Eastern: Community, Art, and Religious Experience

Panel of the Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience

Jan 7, 2021,  New York City, APA Eastern Division Conference Program

Panel co-chairs:

Peter Costello (Providence College) PCOSTELL@province.edu

Jessica Wiskus (Duquesne University) wiskus@gmail.com

How can religious experience be described phenomenologically as an experience of community?  Outside of phenomenology, in natural or naïve life, we can often speak of religious communities.  And many religious texts speak directly about the divine opening up or revealing itself to a people or to a group that the divine brings together.  But what can phenomenological method and research bring to the lived experience of the religious, or to a religious reading of sacred texts, to show whether and how religious experience is communal, as opposed to private or personal? 

Again, in everyday life, when we turn to the role of community and religious experience in art or literature, we see some indications.  An architectural creation—say at the border of two religious peoples or two nations—draws pilgrims from both.  A piece of music that one calls a mass or a psalm expresses some deep emotinal chord, a pre-reflective longing toward transcendence.  A painting—or even a postcard—shows a whole tradition in a coded situation from a sacred text that involves the viewer in a complex negotiation of ordinary life and extraordinary sacramentality.  A short story or a novel or a poem uses language to express the experience of the divine “deep down in things,” drawing the reader into a shared vision.

How can a phenomenological account of these everyday experiences assist us when we reflect on them?  How can our first- and second-person accounts, our intersubjective or intercorporeal presuppositions, help us create a dynamic, rigorous descriptive phenomenology that transcends doctrine in favor, as Husserl might say, of moving toward the eidetic structures of religious experience itself?

The Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience (SoPheRE) will be hosting a panel discussion on the topic “Community, Art, and Religious Experience” at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association January 4-7, 2021 in New York City. We hereby invite papers related to that theme. Possible topics to be covered include (but are not limited to):

What is meant phenomenologically by community in religious experience?  Are there religious resources in the the Continental and phenomenological tradition that might assist us in order to aritculate a phenomenology of religious community—resources such as those in the works of Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean-Luc Marion, Edith Stein, John Caputo, and others?

How does religious experience make possible (or make problematic) what it means to be in community with others?  How would Heidegger’s discussion of religious life and freedom in The Phenomenology of Religious Life help us to see this causal relationship?

How does art or literature demonstrate or call for religious experience as an interpretative process? How would Derrida’s ongoing discussion of a “messianic without messianism” reopen a kind of hermeneutics or exchange with this art that would redirect religious experience?

What is, could be or should be the relationship between religious experience and art?  Can Husserl’s or Stein’s discussion of intentionality and of beauty bear fruit within a renewed commitment to the sense of earth or stone or painting that we see in work by John Sallis and others?


9 AM-10:50 AM EST

Peter Costello (Providence College) “Toward Community as the Site of Religious Experience” 

Michael Barber (Saint Louis University) “Communal Ritual, Music, and Embodied Intersubjectivity” 

Olga Louchakova-Schwartz (University of California, Davis) “Is ‘I am’ Intersubjective? A Real-life Immigrant in an Alien Community”

11AM-12:50 PM

Jessica Wiskus (Duquesne University) “On Merleau-Ponty’s Touching of the Touched: Flesh, Melody, and Community” 

Sally Stockdale (Towson University) “The Eternal Realm: Utilizing Edith Stein’s Theory of Community to Interpret the Religious Art of Nikolai Roerich”

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