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Acts of Religion Paperback – December 6, 2001
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'It is a very significant contribution because it enables the reader to know Derrida's personal views, opinions, values, reflections, and judgments on many topics philosophical, religious, and humanistic...Highly recommended for graduate students and scholars of Derrida.' - R. Puligandla, emeritus, University of Toledo
'This important collection of essays traces the development of Derrida's long-standing interest in religion into a virtual obsession. In ways difficult to calculate Derrida has become one of the most provocative 'religious' thinkers of our time. Gil Anidjar's fine translation and remarkable introduction show not only the philosophical and theological importance but also the social, political and even economic implications of Derrida's reflections on religion.' - Mark C. Taylor, author of The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture and Grave Matters
'The most important publication in the area of deconstruction and theology this year ... indispensible reading for the many scholars working in this area.' - Critical and Cultural Theory
About the Author
Jacques Derrida teaches at the École des Hautes Études in Paris, at the University of California, Irvine, New York University, and the New School for Social Research. He is the author of more than 30 books including Acts of Literature and Specters of Marx, both published by Routledge. Gil Anidjar is Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.
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Acts of Religion: A title that those familiar with Derrida's work may find questionable. After all he was open about his relation to religion, "[it is] foreign to me . . . My atheism develops in the churches, all the churches . . ." Yet, the word 'acts' suggests an interiority, that Derrida participates within religion. But these essays are often conspicuous for the way they are able to address religion, even to use scripture, in a way that avoids just this type of interiority. Derrida's great distance from religion, its institutions, and from faith, will be evident to any reader who approaches the text from a point of view informed by religious practice. This is not a criticism by any means for Derrida's writings are seriously engaged with, perhaps even enchanted by philosophical themes that are essential to religion. Thus, these texts will be most appreciated by readers whose point of view is dynamic enough to encompass both post-structural thought, and their own personal faith. For such readers these essays suggest a project, a re-reading and re-engagement with religious texts that is of value exactly for its distance from the a priori that our religious affiliations ask us bring to the reading of scripture.
I found 'Force of Law' to be of particular benefit in this regard. It addresses the conditions of possibility of justice, its relation to deconstruction, to enforcement and to the founding violence that institutes the law in a way that has two distinct trajectories.
The first is indeed religious, in that it offers a frame of reference with which to challenge the institutionalized notions of God's law, justice, and agency found in Christianity, and other monotheisms. For this challenge to take the form of a violence in which secular philosophy is used to "disprove" or "discredit" religious faith would miss the point. Rather, 'Force of Law' offers the reader a way of examining the ways that political ideology is often conflated with religious ideology, or a way of facing (not without some fear) the difficulties and inconsistencies found in religious interpretations / constructions of law and justice found in sacred texts.
The second trajectory is societal and significant to where we find ourselves in America today. Events occurring now (in 2005) show that America is indeed in something of a crisis: judicial, religious, and in terms of human rights. The level of public discourse concerning the appointing of new justices to the Supreme Court, and judicial interpretive methodology is painfully low, and seems to be divorced from or ignorant of the potentials of justice. Religion in America today is more a matter of politics than of our experience of the Devine, or comitment to the highest ethical/spiritual ideals. Human rights in regards to international immigration, the treatment of prisoners of war, and civilians in military conflict have been seriously undermined. By pointing to this obvious crisis, I don't want to overstate this collection's direct political appeal, Derrida is often working in a realm that confounds the desire for simple pragmatics, although a few essays such as 'Taking a Stand for Algeria' and 'Hospitality' certainly have a political drive.
In the end Acts of Religion is a complex, and rewarding philosophical text. I believe it offers a place of refuge to intellectuals involved in both post-structural and religious thought, who are looking to be challenged by a thinker working across a broad range of themes that are both very old and yet still significant today. Its is Derrida's gift to present them in a vital and energetic manner.