Meetup type: Moderated discussion (attendees are expected to have listened to the 5-hour podcast before the meetup)
Series introduction: "Public discussion of religion tends to polarize between two extremes: religious fundamentalism, and the aggressive atheism of such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But much of what people actually believe falls somewhere in between. It is subtler and more tentative. David Cayley explores the work of five thinkers whose recent books have charted new paths for religion."
- Part 1: Richard Kearney (audio file)
Religion, in recent years, has been something of a battlefield. On the one hand books with titles like God is Back or, more alarming, The Revenge of God have dramatized the increased influence of fundamentalist forms of religion. On the other, the writers sometimes called the new atheists have railed against religion in a spirit that some have called secular fundamentalism. British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins leads the way here with his claim that religion is a brain disease, but others like the late Christopher Hitchins have also contributed to this revival of the old opposition between religion and enlightenment.
Richard Kearney would like to get past all this. To him it's a sterile polarization. He'd like to move on to a conversation in which doubt and faith, in his words, "criss-cross." Richard Kearney is a poet, a novelist, and a philosopher who writes about the role of imagination in religious belief. He's professor of philosophy at Boston College, and a visiting professor at University College Dublin in his native Ireland.
Anatheism: Returning to God After God by Richard Kearney is published by Columbia University Press.
- Part 2: John Caputo (audio file)
In the spring of 1992, Cambridge University announced that it would give an honourary degree to the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It was an honour that seemed richly deserved. Derrida had invented the widely influential concept of deconstruction. But there was an immediate outcry - from within Cambridge's philosophy faculty and from an international group of academics who sent a letter of protest to the Times of London. Derrida, these letter writers said, was no more than a kind of Dada-ist, a jokester whose work consisted mainly of tricks, puns and gimmicks. His writings, the letter went on, failed to meet "accepted standards of clarity and rigour" and were replete with "semi-intelligible attacks on the values of reason, truth and scholarship."
Derrida got the degree anyway, after the matter was put to a vote at Cambridge.
However his reputation in the English speaking world continued to be shadowed by charges of "nihilism" and "relativism" that were often made against him. Even when he died in 2004, the New York Times obituary, reprinted in Canada by the Globe and Mail, left the impression that his main legacy was to have sapped the morale of Western civilization.
John Caputo disagrees. He's emeritus professor of philosophy at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia, and at Syracuse University. In 1997 he published The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, in which he argues that deconstruction and religion have a lot in common. In Part 2 of After Atheism, John Caputo tells his story and presents his case for Derrida's theological significance.
The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida by John Caputo is published by Indiana University Press.
The Weakness of God by John Caputo is published by Indiana University Press.
- Part 3: William Cavanaugh (audio file)
The founders of the American republic were frank about the religious character they wanted to give to their new state. Ben Franklin called for "a cult" of the nation. Thomas Jefferson suggested preserving mementos that would function, he said, "like the relics of the saints." They would "help nourish devotion to this holy body of the union." A few years later the leaders of the French Revolution would try to deify reason, with temples and festivals dedicated to this new god.
These are examples of what William Cavanaugh calls Migrations of the Holy. That's the title of a new book in which he argues that what we now call religion is often just a distraction from the real objects of our devotion, and the ends for which we're really prepared to make sacrifices. William Cavanaugh takes up these issues in this episode of After Atheism.
Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and The Political Meaning of the Church by William Cavanaugh is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
- Part 4: James Carse (audio file)
James Carse is the author of a book called The Religious Case Against Belief. In it, he turns a lot of widely accepted ideas on their heads. Belief usually defines religion, as any dictionary would show. Carse argues that belief is often the enemy of religion. Beliefs, he says, come and go, but religions persist. Some have a lot of beliefs, some almost none, but even those with a lot preserve their identities even when those beliefs change. James Carse is a scholar of the history and literature of religion which he taught for many years at New York University. In this episode he shares his thoughts on the nature of belief and the nature of religion.
The Religious Case Against Belief by James Carse is published by Penguin Press.
- Part 5: Roger Lundin (audio file)
In his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor traces changes in religious belief from the late Middle Ages to the present. Taking the year 1500 as a baseline, he argues that at this date belief in God was a given, something obvious and unquestionable. Today religious belief is, in his words, "optional" - a choice - made in the face of a bewildering variety of possibilities. In between lies a journey through doubt - a journey made by an entire civilization but also by each individual who opts for some religious conviction.
Roger Lundin's book Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age follows this journey as it has unfolded in modern literature. Lundin is a literary scholar and professor at Wheaton College in Chicago. He shares his thoughts with David Cayley in the final episode of After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion.
Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age by Roger Lundin is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Meetup charge: free, but attendees should order something for themselves from the restaurant. You can order from the self-service in the upstairs when you arrive or during our meetup.
Group's policy on RSVPs: Every member is expected to respect their RSVP for each event and keep it up to date. Two instances of non-respect of the RSVP will lead to the member being removed from the group. The waiting list is on Automatic which means that the first person on the waiting list gets in automatically, as soon as a spot opens up. If the person can no longer attend, they must change their RSVP to No as soon as possible and certainly before the meetup starts.