more indications: religious & theological

As I’ve been continuing to look over Heidegger’s use of formal indication with regard to religion and theology, I’ve come across something that seems significant. In his 1920-21 course on “Phenomenology of Religion”, where he gives perhaps the fullest and most direct account of his idea of what a formal indication is and how it works, he explicitly states that the object of his inquiry is factical religious life, which when properly understood discloses “originary” religious (Christian) experience. Putting aside several other problematic issues surrounding Heidegger’s conception of what is “originary” here, one aspect of it is that it makes no reference to and is as yet unguided by theological reflection – for theology springs up only in the wake of this originary experience in order to make sense of and properly articulate it. Thus, in the context of the early Heidegger’s phenomenology of religion, formal indication serves to give philosophy access to the region of being marked out by factical Christian life, the content of which remains inaccessible to philosophy. This content can only be indicated at the ontological level – i.e., formally in the specifically phenomenological sense that Heidegger intends.

However, seven or so years later in his lecture titled “Phenomenology and Theology,” Heidegger essentially claims that philosophy has the same relationship to theology. That is, philosophy does not, cannot, relate directly to the object of theology (in this case, Christian faith); it can only serve as a “corrective” to theological practice. Since theology, according to Heidegger, is an ontic science like so many others, it is part of the role of philosophy properly to delimit the field and articulate the ontological structures according to which theology most accurately relates to and explicates its own object, which remains the sole ground and motive force behind the operation of theology. Now, in what way does philosophy perform its corrective role? Heidegger is explicit in saying that the relationship of philosophy to theology is a formally indicative one.

So, philosophy has basically the same relationship to the content of theology that it does to the content of factical religious life. In each case it’s a specific sort of second-order operation. However, Heidegger’s definition of theology (both in the earlier course and in the 1927 lecture, though his perspectives differ somewhat) makes of it already a second-order reflection on the factical details of religious experience. These are already what is supposedly formally indicated by Heidegger’s phenomenology of religion, though. So, it seems to me what this reveals is that, from the perspective of philosophy according to Heidegger, religion as such and theology as such are on an equal level. That is, in this case at least, with respect to fundamental ontology, there’s no qualitative difference between an ontic science taken as an object of inquiry and the beings (or ways of being) that that science busies itself considering.

Although I’d be happy to be proven wrong here, my first impression is that this isn’t a conclusion Heidegger would be happy with. Putting that aside, though, what it points me toward is the way in which Heidegger’s treatments of religious life and theology end up undermining each other, because in each case one of his concerns is to preserve the independence of the ontic phenomena under consideration from philosophical (pre- or over-) determination. Yet, one consequence of this equalization of religious life and theology with respect to philosophy is that is makes the slide into abstract generalizations of both religion and theology too easy. Any time that Heidegger moves from a religious or theological concept to an ontological one that supposedly formally indicates the former, he creates an opportunity (which he also sometimes makes use of himself) to interpret the latter as a fundamental concept that grounds or explains not just the initial existentiell notion but a whole range of phenomena, and not just regionally but generally.


Posted on June 18, 2010, in Heidegger and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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