian—the little I know of the Dane is most often from hearsay. Accordingly, my response to Fritts will be twofold. I will begin, first, with some personal thoughts upon reading her paper and will then turn to the Grundformen and Kierkegaard’s appearance in this book—for Binswanger’s book, surprisingly, only mentions Kierkegaard ten times or so. I do know the work of Elisabetta Basso, whom Fritts cites, but must say that Basso only seldom refers to the Grundformen in which Binswanger develops his phenomenology of love. I therefore tend to think that the influence of Kierkegaard for this particular phenomenology was not that considerable. Let me begin by saying that Binswanger’s relation to Kierkegaard can be summed up by Levinas’ adage about the same thinker, much later: “It is not I who resist the system, as Kierkegaard thought; it is the Other” (Levinas 1969, 40). Binswanger too will time and again state that what matters for an ontology of love is not my existence (nor my love for that matter) but the fact that there is this Wirhaftigkeit, this thing between us, all of us, that we call love. This is why it is for Binswanger of great importance that there is a difference between the very ontic you whom I love or Duhaftigkeit (anyone basically can become a You) and Wirhaftigkeit (anyone can be a lover and become loved because love is what “presences” between all of us) in general; cf. Schrijvers 2016, 252–53). Binswanger, in a sense, attends to the gap between my love, viz., the one who I happen to love and have met here in this particular place and at that particular time in Belgium, and the capacity to love and be loved in general—e.g., were I born in the United States, I’d probably love someone else. By giving such a prominent place to contingency, Binswanger shows himself as a precursor of a certain strand of deconstruction. Not the deconstruction that resists all naming, all identification, and all gathering, which plays in the early Derrida and at times in the later Derrida too, but a deconstruction that, conscious of the risks involved in just such a naming, has the courage to name nonetheless: it is you, this particular and very ontic you, that I love (although common sense makes it plain that I might not love you eternally).

    So this gap between my love and love in general is filled in, say, phenomenologically: given the state of the world, and the fact that lovers need to “be” in the world, it is always possible that our love doesn’t stand the test of time. This is why for Binswanger the love for this ontic you can never be the essence of love. Love in general is always greater than this very particular happening of love between my lover and me (although without this happening I wouldn’t have a clue of “love in general”). If, furthermore, my love for my lover would show the essence of love then one might always wonder whether this love would not deny the reality and existence of the loves of others (or consider these to be inferior) especially because a phenomenology of love cannot rely on a theology of love in which love would be distributed equally by God to all creatures. It would, finally, deny the contingency of love in the sense that I would literally die when she goes away: it is, in proper Kierkegaardian fashion, inconceivable both that my lover would leave and go on and love someone else and that I would love someone else once she has left . . .

    In short, Binswanger, I think, would not agree with the second and third premise of what Fritts calls “the paradox of love,” according to which the lover “must have the beloved” in order to become what he or she is. Regardless whether or not this brings some sort of instrumentality into the loving relationship (viz., I need you to become myself), Binswanger would argue that the lovers need to be able to assert themselves in the world, i.e., they need to assert themselves independently of the love they have for one another. This is what the dialectic of love and world means phenomenologically: we are not in love all the time. On the contrary, most often the lovers “are” in the world without one another. To put it bluntly: driving the kids to school is not to be confused with the movements of the knight of resignation!

    However, let us have a look at what Binswanger’s Grundformen says about Kierkegaard and ponder why he would rephrase Levinas’ statement as “It is not I who needs to be loved, it is the Other.” I have indicated that, contrary to expectations, the Grundformen don’t mention Kierkegaard often, although, as Fritts indicates, Basso has shown that in his more psychological writings Binswanger gives pride of place to Kierkegaard. Two or three passages are relevant for our discussion here.

    Binswanger aligns Kierkegaard to Heidegger when he suspects some sort of humanist ideal in both of these thinkers, namely a constant stress on a capable, acting “I” over and against the world in which it asserts itself. This stress of my (own) existence forgets, for Binswanger, “that the way to a self for Dasein . . . passes through the predominance of the We, of longing and of original encounter. This ‘predominance’ means [that] the way in the world too needs to be gone as a way to you” (Binswanger 1993, 114). Prior to the stress on the singular and particular existence, there is the preponderance of “togetherness,” and if “world” or “I” there be, it needs to be seen from out of this primoridal and ontological longing. For Binswanger, then, there is a huge difference between the self that arises out of the world (in Kierkegaard and Heidegger) and the self that can be gained through the loving relationship. Binswanger sees two phases in Kierkegaard, one in which Kierkegaard complains that in the world the self never can be transparent to him- or herself and reveal him- or herself as love (Binswanger, I believe, is quoting Kierkegaard’s Either/Or) and a self that becomes a self once it aligns itself coram Deo in a second phase. Yet in both phases, Kierkegaard misses for Binswanger the intersubjective dimension proper to love and the measure for the self either remains some sort of autonomy and singularity wrested by the individual from the hold of the world or such singular existence is granted by God.

    Yet the self gained by love is something else entirely. Binswanger would distinguish between solitude—the heroic and authentic self of Heidegger or the “I think” of Descartes—Einsamkeit or loneliness and Zweisamkeit (which is prior to loneliness). “Loneliness” resembles Kierkegaardian love, in that it describes a stress on my particular existence by stating that “I am myself through you only.” One, however, sees all the risks of instrumentality surface again: I might be with you just to become myself. “Zweisamkeit,” for Binswanger, depicts the stages prior to loneliness both ontologically as the priority of every “we” over every ego and phenomenologically, since only after the death of the lover I become lonely but in a particular way: it is a loneliness granted by (a) you. Such Zweisamkeit therefore can be summarized as follows: only through “us,” through your love, you become you and I become I. Slowly but surely the priority of togetherness hopefully becomes clear.

    The unfolding of love in the world of which Between Faith and Belief speaks is a movement from unity to multiplicity. Binswanger, contra Kierkegaard, speaks of the “falling apart” of love from original togetherness into multiple concrete and singular “we’s.” This is why the measure for the self in Binswanger is not “being-in-the-world,” as in Heidegger, or God, as in Kierkegaard, but friends. It is from them that I learn how to live. “The lover cannot be the measure of my self, since she and I are one, [and] are graced Dasein as ‘ours’ . . . in one destiny” (Binswanger 1993, 219). Yet, to be in love, i.e., to be in love in the world, love must “fall apart” and allow for “selves” to be in the world, but this “self” is not the monad of a tragic existence, it is a self presencing through interaction with others, at best friends. Through friends (very particular we’s), we are reminded of the “proper, original participating of what is mine in what is yours and of you in my destiny” (Binswanger 1993, 219). Intersubjectivity, for Binswanger, goes all the way up (to love) and all the way down (“animals eying me in the forest”) and there are times that he speaks with nothing but contempt—if he had the talent for it!—of all attempts to isolate and insulate an ego, whether these attempts are present in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, or even Stirner (whose Der Einzige und sein Eigentum for Binswanger counts as evil plain and simple). The loneliness, experienced after the death of a lover or of friends, then, is when properly understood not an experience that “leaves me alone” but an experience that leads back to you or to them (Binswanger 1993, 222). What matters for Binswanger is not how I can become a self, but rather how, becoming a self, we forget that others have made us into ourselves. In this sense he points to “Verbrüderung” rather than “Vereinzelung” (Binswanger 1993, 222) and he would have known how central a concept this was in Heidegger and Kierkegaard.

    Binswanger’s point of departure in his phenomenology of love therefore differs considerably from Kierkegaard’s. What matters for him is not how exactly we are hindered to become a self in the world (as in Heidegger and Kierkegaard) nor, simply, if and how we gain a self in love; rather, it matters for him to act and assert oneself in the world (with love and through love). The question, then, is how to combine love and care or love and knowledge if you will. It is here that Kierkegaard surfaces in his discussion again. “Knowledge of Dasein” and the act of judgment (upon a fellow human being) is obviously quite important for the psychiatrist Binswanger. However, how to do this, that is, how to know and how to judge with love matters to us all (and is admittedly one of the Grundformen’s central questions). In this regard, Binswanger praises Kierkegaard for seeing the intersection between imagination and passion yet he complains once again about the reduction of their unity to one’s existence (Binswanger 1993, 494). For Binswanger, knowledge concerns not the weal and the woe of one’s existence but once again the existence of others. It is in this regard noteworthy that for Binswanger the idea of love reaches out to others, needs to be realized and practiced even. Once again, Binswanger levels a criticism against Kierkegaard: “This has nothing to do with ‘subjectivity’ but [the judgment of love] presents rather the highest attainable objectivity” (Binswanger 1993, 508). The judgment of love offers the possibility that love, when it falls apart in the world, remains love and does not lose its loving gaze. It is “objective” in a multiple sense: first, because love is “ontological” and part and parcel of being; second, because it reaches out to the other and realizes something in the world. The first shows itself in the fact that love is not only idea, but always and already incarnated—it is not only present in theory but it needs to be practiced. The second movement shows itself therefore precisely in this practice: it is a judgment concerning the other that is “liberating” and “makes room for freedom”—only love can loosen ties and is “erlösend,” redemptive (Binswanger 1993, 509).

    This last word, then, brings us to Fritts’ other question, namely how religious (or not) is Binswanger’s phenomenology? It is true that Binswanger plays with religious vocabulary: we have encountered “graced” existence, the “redemption” of love and the “Teilnahme,” the taking part in each other’s lives, which might very well be an existential update of the theological doctrine of participation.

    Yet especially in his discussion of Kierkegaard, Binswanger is very clear that the phenomenology of love is in no need of (Christian) faith whatsoever. It is, I think, a phenomenology that may lead to faith but doesn’t need to—and this is no small accomplishment.

    When stating, as seen above, that “the way to the world needs to be walked as a way to you” and insisting that ultimately there is no separation here, Binswanger proceeds: “‘In the world’ . . . too the youness of all Dasein is revealed. With this, there is not yet found a philosophy of religion or a Christian religion, but an indication of the primary determination of Dasein, namely as love. Only because Dasein is as love originally, is the Christian religion and philosophy of religion possible and can God reveal Godself as a God of love to human being ‘in their world’” (Binswanger 1993, 114). A similar argument is rehearsed at another instance where he discusses Kierkegaard and the question of the knowledge of the other. This knowledge, the knowledge about our existence (but existence in the world with others) derives from love, which is prior to Kierkegaard’s stress on ethics and religion. Why are we concerned with (knowledge of) our fellow men and women? Not because it is good to do so (ethics), not because God wants us to be so concerned (religion) but because the bond of love ties us to one another whether we like it or not. Binswanger again: “This ‘we-ness,’ however, is not an ethical and neither a religious phenomenon, even though it contains these two very much within her (in sich birgt), it is a fundamental-anthropological [phenomenon]” (Binswanger 1993, 495).

    So the question is: what is first? Religion or love? I do think that Binswanger here presents us with the most sensible option by starting with an experience that, hopefully, can be shared by all rather than starting from out of a particular and singular stance in the world (with all the doctrines and dogmas involved). Furthermore, if there leads a way from love to religion, all the better, but, more often than not, religions on the contrary know how to close the way to love. For this latter reason, I think it is wise not to speak about God and religion too soon. If Binswanger’s phenomenology of love can lead to faith, Kierkegaard’s account of love must lead to faith and take it into account. I hope to have convinced Fritts with this response that the last option is not always the best one.


    Works Cited

    Binswanger, Ludwig. 1993. Grundformen und Erkenntis des menschlichen Daseins. Heidelberg: Asanger.

    Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

    Schrijvers, Joeri. 2016. Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemoprary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: State University of New York Press.



Philosophy, Theology, and Religion in a Postsecular World

Joeri Schrijvers’ Between Faith and Belief is a formidable work that explores both well-known and overlooked thinkers in contemporary European thought: familiar figures such as Jean-Luc Nancy and John Caputo are given fresh readings; less studied thinkers (at least in the Anglophone word) such as Binswanger and Sloterdijk inject novel perspectives on the themes of metaphysics, religion, secularity, and love. The work as a whole is a response to a question posed by Reiner Schürmann, a philosopher to whom Schrijvers gives a critical, but sympathetic reading: “What is to be done at the end of metaphysics?” Schrijvers adds a phrase that turns out to be constitutive for the work as a whole: “once ‘being’ is unhinged from God” (Schrijvers 2016, xi).

This question is now well-tread. After a period of enthrallment with Jacques Derrida’s work in the nineties, and the emergence of Jean-Luc Marion toward the new millennium, philosophers of religion, theologians, and others have eagerly explored how “religion” might return to both philosophy and the public sphere. The unexpected pathways opened by deconstruction and post-Heideggerian phenomenology have led to considerable attention as to how the end of metaphysics might signal an opportunity, rather than a death knell for God in the postmodern context. John Caputo, Merold Westphal, Richard Kearney, Kevin Hart, Emmanuel Falque, Hent de Vries: these, among others, are the Anglophone figures who forged pathways over the last three decades in order to see what fruit the coupling of deconstruction or phenomenology (or both) and theology might bear.

In some sense, Schrijvers’ Between Faith and Belief is a retread of this path. The underlying motivation for the work seems to be how a “person of faith,” as in a religious person, might render belief, faith, and reason in coherent relations after God has been unhinged from being. If ontotheological modes of philosophical and theological discourse are no longer valid, then how to articulate faith and/or belief? In another sense, Schrijvers’ work adds a novel dimension to the debate by injecting new voices with new perspectives. One of the book’s most important contributions are Schrijver’s careful readings of Peter Sloterdijk, Ludwig Binswanger, and Schürmann—figures who are either overlooked or not yet prevalent in Anglophone circles.

After carefully examining how Schürmann, Nancy, Caputo, Sloterdijk, with reference to Derrida, Marion, and Martin Hägglund, view the state of faith, belief, and religion after metaphysics, Schrijvers arrives to his own answer to the question in Binswanger’s phenomenology of love. Before examining the contours of Schrijvers’ reading of Binswanger, it’s necessary to examine in more detail the positionality and context of the former’s questioning.

In the general introduction, Schrijvers links the unhinging of being from God to the decline of religion, repeating key—if now abandoned—assumptions from the secularization thesis prevalent in the sixties.1 He says that what he sees is not a return to religion, or institutional religion, but provides no data in regard to when (or if) religion declined and when or how it might be returning. Regardless, Schrijvers seems to agree with Karl Löwith that what is needed is “secularization and translation,” rather than what he takes to be the “sacralizing” of rigid theologies and the “particularism” of “apathetic pluralism” endemic to the postsecular context. As Schrijvers writes:

It not because one cannot “secularize” properly that all that one can do is postsecularuize, that is, it is not because there is not secular, neutral, and objective reason that the only option one has is to “sacralize” and “sanctify” the non-neutral presuppositions one is contingently “thrown into.” (Schrijvers 2016, 4)

Schrijvers points to Marion’s notion that one must believe in order to see as an example of a “sacralizing” theological conception. In doing so, he equates Marion’s phenomenology of revelation with something like Karl Barth’s non-correlationist neoorthodoxy. Schrijvers fills out the other side of the binary by painting postsecular discourse as a hapless fideism in which no presuppositions of any culture or tradition can be meaningfully criticized. Neither attain the kind of translation of religion into secular terms and retention of religious concepts that Schrijvers finds to be necessary after the collapse of ontotheology.

In response, Schrijvers seems to be after a postmodern correlationist theology—one that coherently retains concepts such as transcendence, infinity, and the Other after the end of metaphysics. Though he rightly sees Caputo’s “religion without religion” as an attempt at such a model, he concludes, and I agree with him on this point, that Caputo’s approach aims to have it both ways without admitting as much. That is, Caputo wants to retain the Christian ideals of hope, love, and peace without naming them as such, nor providing a bridge between the dogmas and praxis of religious traditions and the modern secular world. Schrijvers aims to correct this shortcoming by finding a suitable translator for Christian concepts without having to disavow their religious origins and relations.

The answer arrives in Binswanger’s phenomenology of love. For Schrijvers, Binswanger’s rewriting of Being and Time offers to “conserve something of the idea of an infinite love: the love of my lover, for instance, would not be ‘love’ if we both did not wish this love to last forever. It would be through love, then, that this finitude that marks us can first encounter and then conserve something of the possibility of infinite love” (Schrijvers 2016, 7). This is the hinge of Schrijvers’ own answer to the question of what can be done, or thought, after the separation of God from being. In a manner that recalls Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon, the infinite is not banished. It has been relocated, or found elsewhere, in the phenomenon of love.

Schrijvers explains that Binswanger diverges from Heidegger on two main points in order to locate the window to the infinite in the phenomenon of love. First, Binswanger challenges Heidegger’s notion that death is the phenomenon through which Dasein might enact its authentic mode of being. Second, Binswanger challenges the very notion that it is death that is Dasein’s ownmost possibility:

Against this stress on finite, Jemeinig Dasein, Binswanger introduces the thought of love as an existence that, though not distinct from (Heidegger’s) being-in-the-world, does not coincide with the stakes of this being-in-the-world as outlined by Heidegger. The fullness of being, revealed through us in love, intimates a ‘being-beyond-the-world-in-the-world (‘über die Welt hinaus sein’) that overpowers and empowers the existential structures of care and concern. (Schrijvers 2016, 223–24)

Schrijvers rightly points out that Binswanger’s phenomenology of love echoes of Levinas’ attempts to take leave from Being, since Binswanger institutes an “originary coram,” or being before, “with or without Deo,” which is “to be seen as a fundamental salute to beings and of beings” (Schrijvers 2016, 232). In ways that recall Levinas’ notion of the “face,” according to Binswanger although what we love is in the world, “why and what we love is not (of) this world” (Schrijvers 2016, 233).

In ways that echo of Marion’s own break with Heidegger, and the erotic reduction the former outlines in The Erotic Phenomenon, according to Binswanger in the unique togetherness of lovers, time and space collapse under the erotic reduction (Schrijvers 2016, 234), thereby conquering the world (Schrijvers 2016, 235), since “love ecstatically gathers the present, the past, and the future” (Schrijvers 2016, 236). This means that, in perhaps the most jarring break with Heidegger’s phenomenology, Dasein’s being is no longer an issue when in love (Schrijvers 2016, 238). As Schrijvers explains,

This Sehnsucht, the passion for who and what is other, is for Binswanger primarily a longing “for oneness and wholeness” that will be satisfied only in the loving encounter where one is aware of and attuned to the fact of “how much we are,” all union has already passed through communion. (Schrijvers 2016, 248)

With this basic framework in place, my criticism of Schrijvers’ answer to the question of what to do after the unhinging of God from being through Binswanger’s phenomenology of love is twofold.

First, while Schrijvers provides a clear reading of Binswanger’s phenomenology, he provides no compelling reasons as to why one should buy into Binswanger’s claims. If one begins with the notions that (1) God is love, (2) God is infinite, and (3) God’s love pervades the world, then it might be a straightforward path to buying into Binswanger’s claims that love conquers the world, provides a fullness lacking in the default condition of human beings, and acts as a window into the infinite. However, if one does not begin with these theological presuppositions, it is not clear why one should believe that love overcomes space and time.

Furthermore, there is no compelling reason given as to why love must include the desire for permanence. When Schrijvers equates love with desire that it last forever, and then claims that love is a trace of the infinite in the finite, or the otherworldly in the world, he seems to use circular reasoning. What if I don’t buy into the notion that in order to call a lived experience “love,” it must be predicated on the desire for such an experience to last forever? While Schrijvers distances himself from Marion, these same criticisms have been made of the latter’s erotic reduction for some time. Thus, it seems that Binswanger’s phenomenology of love doesn’t offer the kind of translation of theological concepts that is persuasive to the non-Christian.

Second, Schrijvers’ motivation for instituting Binswanger’s phenomenology of love as a viable prism of the infinite rests on a desire to explicate a viable understanding of “religious life” after the demise of metaphysics. But Schrijvers never articulates whose religious life this might be and what would define such a life. It seems that the types of religious lives he’s referencing are those of European and/or North American or Oceanic intellectuals. This, in other words, seems like particular phenomenology of a particular religious set of lives. While I understand philosophy’s desire to be universal in scope, phenomenology is the analysis of lived experience. Neither Schrijvers’ investigation, nor conclusions seem to take into account the lived experience of all people (whether or not such a thing is possible, is up for debate; but it’s a question that bears pointing out).

Overall, Schrijvers’ Between Faith and Belief provides a bridge between a former generation’s (Caputo, Schürmann, Derrida, Nancy, Marion) reckoning with the demise of metaphysics with new voices (Sloterdijk, Hägglund), and in the process revives a thoroughly understudied phenomenologist (Binswanger). Despite my criticisms of the work, it represents a productive contribution to the ongoing development of the relationships among philosophy, theology, and religions in the postsecular world.


Works Cited

Schrijvers, Joeri. Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemoprary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016.

  1. Religious affiliation and participation may be declining in Western Europe, but the thesis that it is or will decline on a global scale has been abandoned.

  • Avatar

    Joeri Schrijvers


    Response to Bradley Onishi

    I need to thank Bradley Onishi for his kind response to my work and the generous reading of Between Faith and Belief that he offers. Onishi gives an intriguing criticism of the book that should give us pause to think. Onishi furthermore seems to agree with one of the basic contentions of the book, namely that “after” ontotheology, being is thus unhinged from God. I do think, however, that with regard to the analysis of this problem, Onishi and I somewhat differ.

    Onishi is right to argue, though, that what Between Faith and Belief is aiming for is a “postmodern correlationalist theology”—except that the book does not present itself as a theology. Yet it follows all the main procedures of such a theology, in that it offers an analysis of contemporary culture that it, then, seeks to relate somewhat to the questions that theology and religion hold dear. So, when Brad writes that the “underlying motivation for the work seems to be how a ‘person of faith,’ as in a religious person, might render belief, faith, and reason in coherent relations after God has been unhinged from being,” I beg to differ. It is rather the other way around: once God has been unhinged from being is there still an occasion at all for anyone to be a “person of faith”? I will come back to this difference below.

    This is why Between Faith and Belief quite often presents itself as thoroughly secular and the phenomenology of love that it offers, through Binswanger, as, perhaps, the condition of possibility of a phenomenology of religious life (cf. Schrijvers 2016, 291). In this regard, too, the book follows the procedures of a correlational theology: it offers the beginning of a theology, the questions and their form if you will, but quite consciously refrains from coming up with any theological answers to these questions, let alone seeing theology as the answer to these questions. However, to outline these questions the book adopts the methods of phenomenology rather than theology: it seeks to come up with a minimalistic universalism (Schrijvers 2016, 2) that meditates upon the questions we share as human being, namely life, death, birth and, of course, love.

    But Onishi’s response, as mentioned already, should make us think: is it really the case that the book presents a secular translation of religion and theology, as Onishi seems to think? I don’t think it does but I can imagine why someone would think the book is just such a secular translation. Yet when Löwith argued for such a secular translation—he believed the idea of progress in modern culture to be a translation of the theological idea of providence—it is clear what was translated into what: there was, first, a theological idiom that, then, found a translation and interpretation in modern secular culture. I don’t think that a similar theological background and idiom exists in the case of Between Faith and Belief. What the book aims to do, however, is to show that these translations no longer work and that any attempt for theology to talk to a secular context is no longer as easy as it once believed: there is no simple one-way traffic from theological idioms to secular registers. This is, if you like, where Hans Blumenberg comes in: questions have arisen or are created—he believed that the novelty of modernity lies in science and technology—that cannot any longer receive a theological answer, simply because they have left behind the old, medieval (?) theological adage.

    Between Faith and Belief sees both options at work in its major sparring partners. Nancy, for instance, makes room for “transcription” of theological concepts within the globalized world—his repetition of the concept of creation is a case in point. Without theology, as it were, we all have to create our existences out of nothing. Yet what happens in Nancy (and Sloterdijk) is that such secular translations give way, as if automatically, to what he calls the “detheologization” of our world. Löwith’s idea was correct for a while but is now conceding place to Blumenberg (cf. Schrijvers 2016, 58, 98). It is true that Between Faith and Belief sees such a tipping point in the sheer indifference our contemporaries have toward the questions of religion (e.g., Schrijvers 2016, xv). I do believe that it is because of neoliberalism and capitalism that we have fallen prey to such an indifference and increasingly confuse the good with the wealthy.

    I’d concede to Onishi that it is not clear where exactly Between Faith and Belief would stand on this spectrum as it neither seems to side with Löwith nor with Blumenberg. I would make clear that on these questions I have learned most from Derrida who was acutely aware that these translations of theology into the secular realm most often go unnoticed and are even transmitted unconsciously (“there will have been translation and transmission,” Derrida would say). This is the import of his critique of Nancy: if Nancy thinks himself able to pinpoint a moment in which we would all be “freed from Christianity,” Derrida would state that the institution of such a zero point is a Christian move precisely. I think Derrida was right in showing us that the Christian heritage is not undone in one stroke. This is why I settled for an arguably not very elegant term when labeling our culture as no longer Christian but not yet unchristian. It is from this between that the books speaks.

    Onishi will have noticed that something changes when moving from part 2 (“Between”) to part 3 (“Within”). This “within” begins with a moment of incarnation, but again in its phenomenological sense. It starts with our particular beliefs, our being in a particular community, all the way up to our relationship with this very ontic you. This starting point then serves as the beginning of, or the entry towards, what some would call “theology.” Yet this is not to say that, as Brad argues, “if one begins with the notions that (1) God is love, (2) God is infinite, and (3) God’s love pervades the world, then it might be a straightforward path to buying into Binswanger’s claims that love conquers the world, provides a fullness lacking in the default condition of human beings, and acts as a window into the infinite.” But the book does not begin with the idea that God is love and neither does Binswanger. It is made quite clear that Binswanger was not writing a theology (e.g., Schrijvers 2016, 7). As far as I know Binswanger never concerned himself with questions of religion and theology, although he probably grew up in a Christian culture (a fact that should make us think!). What Binswanger was providing, from beginning to end, was a phenomenological description of the phenomenon of love, in its “how” of appearing to him and to us (hopefully). I do suspect that this description wasn’t convincing for Brad or that other ideas of love interfere with what Binswanger and I are presenting. So much is clear in his critique of love and its relation to eternity. I was indeed convinced of this fact—the fact that love desires eternity, which is different from saying that it will receive eternity—by Marion’s Erotic Phenomenon. By unhinging love from world and from being, I do think that Marion offers us very little by way of a phenomenology of love, and at least very little to love. Here Binswanger is closer to the origins of phenomenology than Marion is: Binswanger offers us keen analyses of the wedding ring, of objects touched, caressed and cherished by the deceased lover—descriptions which I always found lacking in Marion’s account. Yet Binswanger and Marion do agree about the eternity that love desires and, frankly, I can’t imagine the phenomenon of love otherwise: would it make sense at all to tell your lover that you’ll love him or her only for five years or so? How would he or she receive such a statement if not as an utter relativization of what is going on between the two of you? Will not love have vanished as soon as I tell her that it is quite likely that I’ll be with someone else in a year or two—even though this might be quite likely from within the world and from out of sociological data?

    Yet we always speak from out of our particular beliefs and experiences. Onishi does mention this in his response and draws a distinction between philosophy’s universal pretence and phenomenology’s (empirical) analysis of lived experiences. Here again I would need to differ. Phenomenology’s first realization is that it will need to speak of what we share, universally, from out of our very particular experiences precisely, from out of this “small bit of world here in Belgium” in my own case (cf., Schrijvers 2016, 336n48). How would we convince our peers if we, as philosophers and phenomenologists, would not speak of our shared experiences? Of what use is a universalism that is not lived? I do agree that phenomenology here needs to be cautious and proceed with small steps. One more reason to try and delineate a “minimalistic universalism”!

    I need to thank Onishi, again, for his very thorough reading of my book and for the questions his reading has posed. I can only hope that this short response will be a further opportunity for us to think about what matters for philosophy and theology.




The Politics of Being

The Political Theology Implicit in Schrijvers’ Between Faith and Belief

The apparent impasse between phenomenology and deconstruction that Joeri Schrijvers seeks to overcome through a reasoned analysis of the underlying issue between these paths of inquiry is one that, to my mind, opens up a political conversation on just how such impasses—often conceived in overly simplified and frequently polarized dualistic terms—allow us to reread the field and operations of theology as a whole. What such a philosophical impasse parallels, I would argue, is nothing short of the basic coordinates for the field of political theology, much as Carl Schmitt had once sought to define it: sovereignty, on the one hand, and democratic-liberalism, on the other, locked in fierce opposition to one another and with neither seemingly willing to relinquish control for a moment to the other. For Schmitt, the apparent failures of democratic-liberalism meant that some form of monarchal (even perhaps papal) sovereignty needed to be reasserted in the modern era against the nation-state’s indebtedness to far weaker political forms. The strength of the sovereign was the only thing that could guarantee the continuance of the state in the face of its enemies. Though Schmitt’s choice for dictatorship (and consequently Nazism) was tragically flawed, his general analysis of the political field and its theological roots yields significant insight into how the fields of politics and theology alike are themselves structured.

Overlaying Schmitt’s formulations upon Schrijvers’ analysis, we can perhaps begin to see the same impasse located within theology wherein the anti-metaphysical side (“liberal-democratic”) engages in an “endless conversation” and espouses a tendency toward absolute secularization, while refusing to concede that there may yet be a need for onto-theology (“sovereignty”) in the end—something that theological communitarians either overtly or inadvertently support. I believe this overlay is justified, not only by the range of figures that Schrijvers has chosen to study (i.e., John Caputo, Jean-Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Marion, among others), but also because he concludes his work with an explicit call to avoid authoritative (authoritarian) and sovereign movements alongside the ever-present quests within continental philosophy to avoid the metaphysics that legitimates such positions (Schrijvers 2016, 297–302). Espousing such a position is not easy to do, however, and this is what elevates Schrijvers’ work above so much else that is out there already.

A major claim of the book is that one cannot wholly abstract oneself into the “endless conversation” that refuses to make a decision and arrive at an ontic form of existence. There must be some way to articulate the necessity of sovereignty without it becoming the “dictatorship” of tradition, as Schrijvers phrases things (Schrijvers 2016, 292). Keeping in mind the parallels I am suggesting, Schmitt’s failure had been to attempt a defense of monarchical sovereignty as a form of dictatorship. What Schrijvers illuminates is rather how, in the face of those who would simply strive to dismantle metaphysics entirely (and here his criticism of Caputo’s critiques of sovereignty are particularly interesting to follow), there is yet another possibility routinely overlooked by both sides: (abstract) faith needs (embodied) belief in order to be phenomenologically possible in this world. The problem, as he states it, is that the world has been severed from love and love from world by these, or similar, negative political theologies bent on the act of deconstructing only (Schrijvers 2016, 300). If it is possible to have something like a “faith without faith” in purely structural and abstract, even intellectual terms (much as Derrida or Caputo had put it), belief is the embodied side of life, what makes love a reality and a transformative one at that. Though Caputo himself has often seen a similar need to merge the concrete, historical with the abstract philosophical or theological (see his On Religion, for example), Schrijvers wants to deepen the relationship between faith and belief to more than an unexplainable reality; he wants to make a philosophical argument for why these two must coexist.

Relying on the writings of Ludwig Binswanger, Schrijvers develops an incarnational theology of love as a form of intersubjectivity that takes our ontic reality, our traditions, institutions and religions more seriously than the negative political theologians might typically concede. Binswanger’s openness to a form of existence between sovereignty and liberalism gives us another way to contemplate the political impasse that dwells at the heart of theological debate and exposes another avenue for the future of political theology in general. There will not be a “post-metaphysical” era envisioned as “post-Christian” in a Western context because we are not able to extricate ourselves from the ostensibly Christian onto-theological foundations that undergird every attempt to form a “religion without religion” or a deconstruction of Christianity. The anarchy, Gnosticism, antinomianism and apocalypticism of the negative political theologians such as Nancy, Derrida, Caputo and Sloterdijk (but one could also add Giorgio Agamben, Clayton Crockett, Jeffrey Robbins and a host of others) have a significant role to play in terms of deconstructing the onto-theological foundations of metaphysics in order to expose their potentially violent substructure. But it is also a substructure we cannot simply remove from existence altogether.

Schrijvers, for his part, is focused on a philosophy of incarnation that takes our material existence seriously and confirms how meaning does arise from matter, as he puts it (Schrijvers 2016, 304). There is in the mix a certain paradox of existence that refuses to yield absolute certainty—what makes us ultimately “beings in default”—and this is the very condition of what being immersed in both faith and belief is about: “Coming to terms with such a being in default may be the adequate response to the end of metaphysics: it is to recognize that we all share in this default and this lack and that this ‘knowing of not knowing’ is what turns philosophy, as the love of wisdom, into a wisdom of love: not to overcome the lack, but to love even the lack (of rationality, of ultimate meaning)” (Schrijvers 2016, 304–5). Trying permanently to overcome such a lack is the temptation of sovereignty, one that has certainly brought a fair share of totalitarian forms into our world. Failing to grasp that we need some form of metaphysics, and its accompanying sense of sovereignty, in material form is the temptation of the negative political theologians, one that exposes them to frequent charges of nihilism. Both extremes are to be avoided, of course, as the “being in default” that we are is an inescapable being in poverty (cf. Agamben’s work on an ontology poverty, which comes to mind for me here).

What results for Schrijvers is a theological agnosticism wherein one does not know if one is included (politically, theologically) in whatever community that surrounds them but knows only that they must not be involved in a “politics of being” that entails exclusion. The “politics of being” that he calls for is rather one that involves “the minute, meticulous and phenomenological assessment of the concrete differences between particular traditions, be they religious (Caputo) or ontological (Nancy)” (Schrijvers 2016, 300). In this politics, something like an intricate and complex network of relations becomes slightly more visible and just possibly more comprehensible (as in the work of Bruno Latour, I might suggest, which pursues the intricate networks of meaning bound up in the various “modes of existence” in our world). Such a politics of being, which perhaps shares a good deal with existentialism in some respects, might also open the door toward greater interreligious and comparative theological understandings. It also, if we can see nearly as far as Schrijvers projects, brings a renewed appreciation of secular, agnostic and pagan traditions vis-à-vis traditional theological ones. This possibility is what allows something like Nancy’s or Jean Yves-Lacoste’s focus on the “pagan residue in Christianity” to exist and take on renewed significance in that such a move dictates a reality wherein “each and every person who attempts to be Christian is first and foremost insufficiently Christian” (Schrijvers 2016, 315). Every identity is ultimately undone at the same moment that the person who held that identity realizes how they are so much more than whatever had previously claimed them.

I am not sure if Schrijvers would accept the overlay of political theology upon his analysis, but what I see unfolding in his work is a most insightful account of how we might address the historical field of theological (and political) operations anew, refusing the polarized dichotomies that often lump people into overly facile conservative and liberal, sovereign and democratic, counterparts. For laying out the theoretical groundwork for such a wholescale rethinking of the operations and deductions that comprise the lives of faith and belief, I am at least extremely grateful.


  • Avatar

    Joeri Schrijvers


    Response to Colby Dickinson

    I owe a debt of gratitude to Colby Dickinson, who has read my Between Faith and Belief with such care and sympathy. I am happy, too, that Dickinson picked up on the possibilities for a political theology and philosophy that the book lays bare. It would have been quite likely that such political aspects of metaphysics and ontotheology would have been the next step of my work. In this response, though, I will highlight some pointers toward a political theology that might give Dickinson and others something to think about.

    Although Carl Schmitt, I believe, is not mentioned in the book, Dickinson is quite right when he “overlays” Schmitt’s analysis of the uneasy balance between sovereignty and the liberal democratic over my own take on ontotheology and the current anti-metaphysical trend. Dickinson, then, is keen to apply this difficult balance on the distinction between faith and belief by asking how precisely these two are tied into an “ontic form of existence” that doesn’t comply to a “dictatorship of tradition.” Whereas Schmitt did opt for a sovereignty bordering (and more than that!) on dictatorship while dismissing anything that even resembles democracy, Between Faith and Belief goes out of its way to show that one cannot have the one without the other. In a way, then, you can have the cake and eat it.

    For this, however, it is necessary that both “faith” and “belief” be relativized from within. It is needed, first, to show that there is no “faith without belief” and that therefore the “endless conversation” of deconstructions of deconstructions does not end up with, or rather does not attain, the embodied side of life. It is here that phenomenology is needed. Yet Dickinson knows all too well that much of the climate in which my work was written was theological in nature and that I know the practices and the ways of those, so to say, stuck within their tradition. To rid oneself of such a “belief without faith” of a belief that allows for no transformation and no other points of view, one needs a deconstruction desiring the point of view of the other.

    Yet with these two alternatives nothing is gained, especially when one realizes that both of them come with their own ontotheological identifications and, as Colby has it, violent substructures. What is needed, then, is a third term, stuff that in a sense is both “faith” and “belief” and that cannot be comprehended conceptually (nor existentially for that matter) once and for all. Between Faith and Belief finds such a thing in Binswanger’s phenomenology of love. Binswanger, however, does this in a most interesting way and it is this that might inspire political theologies. Binswanger speaks in this regard of what one can call an (ontological) history of love (cf., Schrijvers 2016, 291): love, even though it understands itself from out of its tradition, does not take its self-understanding exclusively from out of the tradition. It is the essence of love to be open to new and other experiences and therefore to include and join together what for some might seem “out of joint.” The phenomenon of love, then, is what resists being clogged by the tradition’s dictates and will unsettle these dictates from within that very tradition (from which its self-understanding arises in the first place).

    Now, what I did not realize very well when writing the book is that this dynamic of love, joining a certain stasis and dynamis—remember that finite love conserves something of its infinity although it does not contain it—is ontological in nature. For Binswanger, it would be a “movement of the real.” This realism, I believe, is what would have needed further research.

    But such a movement of the real also teaches us a practical and ethical lesson, namely that the way we love (and act and believe) today might not be the only (to say the least) way to love and, quite likely, not the best way to love and to believe (to say it all). I think this too is why Dickinson points to the extension of what I call our being in default to us being insufficiently Christian. This is what one might think of as a Lacostean, Kierkegaardian moment in my work: the realization that sin pertains to me first rather than it would concern other. It also is a lesson to be learned from Schmitt’s famous definition of sovereignty: the sovereign is he (or she) who decides on the state of exception and can make an exception of him- or herself—it has been noted too little how close this definition of power resembles the definition of hypocrisy! Yet what matters most here is the simple conclusion one can draw from this definition of sovereignty: if sovereignty lies in making an exception of oneself, then the ethical import of such a definition seems to be to make as little an exception of oneself as possible. Yet such a state of exception seems to be what happens quite often, both on an individual level—it’s not me who sinned, it’s the other—and on a communal level—it’s not our community who is in the untruth but the community of the other. Hence why the safest option seems to be not to consider oneself safe!

    Such a corrective to the individual and communal posture against truth and untruth, I believe, is highly important in a Western culture where Christianity is becoming a minority in many places of Northern Europe,  not only out of compassion—it is after all quite likely that we “sin” against being in default and claim to be “in the truth,” hence the “being in default against being in default”—but also because many of the Christian communities in Europe, and perhaps cultures in general, seem to do just that: harden their claims and grasps on truth (a truth which is not coincidentally completely embedded in their tradition).

    In this regard, Between Faith and Belief tries to tie together what is most serious in Christianity—our reality as sinners and our “projection” of sins mostly onto others—with a stance on contemporary culture—its hardened claim on truth even in the guise of its being “post-truth.” The condition of possibility for this, however, is that the truth of a (Christian) culture might lie outside that culture—a definition Caputo sometimes uses for deconstruction. Be that as it may, it is not wrong to try and name how such an outside might take form and it is for this reason that I pointed to the dynamic of love as a movement of the real “beyond” the projections of individuals and of communities. Again, such a “beyond” does not occur at the expense of what Dickinson calls, with Latour, the “intricate networks of meaning” out of which it arises in the first place. A “politics of being” (cf., Schrijvers 2016, 216) is therefore in order.

    I need to thank Dickinson, again, for pushing me to expand on these political implications of my work which, without his response, would have not come into (my) view. One more reason to think about the “back and forth” of the between!