Part 3: Widening Horizons in Philosophical Theology

The questions, methods, and impact of continental philosophy described in Part 2 demonstrate its potential for discovery, enabled by a basic openness to the world and resistance to reductionism. These questions and methods, and the orientation they embody, are indispensable for a theology that is open to continual revelation, in Sir John Templeton’s unusual sense of the ongoing discovery of a world that is not self-enclosed, but communicates the divine. This final part, Part 3, discusses the risks and promise of continental philosophy for such a theology. It concludes by outlining some strategic areas of attention for the coming years.

Continental Philosophy in Theology: Risk and Promise

The potential of continental philosophy is not unknown to theologians. Some of the most influential theological ideas of the last twenty-five years have been developed in collaboration with continental philosophers, as the next section shows. At the same time, the characteristic strengths of continental philosophy can also intensify characteristic temptations of theology. Because continental philosophy attends closely to the ways in which both the questions we ask about the world and the frameworks within which we answer them are shaped by traditions, it can exacerbate tendencies in theology to be overly self-involved. Similarly, in focusing on the living, multifaceted and malleable character of language, continental philosophy can sometimes encourage emotivism, equivocation and imprecision. The stereotypical temptations of a continental philosopher are to sideline questions of truth in a continual loop of reiteration and contextualization, and to abandon clarity of style for willful obscurity and self-indulgence. Theologians face these temptations within their own traditions, and are at risk of compounding them by adopting certain nervous ticks of continental philosophy.

However, these risks are far from inevitable. It would be inexcusable timidity to let their threat prevent a full exploration of what can be one of the most energetic, courageous and incisive ways of approaching big questions in the contemporary world. As already quoted, Thomas Nagel writes: ‘It is not exactly correct to say that Anglo-American philosophy avoids the big questions…. Nevertheless, the fear of nonsense has had a powerful inhibiting effect.’ Though no longer committed to logical positivism, he explains, analytic philosophers tend towards caution and technical incontestability. ‘It is understandable that an attachment to certain standards and methods should lead to a concentration on problems amenable to those methods…. But it is often accompanied by a tendency to define the legitimate questions in terms of the available methods of solution.’[xxxix]

‘Interesting things,’ Nagel concludes, ‘happen when new methods and their appropriate standards have to be developed to deal with questions that cannot be posed in terms of the already existing procedures of inquiry. Sometimes the questions cannot be fully understood until the methods have been developed. It is important to try to avoid making claims that are vague, obscure, or unfounded, and to maintain high standards of evidence and argument. But other values are also important, some of which make it difficult to keep things neat.’[xl]

Asking the Big Questions

These ‘other values’, which are ‘important’ but ‘make it difficult to keep things neat’, are the driving concern of theologians engaging continental philosophy, and constitute their unique contribution to a joint pursuit of knowledge. By critically engaging the best of the continental tradition, theologians are equipped to make new discoveries not only by refining existing analytic approaches, but by developing new methods that will enable them to address big questions they had not previously known how to ask.

This capacity is already being built. As illustrated above, some leading continental philosophers exemplifying an open approach, including William Desmond, Emmanuel Falque, Vittorio Hösle, Richard Kearney, and Jean-Luc Marion, have turned to theology as an important partner discipline.[xli] Similarly, some of today’s leading theologians owe many of their key insights to critical conversations with continental philosophy.[xlii] The following subsection outlines one such ongoing conversation and its fruits, highlighting the roles of the philosophical methods introduced in Part 2, and demonstrating the power of philosophical theology both to formulate big questions and to address them with radical openness, widening the horizons of vision not just for theology, but for wider society.

Case Study: The Gift

In a series of work in the 1990s, Jacques Derrida analysed the concept of selfless love, which was then gaining a high status in philosophy and culture, through one of its emblematic gestures, namely gift-giving. He argued that the manifestation of a selfless love as advocated by philosophers and cultural prophets would be what one might call a ‘pure’ gift – one which would be given utterly selflessly, without requirement or even permission for any reciprocity. However, Derrida argued, such a notion was nonsensical. A ‘pure gift’ (or, by extension, a completely selfless love) would have to bar not only reciprocation but also acknowledgement, since even the recognition of receipt may be counted as a reciprocal act, thereby contaminating the gift as ‘pure gift’, and turning it into a mode of transaction or exchange.[xliii] Yet without acknowledgement, a possession no longer has the quality of a gift at all. For Derrida, this raises questions about the notion of ‘selfless love’ and its conditions.

Derrida’s former student Jean-Luc Marion extended this analysis of the gift (le don) into a phenomenology of revelation, in which he argued that humans encounter the world precisely as ‘givenness’ (donation).[xliv] Theologian John Milbank has recently adapted this analysis to address the metaphysical questions underlying Derrida’s account, whether love at its purest is selfless, that is, unilateral. He argues that this is not the case for creaturely love, which is always a response. For Milbank, the entirety of the created world as we know it is fundamentally a gift from God. Not only is created existence a gift, creatures’ very ability to receive this gift is itself also a gift from God: God creates the gift and the recipient of this gift. According to Milbank, to be a creature is first and foremost to be a recipient of God’s gift of being. But to receive this gift most properly is acknowledge the gift in thankfulness or indeed in thanksgiving: In giving thanks for being created, creatures return to God the ‘gift’ of thanksgiving as an act of exchange – yet one whose possibility is given by God in the first place. As Milbank puts it: ‘The Creature only is, as manifesting the divine glory, as acknowledging its own nullity and reflected brilliance. To be, it entirely honours God, which means it returns to him an unlimited, never paid-back debt.’[xlv]

This understanding of being or existence as a revelatory ‘gift’ is also found in the work of William Desmond. Desmond observes that to receive and recognise ‘the gift of being’ is to be open to the transcendent, or even the divine giver of all being.[xlvi] In this regard, like Milbank, and echoing Heidegger, Desmond understands the mystery of being as a kind of revelation, always showing something of what God is. The more fundamentally one enters into what Desmond calls ‘metaphysical mindfulness’ of one’s own existence as a gift, the more one comes to be able to appreciate and discover within the world what points beyond the world.[xlvii] In the philosophical-theological works of Desmond and Milbank, the notion of the gift impels a transvaluation of what we often take for granted, such that we see the world anew in terms of revelation. In David Bentley Hart’s theological aesthetics, this renewed vision is presented as a radical challenge to modern secularity.[xlviii]

This philosophical analysis has provoked fruitful new discussions of St Paul’s notion of grace in New Testament studies. John Barclay’s influential book Paul and the Gift (2015) amplifies Milbank’s thesis by arguing genealogically that the philosophical notion of selfless love and unilateral gift-giving is incongruent with biblical ideas and their early reception.[xlix] While gift exchange that is built on reciprocity and mutual recognition can certainly debase gifts into barter, the New Testament authors commend an economy of gift exchange that is rooted in God’s infinite generosity.

The philosophical-theological understanding of ‘the gift’ also presents a hermeneutic for our engagement with people and the products of human culture. Its basic confidence motivates a sustained curiosity about how the ‘given’ of revelation relates to what Ben Quash calls the ‘found’ elements of changing present contexts, trusting that it is in the contingencies of life, language and culture that God’s Spirit is at work.[l] This openness to what is new, corrective, or even interruptive is a landmark of theologies of culture such as Lieven Boeve’s or David Brown’s.[li] At the same time, the theological hermeneutic of the gift has catalysed resistance to dominant environmental, economic and political practices, and has underwritten new paradigms in political theory, economics, and theological ethics, including environmental ethics.[lii]

This case study exemplifies the working methods of philosophical theology in the continental tradition, and a vision of reality characteristic of its perspective.

Integrating Analysis and Interpretation

To strengthen theology’s partnership with continental philosophy is not to pit one form of philosophical theology (‘continental’ theology) against another (analytic theology). Rather, it is to create a strong basis for their reintegration.[liii] Progress in both philosophy and theology has been compromised by the division, dominating the last hundred years, of analytic and continental philosophy. This split not only prevents fruitful collaboration but weakens philosophy’s grasp of its own core subjects. As Thomas Nagel puts it: ‘Philosophy covers an immense range of topics, but part of its concern has always been with mortal life: how to understand it and how to live it…. Some of the[se] topics have not received much attention from analytic philosophers, because it is hard to be clear and precise about them…. Such problems must be attacked by a philosophical method that aims at personal as well as theoretical understanding, and seeks to combine the two by incorporating theoretical results into the framework of self-knowledge. This involves risk.’[liv]

Attention to the theological dimensions of these core topics, as well as to the spiritual horizons of both analytic and continental thought more generally, can be a major driver of the integrated philosophical method Nagel seeks. The final section below lays out some of the strategic areas of attention that will build the capacity of philosophical theology in the coming years.

Strategic Areas of Attention

Achieving the vision of this paper will require strategic attention to areas in which philosophical theology in the continental tradition has the potential to enable new discoveries, but which need to be intentionally built up. These areas fall under three overlapping headings: methods, practices, and concepts.

  • Methods: In addition to the continental methods outlined above, two distinctive methods are emerging in philosophical theology which require strategic attention to become more clearly discovery-oriented: apophaticism and ressourcement.
  • Practices: In most academic disciplines, concrete methods of enquiry are embedded in wider practices that shape practitioners’ use of materials, methods, and arguments. Three areas of practice in philosophical theology require strategic development. Two are areas of notable vitality: the recent return to metaphysics, which is often approached as a set of claims, but in fact requires examination as a practice; and the role of spiritual practice in forming the dispositions necessary for discovery. The third is an area of relative weakness: the paucity of practices of constructive conflict in philosophical theology, despite the resources that the tradition would offer for such practices.
  • Concepts: There is a range of foundational concepts whose clarification cannot be achieved by conceptual analysis alone, but requires the integrative thinking characteristic of the continental tradition. These concepts are critical to understanding and shaping the future, as well as clarifying the relationship between theology and philosophy. We highlight five: the scope of freedom, the definition of life, the role of sin, the nature of information, and varieties of truth.

In all these areas, progress requires the virtues of humility, clarity, fairness, and courage. To be congruent with its roots, it also requires creative engagement with the approaches and methods of continental philosophy, as laid out in Part 2. Crucially, progress requires an orientation towards discovery: the identification of hypotheses that can be tested and evaluated.

The following subsections introduce each of these areas of strategic attention.

Method 1: Apophaticism

The theologian Karl Rahner asks: ‘What if there be an “unknowing” [which] is not a pure negation, not simply an empty absence, but a positive characteristic of a relationship between one subject and another? What if it be essential and constitutive of true knowledge, of its growth, self-awareness and lucidity, to include precisely the unknown, to know itself orientated from the start to the incomprehensible and inexpressible, to recognize more and more that only in this way can it truly be itself and not be halted at a regrettable limit?’[lv]

Traditional apophaticism, beginning with kataphatic speech concerning creaturely perfections that are rooted in divine perfections, beckons human discourse deeper into the mystery of God and creation. That mystery is not to be overcome; rather, it abides and encourages further enquiry. Indeed, for the theological tradition the apophatic is not simply a matter of epistemic concern; it  is the very form of prayer and contemplation through which one enters the inexhaustible mystery of God.

The continental philosophical tradition has long identified ‘the unsayable’ as a deep undercurrent in the western intellectual tradition, characterising important strands of art, literature, and music, as well as philosophy and theology. Investigations into apophaticism in its various modalities can help us to understand better the constitutive (rather than contingent) character and limits of reason, both in itself and in specific contexts, whilst at the same time encouraging further exploration of divine and created mysteries. Apophaticism that is appropriate to different disciplines depends upon the nature and scope of those disciplines, and how they relate. The natural sciences, too, have appropriate apophatic moments which need to be identified more carefully, perhaps with the help of philosophical theology. This is often construed as a constraint upon the natural sciences. However, clearly identifying the appropriate boundaries and subject matter of the natural sciences – what can be said positively yet not exhaustively, and what must remain unsaid – increases their power to inform and persuade.

In the field of theology, attention to continental philosophy’s identification of apophatic moments can help locate the true scope and character of certain doctrines whilst at the same time recognising their kataphatic roots. The character and extent of what can be said concerning, for example, the incarnation, the atonement, or theological anthropology, can be illuminated significantly by attention to the culture of apophaticism that characterises much artistic, literary, and philosophical enquiry, against the background of the apophatic movement of prayer and contemplation in Christian theology.

Method 2: Ressourcement

The theologian David Brown writes: ‘[S]o far from undermining the search for knowledge and understanding, being aware of the traditions upon which one inevitably draws is what makes progress possible, provided that these traditions are allowed to function as open, both towards their past and to the wider context within which they are set.’[lvi] Ressourcement (‘returning to the sources’) is a theological method with roots in the mid-twentieth century, which, similarly to genealogy, evaluates the assumptions underlying contemporary outlooks by critically comparing and contrasting them with previous intellectual positions in the history of thought. Through its impact on academic theology and conciliar church documents, ressourcement has emerged as the most significant theological method of the twentieth century. By rethinking tradition not as dead weight but as a vital force, it liberated theology from conceptual constraints that turned out to be the blind spots of an age rather than necessary limits. However, ressourcement has been primarily concerned with retrieving the past. Theologians now need to build on these gains in a fresh way, shifting in a more constructive direction towards a second phase of the ressourcement movement, which is directed to the future rather than a defence of the past.

As Oxford philosopher A.W. Moore puts it: ‘There is no reliving the past. And even if there were, there would be no clear motive for doing so. No; what those voices do is to disrupt our living of the present, and thereby to help us find better ways of living the future. The right response to them is not to try to join in with them, any more than it is to turn a deaf ear to them. The right response is to connect what they are saying with what is being said now, and to search for ways of saying something that makes creative use of both. This is just the kind of thing that Deleuze has in mind. It is part of what he means when he suggests… that the metaphysician should be working in a way that is “untimely”, attempting to create concepts for a time to come.’[lvii] This re-orientation of ressourcement towards the future will catalyze new paradigms, including scientific paradigms, by interrupting ways of thinking that are assumed to be universal but in fact historically contingent.

Practice 1: Doing Metaphysics

Analytic philosopher A.W. Moore argues that metaphysics ‘matters not principally because of whatever intrinsic value it has, but because of the various ways in which it can make a difference’, and ‘the most important and the most exciting way in which it can make a difference is…by providing us with radically new concepts by which to live’.[lviii]

For much of the twentieth century, philosophers and Protestant theologians regarded the classical philosophical practice of metaphysics as outdated because non-veridical: owing to the impossibility of proof at the most general levels of reasoning, metaphysics – abstract rational theorizing about the fundamental nature of reality – seemed condemned to be no more than cloud-castle-building. In recent years, recovering their confidence in Christian doctrines including Trinitarianism and creation, theologians have begun to reassert the possibility and importance of metaphysics.

This is a significant development, which has catalysed bold new thinking that may lead to new discoveries. However, its pursuit often evades rather than confronts criticism. The result can be competing models of reality which are difficult to compare or evaluate, let alone operationalize. This does not make the revival of metaphysics inept. Instead, it invites reflection on metaphysics as a practice, as the continental tradition does well. It is only as a concrete practice that metaphysics connects reality as experienced and reality as abstractly described. Reflection on metaphysics as practice is therefore a necessary aspect of maintaining the contact with reality which the abstract formulations of metaphysics claim and are intended to provide. This reflection cannot replace metaphysics, but must be an integral part of its work. It will also clarify the relation of metaphysics to scientific theories of reality, precisely because these theories too are revelatory of reality within a context of practice. It is thus that the two can challenge and extend one another.

Practice 2: Spiritual Practice

The notion of ‘practice’ is of wider significance for philosophical theology. Continental philosophy’s characteristic emphasis on the human as embodied and desirous, knowledge as inhabitation and technique, and language as conversation and poesis means that philosophy is never a purely theoretical task, but always also a practice of philosophizing which engages the enquirer. Philosophy is thus not reducible to a set of questions and arguments, but always also a disciplined activity. An ancient notion of philosophy as a way of life grounded in spiritual practice has been recovered by Pierre Hadot and reconceptualised in the work of figures as diverse as Simone Weil, Michel Foucault, and William Desmond.[lix]

This development is especially relevant for philosophical theology, whose central subject matters – God and divine revelation – are understood to be transformative for the enquirer. It is therefore necessary to investigate how spiritual practice, conceived as a conscious self-orientation to the divine, interacts with intellectual enquiry.

Attention on philosophical theology as an engaged practice also opens the task of philosophy to the possibility of experimental studies and empirical engagements, particularly for the understanding of religious experiences and spiritual practices. For instance, in her recent Templeton-funded work, the continental philosopher Clare Carlisle conducted qualitative research, interviewing religious practitioners in order to develop and refine the theoretical category of practice, and to identify and analyse different types of spiritual practices and religious experiences.[lx]

Practice 3: Fostering Constructive Conflict

Because it often organizes itself around leading figures, continental philosophy sometimes lacks a robust tradition of constructive conflict. Philosophical theology that engages continental thought also faces this challenge, which is exacerbated by tendencies to large metaphysical claims that are not easily scrutinized, or rhetorical appeals to peaceableness that can suppress generative disagreement. It is therefore important to foster practices of constructive conflict among philosophical theologians. This may be achieved (a) by developing and testing theories of conflict such as Wesley Kort’s discourse analysis-based model[lxi]; (b) through practical exercises such as ‘adversarial collaborations’ (as proposed by Nobel Memorial Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann[lxii]) or forms of interdenominational or interreligious engagement that aim not at superficial agreement but at constructive disagreement; (c) through case studies, for example of the achievements and failure modes of ecumenical dialogue as reflected in ecumenical documents; or of the ways in which ‘new things’ are articulated in different religious traditions at the point where they are just becoming available for articulation.

Such constructive conflict also includes robust engagement between continental and analytic philosophical theologians. As analytic philosopher Dan Zahavi notes: ‘It is a mistake to carve up the philosophical landscape into two distinct (and incommensurable) traditions. The mistake is both one of over-simplification and reification…. Acknowledging the diversity allows us to recognize the presence of unexpected similarities as well as fruitful and productive differences.’[lxiii]

This is also true of collaboration, including adversarial collaboration, between theologians and scientists. Joint attention on subjects that are of mutual interest may produce new clarity about the corroborations, mutual challenges, and potential extensions that theoretical and scientific approaches can offer one another. As Henri Bergson notes, philosophy or theology is not ‘the systematic work of a single thinker. It needs, and unceasingly calls for, corrections and re-touches. It progresses like positive science. Like it, too, it is a work of collaboration.’[lxiv]

Concept 1: The Scope of Freedom

The resources of philosophical theology are able to transform and augment the range of conceptual options open to us when thinking about freedom, beyond the standard division into positive and negative freedom, and libertarian, deterministic, and compatibilist accounts. The deep background for the most influential contemporary conceptions of freedom (for example, those that cascade from Kant) is, in fact, a notion of perfect and divine freedom.[lxv]

(a) Divine and human freedom: Divine freedom, according to one mainstream account, involves God’s delight in, and contemplation of, God’s own nature and activity. This is because for God, there can be no dependence on anything external to God. Created human freedom can then be indexed to such divine freedom in one of two ways: either through participation or imitation. Either option opens up vital elements in our background thinking about freedom, in ways that can do positive or destructive work. The former approach (‘participation’) involves working out a model of non-competitive agency (a ‘concurrence’ account), which has begun to command the attention of analytical philosophers also. The latter approach (‘imitation’) involves human beings in some way imitating divine freedom, embodying and exemplifying it themselves. Kantian paradigms arguably occupy this position. This is significant, and, arguably, problematic, manifesting itself in the most sophisticated secular appropriations of Kant (for example, John Rawls and Christine Korsgaard).

(b) Freedom and autonomy: It is illuminating if surprising to talk about the relationship between conceptions of freedom and the notion of autonomy, because in the richest strands of philosophy and theology, these concepts are not identical. Rather, freedom, and, in particular, freedom of choice, is just one element of a properly functioning autonomy. Philosophical theologians are able to demonstrate that the conceptual and historical roots of the concept, going back into classical philosophy, lead us to a notion of ‘rational self-government’, in response to the Socratic question of ‘how should one live?’. Within these diverse philosophical strands, one finds complex, enlarged, and rich conceptions of the rational (beyond the procedural and instrumental), the self (embodied, and enculturated, and open to transcendence), and of what constitutes ‘government’ (in vulnerable, multi-layered, and relational settings). Autonomy involves a whole cluster of practices, values, and relationships, of which freedom of choice is only one part. This becomes evident when thinking about ethical issues in relation to poverty, migration, trauma, climate change, end-of-life care, and a global pandemic.

Concept 2: The Concept of Life

A previous section outlined the philosophical-theological recovery of the concept of ‘gift’. A similar approach to the concept of ‘life’ would be a fruitful line of enquiry for at least three reasons. First, although the concept of ‘life’ has been explored by Templeton-funded projects engaged with the natural sciences, it has not been investigated in conversation with continental philosophy and the Lebensphilosophie movement. Bergson would be an important interlocutor, alongside Heidegger, Arendt, Jonas, Hadot, Deleuze, Henry, and Agamben. In a theological mode, life is a kind of transcendental, for God is life (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.18.3) and Christ is the life (John 14:6) who comes to bring life in all its fulness (John 10:10). Can we give an account of this transcendental in a way that informs the understanding of created life, both human and non-human?

Secondly, whilst the concept of life is contested in contemporary biology and ecology, it is liberally extended in various technological fields in ways that are not simply metaphorical, including the notion of artificial life. The increasingly popular view of life as an emergent property of complex systems introduces new dimensions to the debate. The fluidity (or incoherence) of the concept of life significantly influences ethical debates surrounding life’s beginning and end, its dignity and limits, as well as understandings of agency and freedom. Can a philosophical theology of life contribute to those debates, perhaps with reference to the current revival of Bergsonian panvitalism?

Thirdly, the concept of life is conceived in subtly different ways in the world’s religious traditions. Can those insights concerning divine and created life be harnessed towards a theology of human and non-human flourishing?

Concept 3: The Role of Sin

The Christian doctrine of sin has played a significant and contentious role in continental philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche identified it as the seed of Christianity’s erosion of humanity; Martin Heidegger sought to reframe it as a sense of ineradicable ‘debt’ (Schuld) which humans must embrace rather than contend with. Yet as Stephen Mulhall and others have shown, many continental philosophical accounts of humanity turn on secularized narratives of sin and salvation. More acutely, current indictments of various forms of systemic bias closely follow rhetorical and practical models traditionally associated with religious accounts of (original) sin. Philosophical theology has the intellectual resources to intervene in these and other debates through phenomenological, hermeneutic and theological approaches.

Concept 4: The Nature of Information

Although the term ‘information’ is often associated with technology and computational data, ‘information’ in fact finds its conceptual and etymological roots in the notions of ‘informare’ and ‘informationem’ in medieval scholastic theology and philosophy. While the idea of ‘form’ and informare (to introduce ‘form’ into some material thing) is obviously key to the neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism (i.e. the metaphysics of matter and form) that dominates medieval scholasticism, it is also worth noting that medieval theologians speak of God’s act of giving goodness and beauty (and not just being) to creation as an act of ‘information’ (informationem).[lxvi] As such, for these Christian theologians, as for advocates of the emerging field of ‘the philosophy of information’ in analytic philosophy (e.g., Luciano Floridi at Oxford), ‘information’ is a dimension of reality that is irreducible to physical matter.[lxvii] To this extent, ‘information’ may be regarded as a notion which reveals the immaterial or even spiritual aspects of the world. In light of the increasing presence of information technology in our everyday life, a study of the nature of ‘information’ and its theological or even spiritual aspects will foster a way of exploring Sir John’s conception of ‘spiritual information’. Moreover, the philosophical-theological and scientific-technological notion of ‘information’ can provide us with a key into understanding and interpreting the immaterial dimensions of reality, and facilitate new and important conversations across different trends within theology, philosophy, and science. With continental philosophy’s attention on the genealogical roots of concepts as well as the progression of their interpretation,[lxviii] a philosophically engaged theology is particularly suited to undertake such an inquiry into the spiritual nature of ‘information’.

Concept 5: Varieties of Truth

Philosopher John Cottingham writes: ‘[T]he struggle to reach the truth is never a purely intellectual matter. The truth, or at least the interesting truth, involves, as Heidegger famously remarked, the disclosure of what is hidden; and what is hidden, as Freud so acutely saw, cannot be revealed by logic alone.’[lxix]

The concept of truth marks a major division between theology, continental philosophy, and analytic philosophy: their understandings range from truth as a ‘transcendental’ to truth as a redundant concept to be supplanted by ‘what is the case’. An investigation of truth that begins from practice (‘truthfulness’) rather than abstraction (‘truth’) may point a way forward. Such an investigation could focus on various areas, for example: (a) the negotiation of questions of truth in a pluralist context, without falling into a subjectivism or relativism that cannot take seriously the questions of truth at stake in theological enquiry; (b) the truth and meaning of a human life, understood (or perhaps not understood) in its relation to God.



[xxxix] Nagel, Mortal Questions, ix–x.

[xl] Nagel, Mortal Questions, x.

[xli] Atheist philosophers including Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Slavoj Žižek also engage in-depth with theological ideas. In addition to the works listed in note 25, see Christopher Watkin, Difficult Atheism: Post-Theological Thinking in Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Quentin Meillassoux (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

[xlii] See e.g. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 2nd ed., 2006); Kevin Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); David C. Schindler, The Catholicity of Reason (Grand Rapis, MI: Eerdmans, 2013); Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words (London: Bloomsbury, 2014); Cyril O’Regan, The Anatomy of Misremembering, 3 vols (Chestnut Ridge: Crossroad Publishing, 2014–2023); Kevin Hector, The Theological Project of Modernism: Faith and the Conditions of Mineness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Andrew L. Prevot, Thinking Prayer: Theology and Spirituality Amid the Crises of Modernity (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015); David Brown, God in a Single Vision: Integrating Philosophy and Theology, ed. Christopher R. Brewer and Robert MacSwain (London: Routledge, 2016); John R. Betz, ‘After Heidegger and Marion: The Task of Christian Metaphysics Today’, Modern Theology 34, no. 4 (2018), 565–597; Janet Soskice, ‘Naming God: or why names are not attributes’, New Blackfriars 101, no. 1092 (2020), 182-95; Christoph Schwoebel, ‘The Concept of Revelation in Christianity’, in G. Tamer (ed.), The Concept of Revelation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020), 57-141; Catherine Pickstock, Aspects of Truth: A New Religious Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020); Karen Kilby, God, Evil, and the Limits of Theology (London: Bloomsbury, 2020).

[xliii] Jacques Derrida, Given Time I: Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); cf. idem, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). In addition to Heidegger, Derrida is also responding to the classic anthropological study of gift-exchanging in Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W.D. Halls (London: Routledge, 1990).

[xliv] Jean-Luc Marion, in ‘On the Gift: A Discussion between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion’, in John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon (eds.), God, the Gift, and Postmodernism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 64. See also Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002); ‘The Reason of the Gift’, trans. Shane Mackinlay and Nicolas de Warren, in Ian Leask and Eoin Cassidy (eds.), Givenness and God: Questions of Jean-Luc Marion (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 101–134; Givenness and Revelation, trans. Stephen E. Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[xlv] John Milbank, ‘Can a Gift Be Given? Prolegomenon to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic’, Modern Theology 11, no. 1 (1995): 135; cf. idem, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (London: Routledge, 2003).

[xlvi] William Desmond, Being and the Between (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 4: ‘I am speaking of an indeterminate opening to being that is prior to any determinate question regarding this or that being, or this or that specific aspect of things. This indeterminate opening is not first determinately known as such; it is lived; it is simply our very being, as given to be mindful of being as given.’

[xlvii] See Desmond, Being and the Between, passim; see also Desmond, God and the Between (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).

[xlviii] See David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), esp. 260–269, where Hart explicitly acknowledges his debt to Milbank’s critique of Derrida (and Marion) on the gift.

[xlix] John Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015). In addition to the discourse on the gift, Barclay’s study also draws significantly on Badiou’s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism.

[l] Ben Quash, Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit (Bloomsbury T&T Clark: London, 2013).

[li] Lieven Boeve, Interrupting Tradition: An Essay on Christian Faith in a Postmondern Context, trans. Brian Doyle (Louvain: Peeters, 2003); David Brown, Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); David Brown, Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). See also the discussion of how Desmond’s philosophy can be as a resource for developing a natural theology of the arts in Christopher R. Brewer, ‘Rolling with Release into the Future: William Desmond’s Donation to a Natural Theology of the Arts’, in Christopher Ben Simpson and Brendan Thomas Sammon (eds), William Desmond and Contemporary Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 217–38.

[lii] For economics, see e.g. Philip Goodchild, Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety (London: Routledge, 2003); Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (London: SCM, 2007); Daniel M. Bell, The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012). For political theory, see e.g. John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014); John Milbank and Adrian Pabst, The Politics of Virtue: Post-Liberalism and the Human Future (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016). For theological ethics, see Stephen H. Webb, The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). For environmental ethics more specifically, see e.g. Simon Oliver, Creation (London: T&T Clark, 2017), 133–157; Norman Wirzba, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015).

[liii] Early attempts at such reintegration include the special issue ‘Mashup of Philosophy of Religion’, The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 14, no 2 (2015); Fiona Ellis (ed.), New Models of Religious Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[liv] Nagel, Mortal Questions, ix.

[lv] Karl Rahner, “The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology” in TheologicaI Investigations vol. 4, trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, I966), 41.

[lvi] Brown, Tradition and Imagination, 11.

[lvii] A.W. Moore, The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 588 (emphasis added).

[lviii] Moore, Evolution of Modern Metaphysics, 600.

[lix] See Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Simone Weil, Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London: Routledge, 2009); Ryan G. Duns, Spiritual Exercises for a Secular Age: Desmond and the Quest for God (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2020).

[lx] See esp. Clare Carlisle, ‘Spiritual Desire and Religious Practice’, Religious Studies 55, no. 3 (2019): 429–446. See also Clare Carlisle, ‘Habit, Practice, Grace: Towards a Philosophy of Religious Life’, in Fiona Ellis (ed.) New Models of Religious Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 97–115.

[lxi] See Wesley Kort, Bound to Differ: The Dynamics of Theological Discourses (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1992).

[lxii] See Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein, ‘Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree’, American Psychologist 64, no. 6 (2009), 515–26.

[lxiii] Dan Zahavi, ‘Analytic and Continental Philosophy: From Duality Through Plurality to (Some Kind of) Unity’, in Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl and Harald A. Wiltsche (eds), Analytical and Continental Philosophy: Methods and Perspectives (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 80–93; here p. 91.

[lxiv] Henri Bergson, Mind-Energy, trans. H. Wildon Carr (London: Greenwood Press, 1975), 7.

[lxv] See especially Chris Insole, Kant and the Divine: from Contemplation to the Moral Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

[lxvi] See Jan Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought: From Philip the Chancellor to Francisco Suárez (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 190, 200–202.

[lxvii] See Luciano Floridi, The Philosophy of Information (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); The Ethics of Information (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); The Logic of Information (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[lxviii] For an important (if dated) existing critical study of ‘information’ in continental philosophy, see Albert Borgmann, Holding onto Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

[lxix] John Cottingham, ‘What is Humane Philosophy and Why is it At Risk?’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 65 (2009), 233–255, 253–254.