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Irreconcilable Differences?
Jacques Derrida and the Question of Religion


Conference Description:

During an interview given in 1990, Jacques Derrida pointed out the importance of analyzing the Gulf War in terms that would recognize what links the "split genealogy" of the West and its philosophical history "to several great and (despite what people say) irreconcilable monotheisms." Twelve years later, an equally urgent appeal could be made with regard to the role of religious difference within the numerous eruptions of violence that have recently dominated international politics -- notably, in addition to the current war against Iraq itself, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in the Balkans, 9/11 and its global repercussions, and the intensification of the border conflict between India and Pakistan. As these and related developments indicate, the analysis of religious difference -- as operative both among the three great monotheisms and between these and other religious tradition -- is indispensable to any critical understanding of today's world. This conference aims, therefore, to advance such analysis and to promote such understanding through a focused exploration of Derrida's writings on religion and related topics.

While Derrida is perhaps best known in the U.S. among literary theorists and Continental philosophers, the importance of his work to the question of religion has received growing critical attention over the past decade. Derrida's writings on religion address and question many of the fundamental concepts that inform the three Abrahamic religions and their cultures; by investigating such concepts -- from election, exemplarity, and sacrifice to radical evil, testimony and witnessing -- Derrida's writings attempt to rethink the logic of religious difference and elucidate its significance for contemporary culture and society. As Derrida's work strongly suggests, such a rethinking today would need especially to address -- beyond the assertions of ecumenism and mutual understanding -- the wounds of irreconcilable differences. It is only through the avowal of such wounds that "living together," as Derrida asserts, might go beyond mere necessity and reach the space of a "living well together." The irreconcilable differences among the three monotheistic religions, as well as between each of these and other religious traditions, need to be articulated and clarified in order to yield the promises and chances of a "living well together" today.

Focusing, then, on what this "today" might imply, the proposed conference will investigate the importance of Derrida's work to our understanding of such pressing topics as the relation between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West; the new "wars of religion" and their implications for European modernity, the nation-state, and international law; the complex interplay of religion, economics, media, and techno-science within the processes of globalization; the role of sexuality and the body in violent religious conflict; contemporary formulations of "radical evil"; and the meaning of concepts like "tolerance" and "hospitality," the "enemy" and the "neighbor."

This will be the first major public conference to focus on Jacques Derrida's work in relation to the question of religion and conflict in today's world. The conference promises to be distinctive thanks both to the plurality of religious traditions examined and to the multiplicity of disciplinary approaches engaged. It will include scholars of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism who work in and between fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, philosophy, political theory, literary studies, theology, religious studies, media studies, and gender studies.


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