Friday, April 12, 2013
Subverting the Norm II
#subverting the norm
#atheism for lent
#philosophy and religious practices network
On Tuesday, I got back from Springfield, Missouri, where I’ve been for a conference organised by Phil Snider and hosted by Drury University - Subverting the Norm II: Can Postmodern Theology Live in the Churches? (Apr 5-6 2013). Having slept all day Tuesday and been away visiting family on Wednesday and Thursday, I’ve finally got a little time (with my husband going away for a stag weekend in Amsterdam!) to start reflecting on this conference.
Having presented a plenary session on Slavoj Zizek’s pneumatology at the first Subverting the Norm conference (Oct 15-16 2010), this time round I presented two breakout sessions: first, ‘Atheism as a Contemplative Practice and Philosophy as a Spiritual Discipline’ in a session with Jim Kast-Keat on Atheism for Lent; and second, ‘A New Kind of Christian is A New Kind of Atheist: Psychoanalysis, A/Theism and the Philosophy and Politics of Identity Suspension’ in a session with Tad DeLay on Psychoanalysis and the Church.
I had a great weekend, making new friends, connecting offline with online friends, and meeting back up with friends from STN1.
The conference was asking, ‘Can Postmodern Theology Live in the Churches?’ but a lot of other questions were raised over the weekend and the week that followed. I’ll be posting about these things in the coming days as I emerge from the fog of jetlag.
I’ll talk about some of the highlights for me (including the closing roundtables and the session on emerging Christianity) in later posts.
For now, I want to thank Phil for all his hard work, as well as everyone else involved, including Matt Gallion, Emily Bowen and Abigail Smith.
And since I already posted the abstract/blurb for my Psychoanalysis and the Church presentation, here’s the one for my Atheism for Lent presentation:
How can atheism be understood as a contemplative practice? How can philosophy be seen as a spiritual discipline? This presentation takes Atheism for Lent as a case study that suggests ways in which the practice of engaging with philosophical critiques of religion by great modern atheists can encourage subjective transformation among faith communities. It introduces a small-scale research project from the UK that examines how reading philosophical texts can impact individual and collective practices.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Psychoanalysis, A/Theism and the Philosophy and Politics of Identity Suspension
#subverting the norm
I’ve just finalised my presentation title and abstract for the upcoming Subverting the Norm II conference, “Can Postmodern Theology Live in the Churches?” (Apr 5-6 2013, Drury University, Springfield, Missouri).
I’ll be presenting along with Tad DeLay on the topic of psychoanalysis and the church.
My paper is entitled, “A New Kind of Christian is A New Kind of Atheist: Psychoanalysis, A/Theism and the Philosophy and Politics of Identity Suspension”, and here’s the abstract:
Emerging Christianity has recently been described as a resource for the construction of cultural identity. However, I argue that radical elements within this milieu should be more properly understood as forming part of a wider political rather than social movement, concerned with the suspension of identity rather than with its formation. I introduce the work of Lacanian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek, in order to detail the psychoanalytic philosophy of identity suspension that underpins what Pete Rollins calls the emerging church practice of ‘suspended space’. Žižek’s philosophy charges this practice with political potential grounded in a universal humanism rather than in particular communitarian identities, including religious identities. This means that the new kinds of Christians that are emerging ought also to be new kinds of atheists – ‘a/theists’.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Atheism for Lent: Religion as Wish-Fulfilment (Freud 3)
#atheism for lent
In this last Atheism for Lent blog post on Freud, I raise several questions to aid self-reflection in relation to his psychoanalytic critique of religion. You might like to spend some time this weekend thinking about these things, before we move on to Marx’s critique of religion as ideology on Monday.
Yesterday, I detailed Freud’s work on neurotic and religious ceremonials. He further highlights the connection between neurotic and religious practices in his study of the totemic cultures of tribal societies, Totem and Taboo.
He suggests that cultural taboos against touching or harming the totem (the tribe’s sacred animal) are so strong since they correspond to a repressed desire to do precisely what is prohibited.
This ambiguity results because, for Freud, the totem represents the father:
On the one hand, the totemic taboos against killing the totem and having sexual relations with women of the same totem (tribe) are designed to defend against the Oedipal guilt of wanting to kill the father and sleep with the mother.
On the other hand, however,
[t]otemic religion not only comprised expressions of remorse and attempts at atonement [in the form of ethical obedience], it also served as a remembrance of the triumph over the father. Satisfaction over that triumph led to the institution of the memorial festival of the totem meal, in which the restrictions of deferred obedience no longer held. Thus it became a duty to repeat the crime of parricide again and again in the sacrifice of the totem animal.
Freud, The Complete Psychological Works, vol.13, p.145.
Together, these religious ceremonials (the taboo against killing the totem and the festival at which the totem is killed and eaten) form the symbolic renunciation and symbolic re-enactment of aggression, hostility and rebellion directed towards powerful figures, such as parents – and ‘at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father’ (vol.13, pp.147-148).
Friday, February 24, 2012
Atheism for Lent: Religion as Wish-Fulfilment (Freud 2)
#atheism for lent
For Freud, religious beliefs are ‘illusions’, a technical term which has a specific meaning for him: ‘we call a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfilment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality’ (Freud, The Complete Psychological Works, vol.21, p.31).
This is the second post on Freud’s critique of religion in this Atheism for Lent series. Remembering the distinction drawn yesterday between scepticism and suspicion, the ‘psychological nature’ of religious beliefs as illustory (vol 21, p.33) does not involve ‘the truth of the foundation of religious ideas but their function in balancing the renunciations and satisafactions through which man tries to make his life tolerable’ (Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, pp.234-5). In other words, Freud’s sceptical atheism is of less interest here than his suspicion.
Merold Westphal explains that religious beliefs function as illusions when
[w]e represent God to ourselves, not in accordance with the evidence available to us but in accordance with our wishes; in other words, we create God in our image, or at least in the image of our desires. Now we have three things to be ashamed of: (1) the desires that govern this operation, (2) our willingness to subordinate truth to happiness, and (3) our [hubris] in making ourselves the creator and God the creature. If we are not utterly shameless, we will do our best to distract attention, especially our own, from what is going on.
Suspicion and Faith, p.62
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Atheism for Lent: Religion as Wish-Fulfilment (Freud 1)
#atheism for lent
The permanence of conflict is Freud’s leading theme, and part of his hostility to religion stems from an awareness that religion somewhere assumes a fixed point … at which conflict is resolved. In contrast, Freud maintains an intractable dualism; self and world remain antagonists, and every form of reconciliation must fail.
Philip Reiff, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, p.292.
This is the first in a series of Lenten posts stemming from the Atheism for Lent course that I ran last year. The first week of Lent explores Sigmund Freud’s critique of religion as wish-fulfilment. What follows is a long post on Freud, since there aren’t that many days left until the First Sunday in Lent, when you could spend some time reflecting on what Freud’s critique of religion might mean for your faith. The distinction between scepticism and suspcion, drawn below using Merold Westphal’s Suspicion and Faith, is important for the rest of this Atheism for Lent course.
[Religion is a] system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to [‘the common man’] riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here. The common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father. Only such a being can understand the needs of the children of men and be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.
Sigmund Freud, The Complete Psychological Works, vol.21, p.74.