Interesse am Anderen. Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zum Verhältnis von Religion und Rationalität. Für Heiko Schulz zum 60 Geburtstag, ed. by Gerhard Schreiber, Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. xix + 833. ISBN: 978-3-11-065958-0.
This festschrift has been published by Gerhard Schreiber (Technical University of Darmstadt) on the occasion of the sixtieth birthday of Heiko Schulz, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy of Religion at the Goethe University Frankfurt. It contains 35 contributions (in German and English) from various disciplines organised into five sections that follow important paths of Schulz’s work, in particular those of a fruitful mutual interest between religion/faith and rationality, and of an ongoing dialogue with the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
The articles of the first section are guided by a number of central questions on the essence of religion. Is religion an interior predisposition of human beings that has always belonged to their conditio humana? Or is religion an experience of transcendence, and as an experience characterised by openness and mutability? And what is its relationship to theology? Is religion an all-too human experience compared to the stability of theology, which claims to express a divine and immutable point of view? And does not the plurality of religions with their various proposals for salvation undermine the claim to the immutability of theology? And again: What is the relationship between the religious tradition and the contribution that each individual can make to it? Is the religious tradition something into which the individual is born, or is it something that (s)he produces? Is religion the translation of a vertical communication with God into a horizontal communication with other human beings? Is religion a form of communication at all? Or does it need a centre of silence in both divine and human verbality?
In this section we find a different take on religion. The essays investigate the relationship between religion/faith and rationality in different classical authors such as Hildegard of Bingen, G.W.F. Hegel, protagonists of the Jewish tradition in Germany, William James, Paul Tillich, and Alvin Plantinga. Søren Kierkegaard is a constant presence in these essays, either as a direct object of the investigation or, more discreetly, in the background as an author who par excellence dealt with the conflict between faith and rationality and thus is an ideal dialogue partner on this topic. A core question common to most of the essays in this section is whether faith can really be conceived as an antagonist of reason, or whether it would be better to differentiate between reason and understanding (Vernunft and Verstand). Since for many of these authors reason can be understood as the human capacity to perceive the divine, to be open for revelation, reason should in fact be seen as an ally of faith rather than its enemy. The real danger for faith is posed by the activity of the understanding which, as an omni-rationalising attitude of man, closes off any possibility to be open for every religious experience.
Rationality and Non-Rationality of Faith and Religion
Sections three and four are conceived as complementary and deal with the dialectical game between rationality and non-rationality, between theology or even science on the one hand, and faith and religion on the other hand. A key aspect of theology, and of Schulz’s thought, is the theory of faith. In this regard, Schulz poses a question that is a central animating concern of his work as a whole: How should the relationship between theology and faith be conceived, if theory must always be based on a solid rational ground? Faith, by contrast, grows out of an existential bond and a personal decision of the individual which, even though not irrational, nonetheless cannot be rationally grounded. Schulz remarks that nobody will ask, without being taken for a fool, whether a theory of crime should itself constitute criminality. Why, then, should we be worried that a theory of faith is non-rational, just because its object could be interpreted as non-rational? The rational task of theology, so the suggestion of one essay, is to reflect on the production of religious sense and to describe the function of the individual acts in this sense-production. The description must be rational and coherent but the practices of faith and religion that theology as a rational discourse attempts to describe need not necessarily be rationally explicable; indeed, they can even appear to be completely irrational.
The final section addresses the ethical implications of faith/religion. Can the religious production of sense only be understood and judged from the ethical standpoint of praxis, namely from its last concrete manifestation in human interaction? This interaction, to be ethical, should be completely free and based on reciprocal responsibility and mutual respect among persons. Does this mutual ethical relationship among human beings (which could be social and even political) take inspiration from the relation of the individual to a personal God? Can the ethical interpersonal relationship take inspiration from or be grounded on the religious one? Or is religion and the relationship of human being to a transcendent God something irrational and also radically unethical? This, at any rate, is what Kierkegaard claims in his interpretation of the biblical story of Abraham, who is firmly willing to sacrifice his son Isaac out of love for, and at the behest of, the transcendent God. Does the I-Thou relationship between the individual and God ground interpersonal ethics or does this relationship undermine and destroy it?
In short: Interesse am Anderen is a book that deals with central questions on the role of religion and faith in the history of philosophy and theology and in our modern society. Because of the constant presence of the dialogue with Søren Kierkegaard, which characterizes not just many contributions to this book but also the whole work of Heiko Schulz, Interesse am Anderen takes an existential turn that makes it very lively and also worth reading for post-modern readers.
Free University of Berlin; University of Padova