The Limits of the Thinkable: Religious Experience and the Apophatic Impulse Between Antiquity and Modernity (with a keynote address by Dr. Catherine Keller)
2014 Fordham Graduate Theology Conference: Call for Papers
“The concept of limit-situation is a familiar one in the existentialist philosophy and theology of the very recent past. Fundamentally, the concept refers to those human situations wherein a human being ineluctably finds manifest a certain ultimate limit or horizon to his or her existence… either those ‘boundary’ situations of guilt, anxiety, sickness, and the recognition of death as one’s own destiny, or those situations called ‘ecstatic experiences’- intense joy, love, reassurance, creation… Such experiences… seem to demand reflection upon the existential boundaries of our present everyday experience.”
—David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order
“For any ‘modernity’ to be worthy of one day taking its place as ‘antiquity,’ it is necessary for the mysterious beauty which human life accidentally puts into it to be distilled from it… By modernity, I mean the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, which makes up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.”
—Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life
For contemporary scholars of religion, David Tracy’s description of limit-situations as the “stuff” of theological reflection provides a helpful lens through which to consider religious experience. And yet, while one might easily suppose that such “ecstatic” and “boundary” experiences name timeless or perennial aspects of human life, Tracy himself is quick to note that the limit situation is itself a distinctively “modern” discursive phenomenon, having its roots in existentialist philosophy, and entering the mainstream of theological discourse only in the last several generations.
Today both historians of religion as well as constructive theologians are faced with the task of deciding how far religious experiences and limit situations can be meaningfully discussed as separate from their contextual origins in time, language, and culture. As Baudelaire suggests, such a disentangling of what is “eternal and immutable” from the “accidents” of the present-day constitutes a daunting task. And indeed, as each successive generation’s “modernity” seeks to distinguish itself even further from the “pre-modern” preceding it, entanglements between limit-experiences and the new discourses that attend to them can only grow in complexity.
The 3rd Annual Fordham Graduate Theology Conference seeks to examine the relationship between such limit- experiences and their historical and discursive contexts. The Theology Graduate Association warmly invites submissions from graduate students in the disciplines comprising religious studies and theology (and cognate fields). Students whose research is primarily textual/biblical, sociological, historical, philosophical, ethical, or constructive are all invited to submit and attend. Submissions are especially welcomed which: explore the relationship between “religious experience” and “religious history”; situate apophatic and negative theological texts/traditions within their broader historical, social, and discursive contexts (including proposals dealing with modern and contemporary constructive apophatic/negative theologies); explore the ways in which religious communities make use of shared “limit-situation” religious experiences, e.g., as in mystical traditions, Pietism, Pentecostalism, etc.; consider diachrony and synchrony in the construction of theological concepts such as history, memory, affect, and identity; and address the “limits” of religious language generally. Papers addressing related themes beyond these suggestions are welcomed as well.
Abstracts (of roughly 300 words) proposing 20 minute presentations should be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is Friday, January 17th, 2014. Notifications regarding submissions will be given by Monday, January 27th.
The conference will be held on Saturday, February 8th at Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus. A keynote address by Dr. Catherine Keller (Professor of Constructive Theology in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University) will consider the curiously “modern” logic of the infinite in Nicolas of Cusa. Complete conference schedule and program to follow. Limited New York City lodging for graduate student presenters is available. Please direct any questions to email@example.com.