God and givenness: towards a phenomenology of mysticism

Continental Philosophy Review 47 (1):87-106 (2014)
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This essay addresses the questions of whether the givenness of God is something possible, intelligible—and, if so, what such givenness might involve. In the interest of situating these questions in historical context, I first summarize Kant’s, Hegel’s, and Habermas’s respective accounts of the relationship between belief in God and philosophical knowledge. I then further situate critical philosophy’s appropriation of God by way of a discussion of how some of this appropriation’s fiercest critics—existentialists such as Sartre, Shestov, and Kierkegaard—object to its gambit of using God to serve moral and cultural goals even as it denies God’s actual existence. Though this objection is a salient one, it leaves something to be desired. For although the existentialists may demonstrate what is misguided about the philosophers’ God, they do not have anything especially compelling to say about whether or how God can be given experientially. I address this aporia by exploiting what I take to be a happy intersection between the phenomenological conception of the saturated phenomenon and two moods—agape love and ecstatic joy—the mystical tradition frequently attributes to the nature of divine givenness. I argue that, when mystical experience is situated within the framework of saturated phenomena rather than within the Kantian enclosures of phenomenality, two intriguing possibilities emerge. First, it seems plausible that the religious experience of the mystic can, in principle, involve the very givenness of God that Kant and his heirs denied to be possible. Second, though phenomenology has yet to provide a complete positive portrait of the religious life, the mystical tradition emerges as a legitimate, invaluable source with which such a phenomenological portrait might begin



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