Fordham University Press, 2013
In recent years folks like John Caputo have made postmodern theology exciting and accessible for many people. In this new book, Christina Gschwandtner reveals that Caputo’s intellectual tradition – French postmodern philosophy – is rich with arguments for and diverse ways of thinking about God.
Up front warning: this book is quite technical and clearly written for an academic, philosophical audience. That said, anyone familiar with the territory can make sense of most of it. For some readers this book might be most helpful as a reference for the respective thinkers profiled instead of a cover-to-cover read.
In this text Gschwandtner manages to cover a surprising amount of ground in relatively few pages (less than 300 pages not counting references and index). The opening section of the book is called “Preparations” and covers the three thinkers she sees undergirding contemporary French religious thinking: Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Lévinas, and Jacques Derrida. The first chapter introduces the reader to Heidegger and his critique of ontotheology. The second covers Levinas and his thinking on alterity and infinity. The third explores the religious (without religion) thinking of Derrida.
The second section of the book, called “Expositions,” traces six prominent, French religious thinkers: Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Jean-Yves Lacoste, and Emmanuel Falque. For the sake of space, suffice it to say that for each author Gschwandtner spends about 20 pages exploring their most significant works and explaining their thinking.
The third section of the book, “Appropriations,” presents the three most prominent American (referencing their current places of teaching, as Kearney is Irish) figures in this tradition: Merold Westphal, John Caputo, and Richard Kearney. These names will be familiar to those with an ear to the contemporary philosophical/theological scene and Gschwandtner does a major service in spending ample time on each thinker to locate them fully within the entirety of their work. This book would be quite valuable as simply a resource to acquaint someone with the work of one of these three thinkers.
The strength of this book is surely the breadth of material covered. While there is an unavoidable weakness in such a work, an inevitable lack of depth in comparison to its breadth, this doesn’t distract because of what Gschwandtner is able to accomplish with limited space. It should be clear that the scope of this work is limited to the phenomenological tradition and doesn’t include the likes of Giles Deleuze, which I would have liked to see.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in Caputo, Kearney or Westphal because it not only explains the scopes of their respective work it places them within their (used broadly) philosophical tradition. I would also recommend this to anyone interested in contemporary continental approaches to philosophy of religion. The biggest strength of this work is its constant use of and pointing the reader toward primary sources. Any cursory reading of this book will send the reader to the library or bookstore for more in-depth reading. In this work Gschwandtner has provided a very valuable resource not to be missed.
Manager, Christian Theological Seminary Bookstore
Master of Theological Studies ’14