Tracey Stout directs our attention to the overriding question of whether or not the new phenomenology is remaining faithful to its phenomenological heritage. Or, by turning its attention to the transcendent, has the new phenomenology forsaken “pure phenomenology”? The phenomenological traditionalists (e.g., Janicaud) seek to draw a firm line in the sand between phenomenology, as originally understood, and certain accounts of the new phenomenology. According to Stout, “These newer thinkers continue to do phenomenology albeit in a new register or with a new set of concerns which open up new avenues for phenomenological description of what does not present itself as an object.” This is not to say that the new phenomenology has mutated into some kind of theology, but it offers a “phenomenological description of what is beyond concrete sense perceptions . . . of the unapparent, life, givenness and phenomenality itself,” including religious matters. Admittedly, Stout observes, one could view this as a veiled attempt to venture into the domain of theology. Nonetheless, the new phenomenology hints at the possibility of an unintended awareness of non-sensory phenomena. That said, Simmons and Benson maintain that the new phenomenology is still phenomenological. As Stout notes, for Simmons and Benson it is important that “what the new phenomenologists describe is given to us, even if in indirect and negative ways, in experience.” Indeed, Stout asks, why limit phenomenology to the study of sensory phenomena when Husserl himself allowed “things that appear to be taken as they give themselves to us”? This is not to suggest that the new phenomenologists appeal to theology as an authority, but rather that it is an “archive of resources from which to draw” (Stout). It accomplishes this by combining kataphatic language with apophatic theology. The new phenomenology, therefore, does not uphold the truth-claims of theology, but it may consider reasonable claims within the discipline of philosophy of religion. So, how does one delineate between philosophy and theology when the boundary, at times, seems malleable? For his part, Simmons proposes a “reconstructive separatism,” a distinction without absolute separation. As Stout observes, “Theology can use phenomenological method and phenomenology can utilize insights from religious traditions.” Stout’s essay not only brings the reader back to the question of whether phenomenology should embrace the unapparent, but it also raises an interesting question: “Does phenomenology’s return to the things themselves inevitably push in this direction?” (Stout). Stout contends that, actually, it does. As he explains, phenomenology “naturally lends itself to, and perhaps, requires the excessiveness and overflow found in these thinkers. The world itself raises the questions and takes us in this direction.” One need go no further than Heidegger to detect traces of the kataphatic tradition. Stout, of course, is not suggesting that Heidegger was a theologian, but simply understands the implications of “the method of examining the phenomena that appear to us [such that it] leads us to ask the next questions of excess, givenness, or depth.” In the end, Stout agrees with Simmons and Benson that there is a distinction between the new phenomenology and theology, but it’s complicated at best to draw a hard line in the sand between the two. Then again, at this point I’m inclined to remember the “drawing-the-line” fallacy. That is, just because a precise line cannot be draw between two disciplines doesn’t mean, nonetheless, that there isn’t also an obvious difference.
Nathan Eric Dickman advances two positive reflections of the book and concludes with a “critical challenge to the new phenomenology.” He begins with the central question of whether there are boundaries to the “old” phenomenology, and, whether the new phenomenologists somehow crossed the line so that they are no longer adhering to what Husserl originally intended? To answer this question, Dickman draws our attention to the core features of phenomenology. If we know the essentials of the old and the new phenomenology, then it’s just a matter of comparing the two to determine if the variances are too significant. And, if they are, does the new phenomenology limit diversity or hinder inclusivity (e.g., ethnic or academic disciplines, or other fields that call for the use of perception)? Dickman’s second observation involves the question of criteria. Specifically, who should make the phenomenological cut? He mentions several names (Tillich, Anderson, et al.) and questions their absence in the book. Perhaps the more thought-provoking inquiry concerns the relationship between the new phenomenology and theology and/or religion (not to mention various kataphatic versions of Christian philosophy). Granted, they are not the same, but can they complement each other? Is there a “mashup” version that does justice to the spirit of the disciplines? The dilemma is that, in the pursuit of truth, conventional philosophy has performed well in the role of the interrogator, but it consistently comes up short as an ultimate source for the answers. Can the new phenomenology step in and shed some light on the enduring questions of life? In his conclusion, Dickman challenges the authors regarding the assumed diversity of the new phenomenologists. To be truly varied, it would call for examples from outside of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
Vita Emery presses the question of the extent of phenomenology by asking, “What is not phenomenology?” She frames her response to the authors by probing the three main tenets of their argument. First is the question of whether the new phenomenology is a rightful successor to the original phenomenology of Husserl (i.e., a presupposition-less, albeit intentional, description of one’s experience of phenomena). It would seem, Emery observes, that historical phenomenology consists of built-in boundaries of inquiry unless a distinction can be made between phenomena and phenomenality. The notion of phenomenality may permit an expansion of phenomenology into religious matters. Second, according to Emery, Simmons and Benson contend that phenomenality offers “new answers to questions that philosophy of religion has historically responded to more dogmatically.” Based on her own frustrations with the impracticality of traditional phenomenology, Emery sees value in examining, by means of phenomenality, our “existential lens” through which we view the world. That said, Emery reminds us that our existential lens may also carry “existential baggage” and, thus, we should proceed with caution when navigating religious matters. Third, Emery reflects on the final thesis, i.e., whether Simmons and Benson can create a “mashup” or “bridge between continental philosophy of religion and analytic philosophy of religion.”
Bradley Onishi proposes a third “conversation partner” into the mix—literature. His prolegomena includes a recap of Simmons’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology and a reminder that, whatever the correlation, all reflection begins with one’s presuppositions about religious matters. How then do we accomplish Simmons’ goals (i.e., deriving from diverse fields, circumventing hegemonic approaches, being open to discursive options)? Onishi utilizes the paradigm of “encounter” in which, as he describes it, “the scholar of religion remakes and recreates his or her account of the human, world, or cosmos through the religious phenomena he or she studies.” Following the example of Tyler Roberts’s Encountering Religion, Onishi envisions an endeavor “wherein secular thinkers engaging religious texts, figures, and events, can be read as a response to unsatisfying and inaccurate visions of secularity by way of engagement with religious phenomena.” The outcome, according to Onishi, is for philosophers to “develop both compelling interpretations of religious phenomena and generous and vibrant accounts of the secular.” That is, the aim is to “philosophize with religion as a means for inheriting, creating, and mediating visions of the human, world, and cosmos.” Onishi likens this process to the “braided essay,” whereby “an author braids together two or more themes and narratives,” and, hence, Onishi sees a correspondence between this literary device and Simmons’s mashup philosophy. Indeed, Onishi suggests that it is possible that “all truth is bound up this way, in braided forms, various traditions, and seemingly disparate sources.” In sum, Onishi’s stated objective is to “avoid the rigidity of genres, recognize the distinction of philosophy and religion while creating avenues for mutually fecund encounters, to open new discursive possibilities in philosophy and religion, and to combine the logical and the poetic.” At the end of his essay, he raises the questions of the extent and the limits of mashup philosophy. Are there any standards that limit access to other nontraditional sources or genres other than philosophy and religion? In the end, there seem to be some parallels between the authors’ mashup methodology and Onishi’s attempt to “combine the logical with the poetic.” Then again, we return to the question of whether there are any boundaries to such an endeavor.