The following is a talk I gave on May 12, 2017, at Concordia University, Montreal. The Conference was entitled “Lonergan, Ethics & The Bible.” It develops my notion of ‘enecstasis’ in conversation with the work of Bernard Lonergan and Sean McEvenue, two individuals I’m indebted to, directly and indirectly, for its configuration. It will appear in more elaborate form in my monograph, Personalizing Philosophy of Religion: An Enecstatic Treatment, to be published by SUNY Press. If you’re new to this blog, it might be helpful to read this paper in conjunction with other entries, namely, “Philosophy of Religion Religious Studies Style” and “Visceral Intellect”.
It seemed a stretch at first. A philosopher of religion presenting at a Lonergan conference on Ethics and the Bible! The Lonergan part wasn’t at issue; I know a thing or two about Generalized Empirical Method. But the connection with Ethics and the Bible required some improvisation! Thankfully, I could narrow it down to two of the three topics (Lonergan and Bible), dismissing ethics only for the happenstance that it’s not my field or forte. But, alas, neither is Bible. And yet I specialized in Bible as an undergraduate, which made it the more viable choice. I suppose you sense my conundrum! So, what am I doing here? Let’s hope the next 20 minutes won’t be a complete failure at an answer.
My moment of insight came as I attended to the data of my experience and the coincidence of the conference announcement. In other words, I personalized the topics that would allow me to address them without compromising, hopefully, either their value as topics for a conference or how I would commandeer them to my ends. It would allow me, in other words, to be “my little self”, as Lonergan was in the habit of doing (see Kanaris 2002, 9).
Insight, you remember Lonergan (1992, 28) saying, “is a function not of outer circumstances but of inner conditions.” He also says it “passes into the habitual texture of one’s mind,” a comforting thought for me. Seizing an opportunity presented by the outer circumstances of the seemingly incongruous topics may indicate that the habit is still part of my mental furniture. In any case, the conference was being held in my hometown and at my alma mater. Convenience and nostalgia united to inspire the conditions of release that Lonergan says insight brings to “the tension of inquiry.” Release, needless to say, came with the submission of my paper proposal!
To continue, the insight was to recognize how Lonergan and the study of the Bible furnished my aims as a philosopher of religion in religious studies. Although our fields and objectives are different, our phenomenological aims run quite parallel. They pivot, as Lonergan writes of insight, between the concrete and the abstract. The concrete will mean here what biblical scholar Sean McEvenue (1994, 61), endorsing Lonergan’s system, describes as “the outrageous proclamation of subjectivity.” The abstract connects with this and consists in my preoccupation to develop a philosophy of religion for religious studies. (McEvenue, in case you missed it, is my Bible connection.) I’ve been obsessed with this project for several years, wringing out as much as I can from Lonergan. The outer circumstance of returning to my alma mater, after a hiatus of almost twenty-five years, has provided me with an opportunity to expand on this in connection with the contributions of my aforementioned undergraduate mentor Sean McEvenue. “Concrete,” then, comes to mean autobiographical reflection on the personal dimension, “the outrageous proclamation of subjectivity,” which is integral to my “abstract” concern.
Both Lonergan and McEvenue impressed upon me the utter importance of awareness of self in academic inquiry. While it is no longer popular to refer to this normative dimension as a “structure of cognition”, “self-reflexivity” being the preferred term; while it’s no longer popular, I’ve been thoroughly unsuccessful at shaking this “mineness,” Heidegger’s notion of Jemeinigkeit, that attaches to inquiry. It’s as though the union we call soul and body depends on it, a body that is body only as soul, a soul that is soul only as body. The accuracy of the image is not important. Like St. Paul’s “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), the point is to imagine things otherwise and to avoid the ghoulish alternative screened in a Cartesian theater.
Earlier I said that subjectivity functions as the concrete in my abstract aim. Of course, discussion of subjectivity can also be highly “abstract”, which Lonergan’s “little book” of some 800 pages demonstrates well. However, by concrete I mean both personal and practical, which is a principal aim of Lonergan’s “abstract” concern in Insight called “self-appropriation”. It is, I dare say, the linchpin in his philosophy for reorienting humanistic studies—what makes it unique, in my opinion. It is also a principal concern in McEvenue’s program of reorienting biblical studies for theology, which pivots for him on the related functional specialties of ‘dialectic’ and ‘foundations’.
As we all know, Lonergan leads the reader to a decisive moment of potential epiphany in Insight in which the reader is invited to affirm herself as a knower. All his so-called abstract thoughts in the book’s first part lead to that moment, as a result of which all subsequent abstract thoughts in the second part can make sense. McEvenue similarly points to a decisive moment in interpreting texts, which he describes as consideration of the “elemental meanings” in the Bible. These elemental meanings house the foundational stances, values, in scripture (McEvenue 1990, 44-62, 180n5). “With Lonergan, we enter into dialectic with the foundational stances of biblical authors, in a situation in which they are converted and we the readers are unconverted, or inadequately converted” (McEvenue 1994, 62). Again, the central importance of normative engagement in what appears, but is not, “purely” academic or merely “abstract”.
Both discourses are guided by the importance of engaging personally, self-critically, in the things we come to discover and decide upon, namely, whether we will embrace or reject, confound or re-found, our newly constituted self-in-dialogue. I hyphenate self-in-dialogue to highlight the self’s constitution as effected by this experience. I also hyphenate it to signal the normative as part and parcel of objective, academic, abstract, if you will, inquiry. There’s no escaping it, whatever Enlightenment hopefuls would have us believe. We know all too well that “[g]enuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity” (Lonergan 1972, 292). The projects of Lonergan and McEvenue, while facing challenges of their own concerning the inclusion of the normative into the academic, are naturally, historically, tied to hauling this cart. It is true, as Lonergan (1972, 276) knew and as he states in Method, that scholarship has built “an impenetrable wall between systematic theology and its historical religious sources.” He hoped to resolve this by inviting “philosophy and theology to migrate from a basis in theory to a basis in interiority.” McEvenue (1990, 1; 1994, 37, 47-48) frequently alludes to this formulation of the problematic, offering his hermeneutics as a means by which biblical scholars may trounce it. And yet the task is native to their fields, McEvenue’s and Lonergan’s, more than it is to mine. Since at least the 19th century, the livelihood of scholars of religion has depended on fencing off discourses warming up to interiority concerns. Indeed, they often label such concerns derogatorily as “theological” and “foundationalist”, self-authorizing even.
In the interest of time, I will refrain from commenting on how ‘interiority’ and ‘foundations’ needn’t imply foundationalism, that ailing project that harks back to Descartes through Hume and Kant to Husserl. I’ve argued this elsewhere and I suspect that most of us have made peace with it. However, I would like to indicate, necessarily in broad brushstrokes, I’m afraid, how I’ve mediated this migration tactic, from theory to interiority, in religious studies. Let me begin with Lonergan.
My cue, as an aspiring philosopher of religion, came in a study I published years ago concerning Lonergan’s philosophy of religion (Kanaris 2002). The most salient point of the book is that philosophy of religion for Lonergan is more properly philosophy of religious studies. It includes philosophical theology, as one finds it, for example, in chapters 19 and 20 of Insight. It also includes an appreciation of the foundational element of religious experience in such endeavors, chapter 4 of Method, Lonergan’s model of religion, serving as our example. However, philosophy of religion, unlike these, is, to quote Lonergan, “foundational methodology of religious studies” (Lonergan 1994, 128). He turned to this endeavor more intently after Method. “Foundational methodology” is, as you know, another term for ‘transcendental method’. In the guise of philosophy of religion it becomes a matter of how it relates “to the various branches of religious studies” (1974, 204). Basically, it’s Lonergan’s normative notion of the self and how self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-knowledge, premised on self-affirmation, self-appropriation, relates to the ‘positional’ and/or ‘counterpositional’ in the other—in my case: theorists and their theories of religion.
Part of my challenge was to discover in Lonergan’s normative theory an aspect of self-knowledge aligned with the positional in current-day thinking regrettably dubbed “postmodern” and post-foundationalist. I don’t know why that is, except that I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to create bridges, leaving to others the task of policing them. I’m not quite ready to admit, in other words, that it’s an issue of lacking ‘judgment’ or intellectual conversion! In any case, long story short, I found what I was looking for in a lecture Lonergan delivered in 1959 entitled “Art.” In that lecture, among other things, Lonergan equates the thinking of Heidegger with an artistic pattern of experience concerned with elemental meaning. While not uncontroversial, I have admitted into this artistic pattern a formal intelligence often reserved to the intellectual pattern. I call it ‘visceral intellect’. As Robert C. Solomon (1988, 43) says about feeling in Kant’s third Critique, visceral intellect “has its own intelligence; it is akin to judgment, not just a biological reaction.” Placing these two terms together, visceral and intellect, subverts your run-of-the-mill definition of intellect that opposes visceral, as instinct or “deep inward feeling”, to thinking. As a thinking, visceral intellect is a certain kind of feeling, one that orients and suffuses thought. It possesses—no: it is—thought but as rhythmically distinct from what usually passes as thought. The connecting insight here, which binds judgment to sensory experience, is far more artistic than intellectual or systematic in nature. I direct you to a blog I wrote last year if you’re interested to learn more (https://jimkanaris.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/visceral-intellect/).
What all this means, in effect, is that the formal conditions of this kind of intelligence are of an order that advisably shouldn’t be reduced to the categorizations inherent, it seems, in the intellectual pattern—in a word, to the cognitional preoccupations that constitute foundational methodology per se. Doing so, I believe, produces results contrary to the stated aims of Insight. This is not to say, of course, that Lonergan’s formulization is wrong. Good heavens! It is to say that applying it directly in an artistic discourse to direct that discourse is problematic and can be restrictive. The discourse Lonergan obliquely annexes as artistic is not partial to the language of “a fixed base, an invariant pattern” that provides for “understand[ing] the broad lines of all there is to be understood,” as he states in Insight (Lonergan 1992, 22). In seeking, as Lonergan (1993, 216) outlines in his lecture on “Art,” to present something “other,” something elemental, “different, novel, strange, new, remote, intimate” (Lonergan 1993, 216); in trying to “present the unpresentable,” as Lyotard puts it, artistic thinking, visceral intellect, relinquishes the view that the invariant is to be invariantly, let alone systematically, stated, as when one calculates, systematizes, seeks universal consent, and so on. Thus, artistic thinking expresses the normative in terms of a function of being, an interstice of becoming, rather than a structure of determinate operations. It’s not system in the sense that artistic thinking is concerned with a hyper-transcendental many call “singularity”, an irreducibly personal, individual, condition of knowledge rather than vice versa.
Enecstasis is my term for this function. I coined it for technical reasons I can’t get into here. Suffice it to say that it is my means of connecting ‘interiority’ with contemporary appreciations of engaged agency governed by an ‘artistic’ rather than ‘intellectual’ sensibility. A diversion, enecstasis deflects unnecessary focus on problems that arise that seem to attach to the language of ‘foundational methodology’ qua the intellectual pattern while encouraging an environment that takes ‘foundations’ seriously. Up until now I’ve addressed this in largely negative terms, that is, how thinking about foundations artistically is to be distinguished from thinking about foundations intellectually, that is, à la foundational methodology, transcendental method. Perhaps I should turn to a positive application. Currently in religious studies a form of theorizing exists that is in critical contention with phenomenology of religion. Phenomenology of religion is a founding methodology in the field of religion that incidentally informs Lonergan’s model of religion. New materialism, as it’s called, bases itself on a mélange of so-called postmodern thinking whose methodologies are categorically anti-theological, anti-phenomenological, as it claims to be postfoundationalist. The ideological divide that these approaches represent, the phenomenological and new materialism, is a modern iteration of traditional methodological disputes between humanists and social scientists respectively. Enecstatic reflection provides students of religion with an opportunity to engage in the normative issues that Lonergan points to that divide scholars of religion methodologically. It does so, too, in a way that aligns with the artistic philosophical inclinations that constitute much of students’ being-in-the-world today. Why do it this way? Students, in religious studies at least, where philosophy isn’t prioritized (to understate matters!), can appreciate dialectical engagement of new materialist bias in terms of an artistic negotiation of the disruptive potential of certain forms of theology (see Roberts 2004). But they would be hard-pressed to accept formalizations of it in terms of foundational methodology. In the interests of having students and colleagues feel the force of negotiating the normative in religious studies, I refrain from making transcendental method requisite to the task. I turn now to McEvenue from whom I’ve learned to do exactly that.
I didn’t know at the time but McEvenue’s tactic of migrating from theory to interiority ingeniously took a similar enecstatic route by getting students to react to the elemental meanings of biblical texts. It involved subverting preoccupations with “surface details” of the Bible, such as miracles and historical facts (McEvenue 1990, 54-55), which tend to preoccupy first-year students, and understandings of it as a book of propositional truths, which tends to preoccupy the sophisticated but undifferentiated mind (McEvenue 1994, 47-64). What he also did was to use elements of the very scholarship that barricade engagement with biblical truths to pave a way to newfound appreciations of these truths in terms of elemental meaning. This resembles my context of negotiating social-scientific, new-materialist presuppositions enecstatically whose reflex it is to bar normative reflection from religious studies. But whereas McEvenue does this in a literary-critical context with respect to the foundational stances of biblical authors, I do it in religious studies with respect to the foundational stances of theorists of religion. McEvenue asks the question, “[I]n what realm of human meaning or activity does this text expect meaning, revelation, salvation to occur? In war? In family life? In obeying the law? In prayer? and so forth?” (McEvenue 1990, 153). I ask the question, what philosophical presupposition in this theory of, or method in, religion masks a foundational stance that invites development or necessitates reversal? However different, both questions promote a personal negotiation of the values and worldviews compactly or systematically expressed in individuals and/or their texts—again, a normative preoccupation.
I am not in a position to evaluate McEvenue’s taxonomy of elemental meanings culled from Yawist, Elohist, Deuteronomic, and Priestly texts, whether, for example, it begs the larger question of the documentary hypothesis. I’ll leave that to biblical scholars. My only concern here has been to flag an approach that has informed my creation of a philosophy of religion for religious studies. In many respects, and ironically, McEvenue has had a greater impact on it than Lonergan and for the rather pedestrian reason that McEvenue wrestles with elemental meaning, an issue of artistry, and dialectic and foundations in a way that moves from transcendental method to hermeneutics. Hermeneutics, you remember, Friedrich Schleiermacher described as art. To be sure, foundational methodology informs McEvenue’s approach; he is unabashed about this. But it’s as if foundational methodology is a premise—I won’t say afterthought!—in the development of McEvenue’s larger argument and more specialized biblical interest. In this way, he isn’t worried about philosophical issues surrounding the formalization of interiority, whether, for instance, interiority is best expressed as an intellectually patterned achievement in the categories and language of Insight. McEvenue simply assumes it. But my sense is that in the mere recognition of foundational methodology as a crucial premise, it effectively takes a backseat to McEvenue’s principal aims. Perhaps it would be better to put it less pedantically: I learned about interiority in McEvenue’s classes without learning a thing about foundational methodology; I had to take courses on Lonergan for that! In the same way, I think—no, I hope!—students learn about interiority in my courses. Lonergan has taught me the importance of self-discovery in the terms and categories that informed his personal struggle with the flight from understanding (Lonergan 1992, 9). McEvenue taught me how to solicit this awareness by example, that is, by focusing on, while being sensitive to, controversies and issues pertinent in my field, a field like others that seem to be forever tragically involved in a dialectic of self-discovery and self-alienation.
Another piece of this puzzle are important developments in culture studies and poststructuralism whose “artistic” aims are governed by a political, issue-based attention to “socio-economic disparities, environmental degradation, and ongoing biases linked to race, sexual orientation, or colonial exploitation” (Rodrigues and Harding 2009, 104). These developments have also rendered problematic the bias in new materialism against normative reflection in religious studies, which is odd to say given that new materialism is in alliance with such issue-based orientations. The blind spot here seems to be the politicization of academic inquiry as object-constitutive, issue-based, rather than subject-constitutive, interiority-based, as in the discourses of Lonergan, McEvenue, and others. Still, it masks a level of normative reflection in new materialism that new materialists themselves, in their desire to exclude theological reflection from religious studies, have a vested interest in being selective about. However, as many are now arguing (Paula Cooey, Sheila Davaney, Rosalind Shaw, Kathryn Tanner, Tyler Roberts, Hent de Vries, Jack Caputo, Carl Raschke, etc.), the university is no longer a bastion of high culture over against so-called low culture, so-called objective knowledge, historical-materialist/naturalist knowledge, over against subjective knowledge, true belief over against false belief, and whatnot. As Shiela Greeve Davaney (2002, 149-150) writes,
… the university is not a neutral site but one that does embody all sorts of values and commitments, including commitments to open inquiry, critical reflection, and public argumentation. These are indeed not impartial values. They have emerged within human history (including from within human religious history) and represent certain cultural values and options over others.
If the only prerequisite is, as Davaney continues, “those who are willing to enter the sphere of public argumentation in which they make their case in conversation with their fellows,” then, it seems to me, new materialists have no reason to exclude normative discourses like theology from religious studies, unless, of course, they want to be perceived as offering a new self-authorizing discourse!
I’m afraid time does not permit further discussion of this. I can only recommend, among other works, those of my colleague Tyler Roberts, Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College, Iowa, and a 2016 MA thesis by my student, Jack Prus, entitled “Materializing Religion: The New Materialism in Religious Studies,” which nicely summarizes the issues. I’d also like to mention, in closing, how these developments I’ve merely alluded to are useful extrinsic sources for programmatics (I must assume here) as our own, which are explicitly subject-constitutive, that is, concerned with interiority. Because of them, it has become less controversial to accept the idea that normative engagement is an inevitable part of academic discourse and that “formalizations” of it are necessary. They present opportunities, in other words, to rethink, to re-appreciate, the contributions of our mentors as we look for a way forward. To this end, then, I’d like to thank the organizers of this conference for the opportunity and to you for your patience in hearing me out.
Davaney, Shiela Greeve. 2002. “Rethinking Theology and Religious Studies.” In Religious Studies, Theology, and the University: Conflicting Maps, Changing Terrain. Ed. Linell E. Cady and Delwin Brown. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 140-54.
Kanaris, Jim. 2002. Bernard Lonergan’s Philosophy of Religion. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1994. “Philosophy and the Religious Phenomenon.” Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies 12: 125-46.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1993. Topics in Education: The Cincinnati Lectures of 1959 on Philosophy of Education. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 10. Edited by Robert M. Doran and Frederick E. Crowe. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1992. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, volume 3. Edited by Fredrick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1974. A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J.F. Lonergan, S.J. Edited by William F.J. Ryan and Bernard J. Tyrrell. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1972. Method in Theology. New York: Herder and Herder.
McEvenue, Sean. 1994. Interpretation and Bible: Essays on Truth in Literature. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
McEvenue, Sean. 1990. Interpreting the Pentateuch. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Rodrigues, Hilary and John S. Harding. 2008. Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.
Solomon, Robert C. 1988. Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.