A Situation that Cannot be Found: Theorising the ‘Inter’ of the Interreligious

A Situation that Cannot be Found: Theorising the ‘Inter’ of the Interreligious Abstract This article draws on the work of Jacques Derrida to investigate the ‘inter’ of the interreligious. I argue the typical imagination of the ‘inter’ as a space between religions has severe limitations. I suggest the situation is aporetic: On the one hand, the interreligious cannot be assigned a stable location or place, but remains a khōraic non-site that frustrates attempts to control or subdue it, as much both-and as neither-nor. On the other hand, however, religious identity depends on this non-site, as identity is always already oriented toward its ‘other.’ The confrontation with difference thus confronts religious identity with the aporia that what makes it possible simultaneously makes it unstable. What is most intimately mine, my religion, is not mine. Instead of a choice between interreligious commonality and difference, this deconstructive experience of religious difference may, paradoxically, engender a desire for reconciliation or wholeness, which remains the matter of a tenuous promise, making itself apparent as a call to solidarity. i. introduction Where ‘is’ difference? We may tend to frame debates on cultural, ethnic, religious or indeed sexual difference as a fundamental question whether ‘we’ are basically the same, or basically different. But underlying these options is a more fundamental question which conditions possible responses as well as the consequences of those responses. As Christian theology grapples with the significance and ‘status’ of non-Christian religions and the role it has historically played in the exclusion, subjugation and destruction of its members in Western societies,1 it is not just the choice between commonality and difference that it must confront. Rather, the question of how we think about difference—whether its meaning is given or malleable, whether it is absolute or relative, whether fault lines can be securely located or shift with discourse—not only accompanies the former, but precedes it. I am writing at a time at which difference appears to be causing widespread anxiety. In September 2017, the German federal elections saw the entry to Parliament of the strongest far-right movement in the country since the end of the Second World War. Similar movements have taken place in many societies in Europe and North America, vocally expressing concern about a feared loss of homogeneity and ‘identity’. Certainly, analyses of class and neoliberal failure will need to accompany a more comprehensive reading of this anxiety. Nevertheless, I would suggest that something about ‘difference itself’ feeds into it: an ambiguity or unruliness, the failure of our imaginaries of difference as a line or ‘space between’, failing to grasp the way difference, the ‘inter’ of the ‘intercultural’ or ‘interreligious’, cannot be assigned a place, profoundly affecting the stability of our own identities. We might consider this blurring of boundaries or hybridisation a ‘postmodern’ phenomenon, but, as Judith Gruber has recently argued, that would misunderstand the way any ‘stable’ identity is always already the product of ‘processes of mutual delineation’ that involve the ‘silencing of hybridity’.2 In this article, I investigate the nature of the ‘inter’ of the interreligious in all its ambiguity. I will argue there is some significant trouble with an idea of an ‘interreligious’ if we think of it as a ‘space between’,3 a space across certain unclaimed deserts in-between otherwise contiguous and homogenous ecosystems, as it is typically imagined. However, where does this leave us—is the ‘inter’ a gap to be bridged? A border to be opened? A no man’s land to be crossed? Where does it come from? Whom does it belong to? Does the ‘inter’ exist? If it exists, where is it? Such an investigation may seem like a profoundly theoretical exercise. However, I would argue that imagining the fault line of religious difference as a transparent, pre-existing space, or clearing, reinforces the idea that the other is already other, that this otherness is somehow given and not the product of historical, possibly violent, and always ambiguous processes of differentiation. It thus both cements difference and masks its historical production. If, however, we want to question and subvert this other(ed)ness without simply asserting an underlying universality, we need to start our investigation before or underneath these two options. As Jacques Derrida has written: the phenomena that interest me are precisely those that blur these boundaries, cross them, and make their historical artifice appear, also their violence, meaning the relations of force that are concentrated there and actually capitalize themselves there interminably.4 Building on Derrida, I will propose a reading that thinks difference or the ‘inter’ as wrought with aporias—which will make the anxiety not hard to understand. ii. (dis)locating the ‘inter’ On the one hand, it should strike one as obvious that this ‘between-space’ of the interreligious clearly does not ‘exist’ in any substantial topographical sense. It hardly makes sense to say, ‘there it is’, ‘here I have the interreligious’, this block of houses here is where Islam ends, and this crossroads is where Christianity ends, and this pavement here in between is the interreligious. Topographically or spatially, this is a banality, as religions are not purely regional, and probably never were to the extent that would allow for such a localisation. Conceptually, it is also far from obvious how such a ‘space between’ would function. Consider the figure of Abraham, a common figure in some instances of Christian/Muslim/Jewish interreligious dialogue. Abraham is not a figure ‘in-between’ the communities that appeal to his memory, and he is no less significant or at-home in either one of those traditions merely because he also appears in the other. But at the same time, as an interreligious figure, he is none of these specifically or exclusively. Things, concepts, and spaces we would call ‘interreligious’ are as much both the one and the other as they are neither. The ‘interreligious’ does not sit peacefully: religious scholar Gil Anidjar, in his comments on Derrida’s work on religion, writes the ‘Abrahamic’ as an ‘original gathering root of the three major monotheistic faiths’. This ‘may be understood as a space for coming together, for hospitality—but also for comparison, for competition, rendering “the incommensurable comparable”’. The Abrahamic is thus also profoundly dangerous: it ‘oscillates between the haunting threat of a volcanic explosion, … and the promise of peaceful reconciliation’.5 The promise of reconciliation the Abrahamic holds is threatened or ruptured from the inside by the impossibility of this gathering, and when speaking of ‘the encounter … of Judaism, Christianity, Islam’,6 Anidjar uses Derrida’s famous qualifier ‘if it is one’, used to speak of things that do not exist or indeed are impossible. Interreligious reconciliation is promised/threatened—as impossible. As an ‘Arab Jew’, Anidjar argues, a figure such as Derrida frustrates European Christian imaginaries that would identify ethnic and religious categories in order to maintain ‘the split in and of the Abrahamic’.7 Derrida thus could be said to stand for the way an Abrahamic connectedness destabilises categories of alterity. Christianity, or Europe, seeks but fails to keep the threatening instability of the Abrahamic under control by assigning one of its ‘others’ a uniquely theological, the other a uniquely political, mode of alterity.8 ‘The Abrahamic … dissociates and breaks the dividing movement around which “Europe”—and religion—constitutes itself.’9 Anidjar’s style is perhaps rather singular, yet there is something of particular value in his argument. To think the ‘inter’ like the ‘Abrahamic’ means to think the interreligious not as something between ‘religions’. Rather, the ‘inter’ does not find rest in a stable location, cannot be assigned a place or brought under control. Anidjar calls the Abrahamic an ‘unreadable non-site of implication (and of dislocation)’.10 The interreligious thus becomes a spacing or difference without presence, without a location. Within Derrida’s corpus, such a non-site calls to mind the placeless place of khōra, the ‘spacing of de-construction’ itself. 11 Derrida finds this in the Timaeus, where Plato discusses khōra as the space in which creation takes place. It is not in itself created, nor does it create, nor does it serve as a form or paradigm for creation: it is simply the ‘receptacle of all becoming’.12 While it thus gives space to all that is, it is itself devoid of character and does not have a location or take up space itself. Derrida finds in this an ‘exemplary aporia’,13 a spacing which does not ‘exist’ or have place itself, yet gives space to all, without however actively giving anything. Referring to khōra without an article, as for a proper name, Derrida describes how khōra ‘cannot easily be situated, assigned to a residence: it is more situating than situated’.14 It/she ‘oscillates between two types of oscillation: the double exclusion (neither/nor) and the participation (both this and that)’.15 Philosopher John Caputo describes khōra as ‘the interval or spacing of différance’, that Derridean quasi-principle that undermines the stability of any meaning or identity.16 Thought of in proximity to khōra, the ‘inter’ could thus be said to both make an opposition possible, giving space to the terms it relates, but simultaneously defying a logic of opposition. Such an ‘inter’ would deprive the religions of the proud assurance of an origin, opening up a non-space of preoriginal indeterminacy.17 In one sense, a khōraic ‘inter’ would stress the indeterminacy or neutrality of any encounter, that nothing is given per se and everything is up for conversation. However, that would only be one side of this aporetic khōra. For Derrida stresses that the ‘incredible and improbable experience’ of khōra is also political, or indeed a ‘putting to test of the political’.18 A khōraic interreligious would not be about mere coexistence, finding common ground or a pacific relation ‘between’ bounded religions, but would show how the commons are groundless; it would be a pact with khōraic invasion and frustration of any attempt towards dominance. The politics of a khōraic interreligious could perhaps be described as ‘co-resistance’:19 a shared commitment to subverting the way ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ are employed to exert control. Discourse on ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ has historically been a key way in which Christianity has sought to pacify difference. As religious scholars increasingly point out, the notion that religions are conceptually bounded, discrete entities, with a conceptual No Man’s Land in-between them, is a modern phenomenon.20 Rather than a universal and timeless feature of human experience, ‘religion’ appears to be of decidedly Western provenance, and ‘perhaps one of the West’s most successful exports’.21 As Derrida had warned, when we discuss religion, ‘we must formally take note of the fact that we are already speaking Latin’.22 Religion circulates in the world, one might say, like an English word … that has been to Rome and taken a detour to the United States. … It imposes itself in a particularly palpable manner within the conceptual apparatus of international law and of global political rhetoric. Wherever this apparatus dominates, it articulates itself through a discourse on religion. From here on, the word ‘religion’ is calmly (and violently) applied to things which have always been and remain foreign to what this word names and arrests in its history.23 The construction of ‘religion’ thus serves on the one hand to create a kind of commonality: religions are considered versions of the same universal human experience, despite the particular Christian-European provenance of the specific grouping of experiences and practices named as ‘religion’ and the frequent absence of simple translational equivalents. On the other hand, it works to create a sharp separation between those versions. In the words of Thatamanil, ‘religion’ is ‘deployed to reify and thereby to separate peoples and traditions, whose complex and intertwined histories hardly permit of essentialist disjuncture’.24 The difference between religions is imagined as not just a difference in degree, but a qualitative difference, a difference both stable and pre-existing. This is unlike differences ‘within’ religions, which are the result of splits and differentiations: ‘the category generates, without anything so blatant as an assertion, the clear demarcation between the religions themselves’.25 As Thatamanil argues, theology of religions and the related field of comparative theology have largely taken for granted that there simply ‘is’ such a ‘thing’ as ‘religion’, and that there ‘are’ such ‘things’ as ‘religions’: contiguous and clearly delineated, that then encounter each other as fully formed relative strangers, which is what we call interreligious encounter.26 Note, however, the doubled nature of this construction: ‘religions’ are constructed as basically the same as well as basically different, as different versions of a same kind. It is thus not surprising that some who have questioned the discourse on ‘religion’ have instead affirmed something more universal: a faith underlying all human experiences of ‘religion’. This is, at least, the conclusion drawn by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, one of the first Western scholars to note ‘religion’ as a Western construct.27 As an alternative, he proposed an ‘inner religious experience or involvement of a particular person’ which he called ‘faith’, alongside ‘the entire mass of objective data that constitute the historical deposit … of the past religious life of the community’ termed ‘cumulative traditions’.28 Smith’s suggestion has not caught on, and it is not clear to me what was to be gained from the shift from ‘religion’ to ‘faith/tradition’. The substitution for one problematic universal category—‘religion’—for another—‘faith’—hardly seems to solve the deeper issues, and adds further difficulties with the separation of an inward ‘faith’ from an outward ‘tradition’, which Derrida calls an ‘insidious Christian contamination’.29 The affirmation of a universal, underlying, inward ‘faith’ is already Christian. In Derrida’s words, ‘there is no metalanguage, and … a language shall always be called upon to speak about the language—because the latter does not exist’.30 Universalist attempts to distinguish a ‘faith’ from a ‘religion’ appear as an attempt to insulate some kind of core or essence from what is deconstructable about religion, but they miss the profound extent to which these two bleed into each other and mutually condition each other. The assertion of a universal ‘faith’ as commonality across different religions thus reinscribes this colonial moment of the discourse on ‘religion’, a ‘pacifying gesture, in the most European-colonial sense possible’.31 It is worth noting at this point that Derrida is not immune to the temptation of universalism. In an interview with Caputo, he offers two options. Either the Messianic, the structural openness that animates Abrahamic religion, precedes the historic messianisms as a universal structure of which religions are cases. If this is not so, religious traditions must be considered ‘irreducible events’, from which the messianic is only an abstracted indication, ‘inviolable secrets … that are never translated except as untranslatable seals’. But, to my mind, this second option is also fraught with difficulties: it reinstates a sense of purity into ‘religions’, understood as loyalties to singular sources. In other words, Derrida here hesitates between a universal faith on the one hand, and a view of religious difference as given and fixed, secondary to the constituting events of ‘religions’, on the other.32 As I hope to make clear below, however, his work on language and identity offers another way to think this relationship, pointing towards conclusions that Derrida did not draw himself. Without stable ‘religions’, which would leave the ‘inter’ as a transparently articulated boundary or space ‘between’ them, it makes intuitive sense to argue that difference is only superficial to a deeper, universal shared experience. But, ultimately, both options—a universal category or ‘irreducible events’, commonality versus difference—gloss over the way religious difference itself is produced and shaped, and how religious difference is employed to, in turn, shape and define some collectivities of text and practice as ‘our religion’, and some as ‘other religions’. iii. antinomy: replacing the irreplacable While the ‘inter’ thus does not quite exist—is never present—it could, on the other hand, be argued that it is never absent, that there is nothing other than the ‘inter’, in the sense that difference is never removed from the enunciation of identity. This would be an aporia resembling the one Derrida discusses in Monolingualism of the Other: ‘[t]here is no such thing as x, there is nothing but x.’33 In this text, Derrida considers his own relation to the French language, being himself a Francophone Algerian Jew. French is his mother tongue, but—Derrida not ‘being’ French as a child—also not ‘his’ language. ‘I have only one language; it is not mine,’ he intimates.34 While this is admittedly a deeply specific case, Derrida notes the aporias he explores may well make themselves apparent beyond his own very specific biography. The text thus contains a number of reflections on origin, ambiguity, and difference that ‘testify to the features of a structure nevertheless universal’;35 an antinomy that ‘carries well beyond these determinate conditions’36 and may, also, illuminate this situation of the interreligious. Indeed, Derrida himself raises the question of religious desire towards the end of the text. According to Derrida, his biographical situation betrays a more general ‘disorder of identity [trouble d’identité]’37 at work, in its own way, also in other linguistic situations: on the one hand, we only ever have one language that is truly ours, the language in which we come to speak, which ‘constitutes me, it dictates even the ipseity of all things to me … as if, even before learning to speak, I had been bound by some vows’.38 On the other hand, however, ‘[w]e never only speak one language’39 for ‘[t]his I would have formed itself, then, at the site of a situation that cannot be found, a site always referring elsewhere, to something other, to another language, to the other in general’.40 Even if difference itself is not stable, cannot be found, it insinuates itself into any formation of identity. While Derrida does not extend this argument to religious difference and identity specifically, it can be argued that religious identity, too, is always already profoundly marked by religious difference.41 Thatamanil thus argues that all of Christian history could be described as a sequence of interactions and differentiations with ‘movements and traditions that Christians have come to demarcate as non-Christian’.42 In other words, religious difference is not simply given but historically produced; what counts as the ‘religious other’ is what is produced as other. Thatamanil claims that greater honesty in this regard ‘would unearth moments of widespread anxiety’ among the ‘custodians of tradition’ as the other is no longer kept at a comfortable distance but appears in an uncomfortable proximity.43 As Gruber contends, ‘the religious other is not simply “there” … but emerges from powerful exclusions in which the identities of self and other are negotiated’.44 Enunciations of the ‘religious’ are never separate from the negotiation and contestation of religious difference; even after its historical production, difference remains crucial to identity as it continues to depend on stating, understanding, arguing its position to an other, in distinction to an other, in reference and thus in deferral to an other. In Derrida’s words, identity ‘is never given, received, or attained; only the interminable … process of identification endures’.45 The question for a theology of religious difference should thus not so much be whether the religious other is similar or different to ‘us’, but what role the enunciation of difference has played and continues to play in the process of identification of both ‘us’ and ‘other’. It will be necessary to question the underlying assumption of most theological approaches to religious difference: that identity logically and historically precedes difference. This marginal status of entanglement and difference compared to the proud confidence of religious identity is reinscribed wherever the religious other is understood as marked by a qualitatively unique and persistent otherness, not the product of ambiguous processes of differentiation but simply ‘there’.46 Religious difference is not secondary to identity, but co-constitutive of it, thus always complicating and disturbing any attempt towards a singular origin. The ‘inter’ itself becomes the (non-)site of the articulation of religion as identity, differentiation and relation, and therefore of its destabilisation and dislocation. The ‘inter’ thus signifies not merely the accidental meeting of otherwise discrete traditions, not just a neutral site between bounded wholes that do not affect each other, but rather the way a religious community is always already marked by its ‘other’. In other words, the ambiguities and difficulties that mark the interreligious are not just the question of what happens when the religious comes into contact with the interreligious—rather they are the question of the religious itself as interreligious, as always already marked by the need for translation. There is no ‘religious identity’ that precedes the articulation and negotiation of religious difference, neither as a universal nor as an ‘irreducible event’—rather, religious identity is constituted in the process of that articulation. To put this simply, being a Christian means, at least in a vague sense, also to differentiate that path from being a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist. And, we might add, historically Christianity has, probably more than any other religion, been able to define what it means to be a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist; dissociative movements on which Christianity itself is profoundly dependent. As Caputo puts it: ‘“Christianity” is an “effect”, relatively stable but also relatively unstable, generated in the play of cultural, linguistic, historical, political, sexual (the list is endless) differences. Its identity is to be without identity, and hence endlessly reinventible. Identity is the effect of difference. Difference is not an inflection of identity.’47 Thatamanil had announced ‘widespread anxiety’, an anxiety that perhaps now makes more and more sense: while religious difference cannot be fixed to a stable location, it insinuates itself into the very soil of our religious identity, de-centring any notions of self-sufficiency: the question becomes that of the unstoppable translation of the untranslatable; the substitutability of the unique. In the face of the interreligious, religion thus finds itself in an antinomy not unlike the one Derrida describes for language in Monolingualism of the Other. On the one hand, we only ever have one religion: the religion that ‘constitutes me … as if, even before learning to [pray], I had been bound by some vows’. A religious vocabulary, on this take, is not so much a set of propositions as the very language in which it is possible to formulate propositions: ‘I cannot challenge it except by testifying to its omnipresence in me. It would always have preceded me. It is me.’48 This dimension, this ‘promise’, ‘gathers the language together’.49 It ‘gives the possibility of giving its word [donner sa parole], it gives the given word in the ordeal of a threatening and threatened promise: … the absolute impossibility of metalanguage’.50 On the other hand, however, we never only have one religion: any religious identity we might have, or religious tradition we might participate in, is always already profoundly marked by religious difference. What is most uniquely mine may not be mine. ‘I have only one [religion], yet it is not mine.’51 At issue here is the translation of the untranslatable, or, as Derrida continues, the contradictory and troubling experience of translatability as untranslatability, an ‘absolute uniqueness that can only be replaced because it is irreplaceable’.52 What is irreplaceable and untranslatable to us, our religion, may indeed be subjected to a translation, can indeed be said otherwise, finds itself in other permutations and other versions in other contexts; indeed, may not have its absolute origin in ‘our’ religion but may come from elsewhere. What allows us to breathe, what is self-evident and indeed presupposed in any approach to the interreligious, what allows us to speak religiously, our religious identity, is never ours. The experience of the religious as marked by religious difference is one of both autonomy and heteronomy, of something both intimately mine and drawn out to the other: ‘[t]he madness of the law places its possibility lastingly … inside the dwelling of this auto-heteronomy’.53 Or, in the words of Caputo, it is not ‘enough to say we each have our own identity. What is truly interesting is that we are not even identical with ourselves, that we are all inhabited from within by the other’.54 This ‘alienation’ (Derrida again) ‘lacks nothing that precedes or follows it’, for there never was an unalienated religion or identity.55 Translation is thus ‘absolute’, it cannot refer to an original or source language. We no longer know where we are ‘speaking from’.56 This aporia of auto-heteronomy is not just what happens to identity when it encounters an other—it is the problematic of identity as oriented towards the other. The aporetic situation that now faces us can thus be summed up as follows. On the one hand, the interreligious cannot be assigned a stable location or place, but remains a khōraic non-site that frustrates attempts to control or subdue it, as much both-and as neither-nor. On the other hand, religious identity depends on this non-site, as identity is always already oriented toward its ‘other’. The confrontation with difference thus confronts religious identity with the aporia that what makes it possible simultaneously makes it unstable. iv. dénouement: desire springs forth According to Derrida, is this very situation of absolute translation and anxiety from which a ‘desire springs forth’.57 It is at this point that Derrida explicitly introduces ‘religion’ to his consideration, for this desire is ‘a desire to reconstruct, to restore, but it is really a desire to invent a first language that would be, rather, a prior-to-the-first language’.58 Obviously, such a prior-to-the-first language, in which immemorial memories of untroubled belonging could be translated, does not exist. It can therefore ‘only be a target or, rather, a future language, a promised sentence, a language of the other, once again’.59 Anxiety thus gives rise to hope, but a hope for something that was never present: it is ‘the structural opening, the messianicity, without which messianism itself, in the strict or literal sense, would not be possible’.60 So this deconstructive experience of religious difference, wrought with aporias, appears to engender a desire for reconciliation or wholeness, which however remains the matter of a tenuous promise. In a Christian vocabulary, we would now be quick to name such a desire for the impossible ‘faith’, and perhaps it is indeed necessary for theology to embrace deconstruction of religion as that which also sets religion free, opening it up to the promise it harbours. This is, in his own way, the argument John Caputo makes in perhaps the most important interpretation of Derrida for theology, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida.61 But it is necessary to be careful here. For suggesting that the deconstruction of religion sets loose a messianic faith appears to reinscribe an opposition: the deconstruction of ‘religion’ or ‘religious identity’ would thus engender ‘faith’, not unlike what Bonhoeffer, or even Barth, had called for. Caputo subtitles this book Religion without Religion, suggesting it is not quite possible to make a clear distinction between what is deconstructed and what is intensified in this deconstruction.62 However, in his more recent work, he distinguishes more neatly, and in my view more problematically, between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’. Channelling Cantwell Smith almost verbatim, Caputo now calls for a ‘faith without beliefs’,63 where faith is ‘a deeper fidelity, a deeper responsibility to what is calling upon or visiting itself upon us unconditionally, wherever we live and whatever we believe’.64 While he had once emphasised the ‘debt’ all articulations of faith hold to tradition,65 he now writes that ‘[f]aith cannot fall back on millennia-old traditions, ancient manuscripts, Gothic cathedrals, liturgies, and prayer books’.66 When we attempt to fold a Christian ‘faith’ and this Derridean deconstructive expectation into each other, as Caputo does, it is crucial to remember that ‘faith’ cannot name something itself immune to such a deconstruction. When we neglect such a deconstructive vigilance, we move into dangerous proximity to a Western (Protestant) universalism, or Christian normativity. This is, again, profoundly political: for Caputo, it implies ‘the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe”, or of a “Christian politics”, lethal compounds that spell death for Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other’.67 It appears to me that this is indicative of a persistent ambiguity Derrida identifies: that in this ‘eschatological or messianic horizon, … the prior-to-the-first language can always run the risk of becoming or wanting to be another language of the master’.68 As each religion is so remarkable, it carries within itself the potential for taking itself as the religion par excellence, which ‘has the threatening face and features of colonial hegemony’.69 While these aporias of religious difference may engender a desire for what is to-come, which may be called ‘faith’ and thus become uniquely and deeply relevant for theology, this always runs the risk of becoming or wanting to be another first principle, another universal structure. Absent a metalanguage, we cannot bring this desire to speech outside of a particular religious language. Or, as a younger Derrida put it: ‘[b]reaks are always, and fatally, re-inscribed in an old cloth that must continually, interminably be undone’.70 In another language, therefore, we might call this ‘desire’ something like solidarity: out of the translatability of what may tenuously be called ‘faith’, a translatability never wholly transparent, a desire springs for a togetherness that does not depend on a shared identity or universal category, but remains interminably reliant on action, and makes itself apparent as a call to action. It is this persistently ambiguous and shaky fault line of the ‘inter’, that, as Homi Bhabha has it, ‘may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture’.71 We may thus see precisely in the aporetic anxiety that accompanies this khōraic difference the opening of a way towards conceptualising an interreligious solidarity. For the mere analysis of difference is hardly sufficient in the face of the material suffering engendered by the ‘haunting threat’ of this anxiety. For, at the end of this reflection, it is necessary to emphasise, as Derrida notes, that the politics of difference, even as they do not have a ‘place’, are very much about places, spaces, positions, jobs, territory, country, and so on.72 He warns, further, that simply because this alienation or ambiguity is the condition for all language, this must not lead to a kind of flattening in which the particular violence of colonial exploitation and alienation to be a mere illustration of a general condition: ‘[o]n the contrary, that is what allows the stakes to be repoliticized’. The silence of that hyphen does not pacify or appease anything, not a single torment, not a single torture. It will never silence their memory. It could even worsen the terror, the lesions, and the wounds. A hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.73 Action will therefore continue to be necessary for ‘co-resistance’, but not based on a shared identity or basic commonality, but rather on the (utopian) hope engendered by these very aporias, interminably to be remade. Solidarity will not find solid footing: it must be waged tirelessly. v. fin The spaces and discursive moments in which the interreligious are negotiated are, in this view, far from an add-on to otherwise stable religious identities; rather, religious identities are an effect of this negotiation. So while the ‘inter’ does not have space itself, is not a place or a site or a position, it is, in a sense, what gives space to the terms it relates. The promise of reconciliation the interreligious holds is haunted or threatened or ruptured from the inside by the impossibility of a stable gathering place. Commonality and difference, in this situation, are not two options: they are both at work at one, infuriatingly, unsettlingly: what we thought was unique and private is possibly widely shared. The interreligious is thus not just the encounter with others or strangers, fully-formed religious traditions working out the topography of the unclaimed deserts and mountains in ‘between’ them, but it is or can be the encounter with the radical constructedness or indeterminacy, the non-self-sufficiency of one’s own supposedly pure ‘religion’. The interreligious is not a space, or bridge, or clearing where we come together, but the desertification at the heart of our religious pastures and vineyards that haunt us with the possibility that we do not have it together, that what we ourselves believe is not stable and gathered in itself, but refers always elsewhere. This may well be cause for anxiety. But in this desertification we might also perceive an intensification of the promise religion harbours, a ‘desire’ for a truly interreligious solidarity. For there is no faith without the desert: we might find in this desertification the groundless grounds for a solidarity that goes beyond mere universality or shared identity. Such solidarity may find in the translatability of the unique—in the very desertification in our religious vineyards and orchards, jealously guarded—an intensified hope springing forth, for a peace in which each may sit under their own vine and fig tree, at peace and unafraid (Micah 4:4). REFERENCES Footnotes 1 For accessible overviews of such theological debates, see Paul Hedges, Controversies in Interreligious Dialogue and the Theology of Religions (London: SCM Press, 2010); Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002); Marianne Moyaert, Fragile Identities: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2011); John H. Hick and Paul F. Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987); Gavin D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: Myth of Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990); Oddbjørn Leirvik, Interreligious Studies: A Relational Approach to Religious Activism and the Study of Religion (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014). 2 Judith Gruber, ‘(Un)Silencing Hybridity’, in Mara Brecht and Reid B. Locklin (eds), Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), pp. 21–35, p. 25. 3 Leirvik, Interreligious Studies, p. 8. 4 Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 9. 5 Gil Anidjar, ‘Introduction: “Once More, Once More”: Derrida, the Arab, the Jew’, in Gil Anidjar and Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 5. 6Ibid., p. 7. 7Ibid., p. 7, n. 14. 8 As Anidjar elucidates, Judaism was historically the ‘theological other, Islam the political other’. When Judaism becomes political in the founding of the State of Israel, this ‘“forced” the Muslim out of the political sphere and into the theological and religious (‘Islamic fundamentalism’), thus maintaining the split in and of the Abrahamic’. Ibid., p. 5. 9Ibid., p. 7. 10Ibid., p. 26. 11 Jacques Derrida, On the Name (Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 80. 12 Plato, Timaeus, trans. and ed. Peter Kalkavage (Indianapolis, IN: Focus, 2016), 52a, 49a. Notably, the conversation is precipitated by Socrates’ desire to hear about the interaction of his ideal city with other cities. 13 Derrida, On the Name, p. xv. 14Ibid., p. 92. 15Ibid., p. 91. Emphasis in original in all citations. 16 John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 167. 17 Cf. Derrida, On the Name, p. 126. 18Ibid., p. xvi. 19 This term appears to originate in joint Israeli–Palestinian efforts to resist the occupation, cf. Leanna Gale, ‘“The Coloniser Who Refuses”: Co-Resistance and the Paradoxical Reality of Israeli Solidarity Activists’, Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 9.2 (2014) 49–64. For its use in a North American context, see Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, ‘Traditional Knowledge, Co-Existence and Co-Resistance’, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3.3 (2014) 145–58. 20 E.g. Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Daniel Dubuisson, The Western Construction of Religion: Myths, Knowledge, and Ideology trans. William Slayer (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). For our purposes, see especially John J. Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, in Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera (eds), Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), pp. 238–57; Paul Hedges, ‘Deconstructing Religion: Some Thoughts on Where We Go from Here—A Hermeneutical Proposal’, Exchange 47.1 (2018). I discuss the consequences of the deconstruction of ‘religion’ for interreligious studies in greater length in conversation with Paul Hedges in Marius van Hoogstraten, ‘A Disorder of Identity: Religious Difference “Without” “Religion”’, Exchange 47.1 (2018) 25–38. 21 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 246. 22 Jacques Derrida, ‘Faith and Knowledge’, in Acts of Religion (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 42–101, p. 64. 23Ibid., pp. 66–7. 24 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 244. 25Ibid., p. 248. 26Ibid., p. 247. 27 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1963). 28Ibid., p. 156. 29 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 54. 30Ibid., p. 69. 31 Derrida, ‘Faith and Knowledge’, p. 79. 32 John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), pp. 23–4. 33 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 21. 34Ibid., p. 1. 35Ibid., p. 20. 36Ibid., p. 23. 37Ibid., p. 14. 38Ibid., pp. 1–2. 39Ibid., p. 8. 40Ibid., p. 29. 41 While it is not the main concern in this work, religious difference in its ambiguity and instability is not absent from Derrida’s analysis: ethnic, linguistic, and religious categories blur into each other as Derrida’s childhood Jewish community calls ‘all non-Jewish French people “Catholics”, even if they were sometimes Protestants, or perhaps even Orthodox: “Catholic” meant anyone who was neither a Jew, a Berber, nor an Arab’, ibid., p. 52. At the same time, ‘the rabbi would wear a black cassock [like a priest,] … the “bar mitzvah” was called “communion”, and circumcision was named “baptism”’, ibid., p. 54. Methodologically, the wager here cannot be that of ‘applying’ Derrida ‘to’ religion, but rather it must be to pursue or chase the argument that unfolds when Derrida ‘on’ language is brought into contact with issues surrounding religious difference. 42 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 238. 43Ibid., p. 239. 44 Gruber, ‘(Un)Silencing Hybridity’, p. 26. 45 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 28. 46 Cf. van Hoogstraten, ‘A Disorder of Identity’. 47 Personal Correspondence, May 2016. 48 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 1. 49Ibid., p. 22. 50Ibid. 51Ibid., p. 2. 52Ibid., p. 89, n. 9. 53Ibid., p. 39. 54 John D. Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2015), p. 100. 55 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 25. 56Ibid., p. 61. 57Ibid. 58Ibid. 59Ibid., p. 62. 60Ibid., p. 68. 61 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. 62 Cf. Ibid., p. 141. 63 Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, p. 96. 64Ibid., p. 97. 65 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, p. 222. 66 Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, p. 98. 67 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, pp. 231–2. 68 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 62. 69Ibid., p. 69. 70 Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 24. 71 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2004), p. 56. 72 Derrida, On the Name, p. 104. 73 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 11. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Literature and Theology Oxford University Press

A Situation that Cannot be Found: Theorising the ‘Inter’ of the Interreligious

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Abstract

Abstract This article draws on the work of Jacques Derrida to investigate the ‘inter’ of the interreligious. I argue the typical imagination of the ‘inter’ as a space between religions has severe limitations. I suggest the situation is aporetic: On the one hand, the interreligious cannot be assigned a stable location or place, but remains a khōraic non-site that frustrates attempts to control or subdue it, as much both-and as neither-nor. On the other hand, however, religious identity depends on this non-site, as identity is always already oriented toward its ‘other.’ The confrontation with difference thus confronts religious identity with the aporia that what makes it possible simultaneously makes it unstable. What is most intimately mine, my religion, is not mine. Instead of a choice between interreligious commonality and difference, this deconstructive experience of religious difference may, paradoxically, engender a desire for reconciliation or wholeness, which remains the matter of a tenuous promise, making itself apparent as a call to solidarity. i. introduction Where ‘is’ difference? We may tend to frame debates on cultural, ethnic, religious or indeed sexual difference as a fundamental question whether ‘we’ are basically the same, or basically different. But underlying these options is a more fundamental question which conditions possible responses as well as the consequences of those responses. As Christian theology grapples with the significance and ‘status’ of non-Christian religions and the role it has historically played in the exclusion, subjugation and destruction of its members in Western societies,1 it is not just the choice between commonality and difference that it must confront. Rather, the question of how we think about difference—whether its meaning is given or malleable, whether it is absolute or relative, whether fault lines can be securely located or shift with discourse—not only accompanies the former, but precedes it. I am writing at a time at which difference appears to be causing widespread anxiety. In September 2017, the German federal elections saw the entry to Parliament of the strongest far-right movement in the country since the end of the Second World War. Similar movements have taken place in many societies in Europe and North America, vocally expressing concern about a feared loss of homogeneity and ‘identity’. Certainly, analyses of class and neoliberal failure will need to accompany a more comprehensive reading of this anxiety. Nevertheless, I would suggest that something about ‘difference itself’ feeds into it: an ambiguity or unruliness, the failure of our imaginaries of difference as a line or ‘space between’, failing to grasp the way difference, the ‘inter’ of the ‘intercultural’ or ‘interreligious’, cannot be assigned a place, profoundly affecting the stability of our own identities. We might consider this blurring of boundaries or hybridisation a ‘postmodern’ phenomenon, but, as Judith Gruber has recently argued, that would misunderstand the way any ‘stable’ identity is always already the product of ‘processes of mutual delineation’ that involve the ‘silencing of hybridity’.2 In this article, I investigate the nature of the ‘inter’ of the interreligious in all its ambiguity. I will argue there is some significant trouble with an idea of an ‘interreligious’ if we think of it as a ‘space between’,3 a space across certain unclaimed deserts in-between otherwise contiguous and homogenous ecosystems, as it is typically imagined. However, where does this leave us—is the ‘inter’ a gap to be bridged? A border to be opened? A no man’s land to be crossed? Where does it come from? Whom does it belong to? Does the ‘inter’ exist? If it exists, where is it? Such an investigation may seem like a profoundly theoretical exercise. However, I would argue that imagining the fault line of religious difference as a transparent, pre-existing space, or clearing, reinforces the idea that the other is already other, that this otherness is somehow given and not the product of historical, possibly violent, and always ambiguous processes of differentiation. It thus both cements difference and masks its historical production. If, however, we want to question and subvert this other(ed)ness without simply asserting an underlying universality, we need to start our investigation before or underneath these two options. As Jacques Derrida has written: the phenomena that interest me are precisely those that blur these boundaries, cross them, and make their historical artifice appear, also their violence, meaning the relations of force that are concentrated there and actually capitalize themselves there interminably.4 Building on Derrida, I will propose a reading that thinks difference or the ‘inter’ as wrought with aporias—which will make the anxiety not hard to understand. ii. (dis)locating the ‘inter’ On the one hand, it should strike one as obvious that this ‘between-space’ of the interreligious clearly does not ‘exist’ in any substantial topographical sense. It hardly makes sense to say, ‘there it is’, ‘here I have the interreligious’, this block of houses here is where Islam ends, and this crossroads is where Christianity ends, and this pavement here in between is the interreligious. Topographically or spatially, this is a banality, as religions are not purely regional, and probably never were to the extent that would allow for such a localisation. Conceptually, it is also far from obvious how such a ‘space between’ would function. Consider the figure of Abraham, a common figure in some instances of Christian/Muslim/Jewish interreligious dialogue. Abraham is not a figure ‘in-between’ the communities that appeal to his memory, and he is no less significant or at-home in either one of those traditions merely because he also appears in the other. But at the same time, as an interreligious figure, he is none of these specifically or exclusively. Things, concepts, and spaces we would call ‘interreligious’ are as much both the one and the other as they are neither. The ‘interreligious’ does not sit peacefully: religious scholar Gil Anidjar, in his comments on Derrida’s work on religion, writes the ‘Abrahamic’ as an ‘original gathering root of the three major monotheistic faiths’. This ‘may be understood as a space for coming together, for hospitality—but also for comparison, for competition, rendering “the incommensurable comparable”’. The Abrahamic is thus also profoundly dangerous: it ‘oscillates between the haunting threat of a volcanic explosion, … and the promise of peaceful reconciliation’.5 The promise of reconciliation the Abrahamic holds is threatened or ruptured from the inside by the impossibility of this gathering, and when speaking of ‘the encounter … of Judaism, Christianity, Islam’,6 Anidjar uses Derrida’s famous qualifier ‘if it is one’, used to speak of things that do not exist or indeed are impossible. Interreligious reconciliation is promised/threatened—as impossible. As an ‘Arab Jew’, Anidjar argues, a figure such as Derrida frustrates European Christian imaginaries that would identify ethnic and religious categories in order to maintain ‘the split in and of the Abrahamic’.7 Derrida thus could be said to stand for the way an Abrahamic connectedness destabilises categories of alterity. Christianity, or Europe, seeks but fails to keep the threatening instability of the Abrahamic under control by assigning one of its ‘others’ a uniquely theological, the other a uniquely political, mode of alterity.8 ‘The Abrahamic … dissociates and breaks the dividing movement around which “Europe”—and religion—constitutes itself.’9 Anidjar’s style is perhaps rather singular, yet there is something of particular value in his argument. To think the ‘inter’ like the ‘Abrahamic’ means to think the interreligious not as something between ‘religions’. Rather, the ‘inter’ does not find rest in a stable location, cannot be assigned a place or brought under control. Anidjar calls the Abrahamic an ‘unreadable non-site of implication (and of dislocation)’.10 The interreligious thus becomes a spacing or difference without presence, without a location. Within Derrida’s corpus, such a non-site calls to mind the placeless place of khōra, the ‘spacing of de-construction’ itself. 11 Derrida finds this in the Timaeus, where Plato discusses khōra as the space in which creation takes place. It is not in itself created, nor does it create, nor does it serve as a form or paradigm for creation: it is simply the ‘receptacle of all becoming’.12 While it thus gives space to all that is, it is itself devoid of character and does not have a location or take up space itself. Derrida finds in this an ‘exemplary aporia’,13 a spacing which does not ‘exist’ or have place itself, yet gives space to all, without however actively giving anything. Referring to khōra without an article, as for a proper name, Derrida describes how khōra ‘cannot easily be situated, assigned to a residence: it is more situating than situated’.14 It/she ‘oscillates between two types of oscillation: the double exclusion (neither/nor) and the participation (both this and that)’.15 Philosopher John Caputo describes khōra as ‘the interval or spacing of différance’, that Derridean quasi-principle that undermines the stability of any meaning or identity.16 Thought of in proximity to khōra, the ‘inter’ could thus be said to both make an opposition possible, giving space to the terms it relates, but simultaneously defying a logic of opposition. Such an ‘inter’ would deprive the religions of the proud assurance of an origin, opening up a non-space of preoriginal indeterminacy.17 In one sense, a khōraic ‘inter’ would stress the indeterminacy or neutrality of any encounter, that nothing is given per se and everything is up for conversation. However, that would only be one side of this aporetic khōra. For Derrida stresses that the ‘incredible and improbable experience’ of khōra is also political, or indeed a ‘putting to test of the political’.18 A khōraic interreligious would not be about mere coexistence, finding common ground or a pacific relation ‘between’ bounded religions, but would show how the commons are groundless; it would be a pact with khōraic invasion and frustration of any attempt towards dominance. The politics of a khōraic interreligious could perhaps be described as ‘co-resistance’:19 a shared commitment to subverting the way ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ are employed to exert control. Discourse on ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ has historically been a key way in which Christianity has sought to pacify difference. As religious scholars increasingly point out, the notion that religions are conceptually bounded, discrete entities, with a conceptual No Man’s Land in-between them, is a modern phenomenon.20 Rather than a universal and timeless feature of human experience, ‘religion’ appears to be of decidedly Western provenance, and ‘perhaps one of the West’s most successful exports’.21 As Derrida had warned, when we discuss religion, ‘we must formally take note of the fact that we are already speaking Latin’.22 Religion circulates in the world, one might say, like an English word … that has been to Rome and taken a detour to the United States. … It imposes itself in a particularly palpable manner within the conceptual apparatus of international law and of global political rhetoric. Wherever this apparatus dominates, it articulates itself through a discourse on religion. From here on, the word ‘religion’ is calmly (and violently) applied to things which have always been and remain foreign to what this word names and arrests in its history.23 The construction of ‘religion’ thus serves on the one hand to create a kind of commonality: religions are considered versions of the same universal human experience, despite the particular Christian-European provenance of the specific grouping of experiences and practices named as ‘religion’ and the frequent absence of simple translational equivalents. On the other hand, it works to create a sharp separation between those versions. In the words of Thatamanil, ‘religion’ is ‘deployed to reify and thereby to separate peoples and traditions, whose complex and intertwined histories hardly permit of essentialist disjuncture’.24 The difference between religions is imagined as not just a difference in degree, but a qualitative difference, a difference both stable and pre-existing. This is unlike differences ‘within’ religions, which are the result of splits and differentiations: ‘the category generates, without anything so blatant as an assertion, the clear demarcation between the religions themselves’.25 As Thatamanil argues, theology of religions and the related field of comparative theology have largely taken for granted that there simply ‘is’ such a ‘thing’ as ‘religion’, and that there ‘are’ such ‘things’ as ‘religions’: contiguous and clearly delineated, that then encounter each other as fully formed relative strangers, which is what we call interreligious encounter.26 Note, however, the doubled nature of this construction: ‘religions’ are constructed as basically the same as well as basically different, as different versions of a same kind. It is thus not surprising that some who have questioned the discourse on ‘religion’ have instead affirmed something more universal: a faith underlying all human experiences of ‘religion’. This is, at least, the conclusion drawn by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, one of the first Western scholars to note ‘religion’ as a Western construct.27 As an alternative, he proposed an ‘inner religious experience or involvement of a particular person’ which he called ‘faith’, alongside ‘the entire mass of objective data that constitute the historical deposit … of the past religious life of the community’ termed ‘cumulative traditions’.28 Smith’s suggestion has not caught on, and it is not clear to me what was to be gained from the shift from ‘religion’ to ‘faith/tradition’. The substitution for one problematic universal category—‘religion’—for another—‘faith’—hardly seems to solve the deeper issues, and adds further difficulties with the separation of an inward ‘faith’ from an outward ‘tradition’, which Derrida calls an ‘insidious Christian contamination’.29 The affirmation of a universal, underlying, inward ‘faith’ is already Christian. In Derrida’s words, ‘there is no metalanguage, and … a language shall always be called upon to speak about the language—because the latter does not exist’.30 Universalist attempts to distinguish a ‘faith’ from a ‘religion’ appear as an attempt to insulate some kind of core or essence from what is deconstructable about religion, but they miss the profound extent to which these two bleed into each other and mutually condition each other. The assertion of a universal ‘faith’ as commonality across different religions thus reinscribes this colonial moment of the discourse on ‘religion’, a ‘pacifying gesture, in the most European-colonial sense possible’.31 It is worth noting at this point that Derrida is not immune to the temptation of universalism. In an interview with Caputo, he offers two options. Either the Messianic, the structural openness that animates Abrahamic religion, precedes the historic messianisms as a universal structure of which religions are cases. If this is not so, religious traditions must be considered ‘irreducible events’, from which the messianic is only an abstracted indication, ‘inviolable secrets … that are never translated except as untranslatable seals’. But, to my mind, this second option is also fraught with difficulties: it reinstates a sense of purity into ‘religions’, understood as loyalties to singular sources. In other words, Derrida here hesitates between a universal faith on the one hand, and a view of religious difference as given and fixed, secondary to the constituting events of ‘religions’, on the other.32 As I hope to make clear below, however, his work on language and identity offers another way to think this relationship, pointing towards conclusions that Derrida did not draw himself. Without stable ‘religions’, which would leave the ‘inter’ as a transparently articulated boundary or space ‘between’ them, it makes intuitive sense to argue that difference is only superficial to a deeper, universal shared experience. But, ultimately, both options—a universal category or ‘irreducible events’, commonality versus difference—gloss over the way religious difference itself is produced and shaped, and how religious difference is employed to, in turn, shape and define some collectivities of text and practice as ‘our religion’, and some as ‘other religions’. iii. antinomy: replacing the irreplacable While the ‘inter’ thus does not quite exist—is never present—it could, on the other hand, be argued that it is never absent, that there is nothing other than the ‘inter’, in the sense that difference is never removed from the enunciation of identity. This would be an aporia resembling the one Derrida discusses in Monolingualism of the Other: ‘[t]here is no such thing as x, there is nothing but x.’33 In this text, Derrida considers his own relation to the French language, being himself a Francophone Algerian Jew. French is his mother tongue, but—Derrida not ‘being’ French as a child—also not ‘his’ language. ‘I have only one language; it is not mine,’ he intimates.34 While this is admittedly a deeply specific case, Derrida notes the aporias he explores may well make themselves apparent beyond his own very specific biography. The text thus contains a number of reflections on origin, ambiguity, and difference that ‘testify to the features of a structure nevertheless universal’;35 an antinomy that ‘carries well beyond these determinate conditions’36 and may, also, illuminate this situation of the interreligious. Indeed, Derrida himself raises the question of religious desire towards the end of the text. According to Derrida, his biographical situation betrays a more general ‘disorder of identity [trouble d’identité]’37 at work, in its own way, also in other linguistic situations: on the one hand, we only ever have one language that is truly ours, the language in which we come to speak, which ‘constitutes me, it dictates even the ipseity of all things to me … as if, even before learning to speak, I had been bound by some vows’.38 On the other hand, however, ‘[w]e never only speak one language’39 for ‘[t]his I would have formed itself, then, at the site of a situation that cannot be found, a site always referring elsewhere, to something other, to another language, to the other in general’.40 Even if difference itself is not stable, cannot be found, it insinuates itself into any formation of identity. While Derrida does not extend this argument to religious difference and identity specifically, it can be argued that religious identity, too, is always already profoundly marked by religious difference.41 Thatamanil thus argues that all of Christian history could be described as a sequence of interactions and differentiations with ‘movements and traditions that Christians have come to demarcate as non-Christian’.42 In other words, religious difference is not simply given but historically produced; what counts as the ‘religious other’ is what is produced as other. Thatamanil claims that greater honesty in this regard ‘would unearth moments of widespread anxiety’ among the ‘custodians of tradition’ as the other is no longer kept at a comfortable distance but appears in an uncomfortable proximity.43 As Gruber contends, ‘the religious other is not simply “there” … but emerges from powerful exclusions in which the identities of self and other are negotiated’.44 Enunciations of the ‘religious’ are never separate from the negotiation and contestation of religious difference; even after its historical production, difference remains crucial to identity as it continues to depend on stating, understanding, arguing its position to an other, in distinction to an other, in reference and thus in deferral to an other. In Derrida’s words, identity ‘is never given, received, or attained; only the interminable … process of identification endures’.45 The question for a theology of religious difference should thus not so much be whether the religious other is similar or different to ‘us’, but what role the enunciation of difference has played and continues to play in the process of identification of both ‘us’ and ‘other’. It will be necessary to question the underlying assumption of most theological approaches to religious difference: that identity logically and historically precedes difference. This marginal status of entanglement and difference compared to the proud confidence of religious identity is reinscribed wherever the religious other is understood as marked by a qualitatively unique and persistent otherness, not the product of ambiguous processes of differentiation but simply ‘there’.46 Religious difference is not secondary to identity, but co-constitutive of it, thus always complicating and disturbing any attempt towards a singular origin. The ‘inter’ itself becomes the (non-)site of the articulation of religion as identity, differentiation and relation, and therefore of its destabilisation and dislocation. The ‘inter’ thus signifies not merely the accidental meeting of otherwise discrete traditions, not just a neutral site between bounded wholes that do not affect each other, but rather the way a religious community is always already marked by its ‘other’. In other words, the ambiguities and difficulties that mark the interreligious are not just the question of what happens when the religious comes into contact with the interreligious—rather they are the question of the religious itself as interreligious, as always already marked by the need for translation. There is no ‘religious identity’ that precedes the articulation and negotiation of religious difference, neither as a universal nor as an ‘irreducible event’—rather, religious identity is constituted in the process of that articulation. To put this simply, being a Christian means, at least in a vague sense, also to differentiate that path from being a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist. And, we might add, historically Christianity has, probably more than any other religion, been able to define what it means to be a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist; dissociative movements on which Christianity itself is profoundly dependent. As Caputo puts it: ‘“Christianity” is an “effect”, relatively stable but also relatively unstable, generated in the play of cultural, linguistic, historical, political, sexual (the list is endless) differences. Its identity is to be without identity, and hence endlessly reinventible. Identity is the effect of difference. Difference is not an inflection of identity.’47 Thatamanil had announced ‘widespread anxiety’, an anxiety that perhaps now makes more and more sense: while religious difference cannot be fixed to a stable location, it insinuates itself into the very soil of our religious identity, de-centring any notions of self-sufficiency: the question becomes that of the unstoppable translation of the untranslatable; the substitutability of the unique. In the face of the interreligious, religion thus finds itself in an antinomy not unlike the one Derrida describes for language in Monolingualism of the Other. On the one hand, we only ever have one religion: the religion that ‘constitutes me … as if, even before learning to [pray], I had been bound by some vows’. A religious vocabulary, on this take, is not so much a set of propositions as the very language in which it is possible to formulate propositions: ‘I cannot challenge it except by testifying to its omnipresence in me. It would always have preceded me. It is me.’48 This dimension, this ‘promise’, ‘gathers the language together’.49 It ‘gives the possibility of giving its word [donner sa parole], it gives the given word in the ordeal of a threatening and threatened promise: … the absolute impossibility of metalanguage’.50 On the other hand, however, we never only have one religion: any religious identity we might have, or religious tradition we might participate in, is always already profoundly marked by religious difference. What is most uniquely mine may not be mine. ‘I have only one [religion], yet it is not mine.’51 At issue here is the translation of the untranslatable, or, as Derrida continues, the contradictory and troubling experience of translatability as untranslatability, an ‘absolute uniqueness that can only be replaced because it is irreplaceable’.52 What is irreplaceable and untranslatable to us, our religion, may indeed be subjected to a translation, can indeed be said otherwise, finds itself in other permutations and other versions in other contexts; indeed, may not have its absolute origin in ‘our’ religion but may come from elsewhere. What allows us to breathe, what is self-evident and indeed presupposed in any approach to the interreligious, what allows us to speak religiously, our religious identity, is never ours. The experience of the religious as marked by religious difference is one of both autonomy and heteronomy, of something both intimately mine and drawn out to the other: ‘[t]he madness of the law places its possibility lastingly … inside the dwelling of this auto-heteronomy’.53 Or, in the words of Caputo, it is not ‘enough to say we each have our own identity. What is truly interesting is that we are not even identical with ourselves, that we are all inhabited from within by the other’.54 This ‘alienation’ (Derrida again) ‘lacks nothing that precedes or follows it’, for there never was an unalienated religion or identity.55 Translation is thus ‘absolute’, it cannot refer to an original or source language. We no longer know where we are ‘speaking from’.56 This aporia of auto-heteronomy is not just what happens to identity when it encounters an other—it is the problematic of identity as oriented towards the other. The aporetic situation that now faces us can thus be summed up as follows. On the one hand, the interreligious cannot be assigned a stable location or place, but remains a khōraic non-site that frustrates attempts to control or subdue it, as much both-and as neither-nor. On the other hand, religious identity depends on this non-site, as identity is always already oriented toward its ‘other’. The confrontation with difference thus confronts religious identity with the aporia that what makes it possible simultaneously makes it unstable. iv. dénouement: desire springs forth According to Derrida, is this very situation of absolute translation and anxiety from which a ‘desire springs forth’.57 It is at this point that Derrida explicitly introduces ‘religion’ to his consideration, for this desire is ‘a desire to reconstruct, to restore, but it is really a desire to invent a first language that would be, rather, a prior-to-the-first language’.58 Obviously, such a prior-to-the-first language, in which immemorial memories of untroubled belonging could be translated, does not exist. It can therefore ‘only be a target or, rather, a future language, a promised sentence, a language of the other, once again’.59 Anxiety thus gives rise to hope, but a hope for something that was never present: it is ‘the structural opening, the messianicity, without which messianism itself, in the strict or literal sense, would not be possible’.60 So this deconstructive experience of religious difference, wrought with aporias, appears to engender a desire for reconciliation or wholeness, which however remains the matter of a tenuous promise. In a Christian vocabulary, we would now be quick to name such a desire for the impossible ‘faith’, and perhaps it is indeed necessary for theology to embrace deconstruction of religion as that which also sets religion free, opening it up to the promise it harbours. This is, in his own way, the argument John Caputo makes in perhaps the most important interpretation of Derrida for theology, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida.61 But it is necessary to be careful here. For suggesting that the deconstruction of religion sets loose a messianic faith appears to reinscribe an opposition: the deconstruction of ‘religion’ or ‘religious identity’ would thus engender ‘faith’, not unlike what Bonhoeffer, or even Barth, had called for. Caputo subtitles this book Religion without Religion, suggesting it is not quite possible to make a clear distinction between what is deconstructed and what is intensified in this deconstruction.62 However, in his more recent work, he distinguishes more neatly, and in my view more problematically, between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’. Channelling Cantwell Smith almost verbatim, Caputo now calls for a ‘faith without beliefs’,63 where faith is ‘a deeper fidelity, a deeper responsibility to what is calling upon or visiting itself upon us unconditionally, wherever we live and whatever we believe’.64 While he had once emphasised the ‘debt’ all articulations of faith hold to tradition,65 he now writes that ‘[f]aith cannot fall back on millennia-old traditions, ancient manuscripts, Gothic cathedrals, liturgies, and prayer books’.66 When we attempt to fold a Christian ‘faith’ and this Derridean deconstructive expectation into each other, as Caputo does, it is crucial to remember that ‘faith’ cannot name something itself immune to such a deconstruction. When we neglect such a deconstructive vigilance, we move into dangerous proximity to a Western (Protestant) universalism, or Christian normativity. This is, again, profoundly political: for Caputo, it implies ‘the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe”, or of a “Christian politics”, lethal compounds that spell death for Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other’.67 It appears to me that this is indicative of a persistent ambiguity Derrida identifies: that in this ‘eschatological or messianic horizon, … the prior-to-the-first language can always run the risk of becoming or wanting to be another language of the master’.68 As each religion is so remarkable, it carries within itself the potential for taking itself as the religion par excellence, which ‘has the threatening face and features of colonial hegemony’.69 While these aporias of religious difference may engender a desire for what is to-come, which may be called ‘faith’ and thus become uniquely and deeply relevant for theology, this always runs the risk of becoming or wanting to be another first principle, another universal structure. Absent a metalanguage, we cannot bring this desire to speech outside of a particular religious language. Or, as a younger Derrida put it: ‘[b]reaks are always, and fatally, re-inscribed in an old cloth that must continually, interminably be undone’.70 In another language, therefore, we might call this ‘desire’ something like solidarity: out of the translatability of what may tenuously be called ‘faith’, a translatability never wholly transparent, a desire springs for a togetherness that does not depend on a shared identity or universal category, but remains interminably reliant on action, and makes itself apparent as a call to action. It is this persistently ambiguous and shaky fault line of the ‘inter’, that, as Homi Bhabha has it, ‘may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture’.71 We may thus see precisely in the aporetic anxiety that accompanies this khōraic difference the opening of a way towards conceptualising an interreligious solidarity. For the mere analysis of difference is hardly sufficient in the face of the material suffering engendered by the ‘haunting threat’ of this anxiety. For, at the end of this reflection, it is necessary to emphasise, as Derrida notes, that the politics of difference, even as they do not have a ‘place’, are very much about places, spaces, positions, jobs, territory, country, and so on.72 He warns, further, that simply because this alienation or ambiguity is the condition for all language, this must not lead to a kind of flattening in which the particular violence of colonial exploitation and alienation to be a mere illustration of a general condition: ‘[o]n the contrary, that is what allows the stakes to be repoliticized’. The silence of that hyphen does not pacify or appease anything, not a single torment, not a single torture. It will never silence their memory. It could even worsen the terror, the lesions, and the wounds. A hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.73 Action will therefore continue to be necessary for ‘co-resistance’, but not based on a shared identity or basic commonality, but rather on the (utopian) hope engendered by these very aporias, interminably to be remade. Solidarity will not find solid footing: it must be waged tirelessly. v. fin The spaces and discursive moments in which the interreligious are negotiated are, in this view, far from an add-on to otherwise stable religious identities; rather, religious identities are an effect of this negotiation. So while the ‘inter’ does not have space itself, is not a place or a site or a position, it is, in a sense, what gives space to the terms it relates. The promise of reconciliation the interreligious holds is haunted or threatened or ruptured from the inside by the impossibility of a stable gathering place. Commonality and difference, in this situation, are not two options: they are both at work at one, infuriatingly, unsettlingly: what we thought was unique and private is possibly widely shared. The interreligious is thus not just the encounter with others or strangers, fully-formed religious traditions working out the topography of the unclaimed deserts and mountains in ‘between’ them, but it is or can be the encounter with the radical constructedness or indeterminacy, the non-self-sufficiency of one’s own supposedly pure ‘religion’. The interreligious is not a space, or bridge, or clearing where we come together, but the desertification at the heart of our religious pastures and vineyards that haunt us with the possibility that we do not have it together, that what we ourselves believe is not stable and gathered in itself, but refers always elsewhere. This may well be cause for anxiety. But in this desertification we might also perceive an intensification of the promise religion harbours, a ‘desire’ for a truly interreligious solidarity. For there is no faith without the desert: we might find in this desertification the groundless grounds for a solidarity that goes beyond mere universality or shared identity. Such solidarity may find in the translatability of the unique—in the very desertification in our religious vineyards and orchards, jealously guarded—an intensified hope springing forth, for a peace in which each may sit under their own vine and fig tree, at peace and unafraid (Micah 4:4). REFERENCES Footnotes 1 For accessible overviews of such theological debates, see Paul Hedges, Controversies in Interreligious Dialogue and the Theology of Religions (London: SCM Press, 2010); Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002); Marianne Moyaert, Fragile Identities: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2011); John H. Hick and Paul F. Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987); Gavin D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: Myth of Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990); Oddbjørn Leirvik, Interreligious Studies: A Relational Approach to Religious Activism and the Study of Religion (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014). 2 Judith Gruber, ‘(Un)Silencing Hybridity’, in Mara Brecht and Reid B. Locklin (eds), Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), pp. 21–35, p. 25. 3 Leirvik, Interreligious Studies, p. 8. 4 Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 9. 5 Gil Anidjar, ‘Introduction: “Once More, Once More”: Derrida, the Arab, the Jew’, in Gil Anidjar and Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 5. 6Ibid., p. 7. 7Ibid., p. 7, n. 14. 8 As Anidjar elucidates, Judaism was historically the ‘theological other, Islam the political other’. When Judaism becomes political in the founding of the State of Israel, this ‘“forced” the Muslim out of the political sphere and into the theological and religious (‘Islamic fundamentalism’), thus maintaining the split in and of the Abrahamic’. Ibid., p. 5. 9Ibid., p. 7. 10Ibid., p. 26. 11 Jacques Derrida, On the Name (Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 80. 12 Plato, Timaeus, trans. and ed. Peter Kalkavage (Indianapolis, IN: Focus, 2016), 52a, 49a. Notably, the conversation is precipitated by Socrates’ desire to hear about the interaction of his ideal city with other cities. 13 Derrida, On the Name, p. xv. 14Ibid., p. 92. 15Ibid., p. 91. Emphasis in original in all citations. 16 John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 167. 17 Cf. Derrida, On the Name, p. 126. 18Ibid., p. xvi. 19 This term appears to originate in joint Israeli–Palestinian efforts to resist the occupation, cf. Leanna Gale, ‘“The Coloniser Who Refuses”: Co-Resistance and the Paradoxical Reality of Israeli Solidarity Activists’, Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 9.2 (2014) 49–64. For its use in a North American context, see Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, ‘Traditional Knowledge, Co-Existence and Co-Resistance’, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3.3 (2014) 145–58. 20 E.g. Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Daniel Dubuisson, The Western Construction of Religion: Myths, Knowledge, and Ideology trans. William Slayer (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). For our purposes, see especially John J. Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, in Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera (eds), Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), pp. 238–57; Paul Hedges, ‘Deconstructing Religion: Some Thoughts on Where We Go from Here—A Hermeneutical Proposal’, Exchange 47.1 (2018). I discuss the consequences of the deconstruction of ‘religion’ for interreligious studies in greater length in conversation with Paul Hedges in Marius van Hoogstraten, ‘A Disorder of Identity: Religious Difference “Without” “Religion”’, Exchange 47.1 (2018) 25–38. 21 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 246. 22 Jacques Derrida, ‘Faith and Knowledge’, in Acts of Religion (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 42–101, p. 64. 23Ibid., pp. 66–7. 24 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 244. 25Ibid., p. 248. 26Ibid., p. 247. 27 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1963). 28Ibid., p. 156. 29 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 54. 30Ibid., p. 69. 31 Derrida, ‘Faith and Knowledge’, p. 79. 32 John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), pp. 23–4. 33 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 21. 34Ibid., p. 1. 35Ibid., p. 20. 36Ibid., p. 23. 37Ibid., p. 14. 38Ibid., pp. 1–2. 39Ibid., p. 8. 40Ibid., p. 29. 41 While it is not the main concern in this work, religious difference in its ambiguity and instability is not absent from Derrida’s analysis: ethnic, linguistic, and religious categories blur into each other as Derrida’s childhood Jewish community calls ‘all non-Jewish French people “Catholics”, even if they were sometimes Protestants, or perhaps even Orthodox: “Catholic” meant anyone who was neither a Jew, a Berber, nor an Arab’, ibid., p. 52. At the same time, ‘the rabbi would wear a black cassock [like a priest,] … the “bar mitzvah” was called “communion”, and circumcision was named “baptism”’, ibid., p. 54. Methodologically, the wager here cannot be that of ‘applying’ Derrida ‘to’ religion, but rather it must be to pursue or chase the argument that unfolds when Derrida ‘on’ language is brought into contact with issues surrounding religious difference. 42 Thatamanil, ‘Comparative Theology after “Religion”’, p. 238. 43Ibid., p. 239. 44 Gruber, ‘(Un)Silencing Hybridity’, p. 26. 45 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 28. 46 Cf. van Hoogstraten, ‘A Disorder of Identity’. 47 Personal Correspondence, May 2016. 48 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 1. 49Ibid., p. 22. 50Ibid. 51Ibid., p. 2. 52Ibid., p. 89, n. 9. 53Ibid., p. 39. 54 John D. Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2015), p. 100. 55 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 25. 56Ibid., p. 61. 57Ibid. 58Ibid. 59Ibid., p. 62. 60Ibid., p. 68. 61 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. 62 Cf. Ibid., p. 141. 63 Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, p. 96. 64Ibid., p. 97. 65 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, p. 222. 66 Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, p. 98. 67 Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, pp. 231–2. 68 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 62. 69Ibid., p. 69. 70 Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 24. 71 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2004), p. 56. 72 Derrida, On the Name, p. 104. 73 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 11. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Literature and TheologyOxford University Press

Published: May 30, 2018

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