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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



RELIGIOUS MYSTERY AND RATIONAL REFLECTION: Excursions in the Phenomenology and Philosophy of Religion by Louis K. Dupre ($20.00, paperback, 159 pages, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0802843255

How should philosophy approach religious experience? Can philosophy do more than describe religious experience without discussing its object? Can religion make genuine truth claims? These are some of the questions raised
in these essays. How should philosophy approach religious experience, which by definition surpasses its competence? Can philosophy do more than describe the religious experience without discussing its object? Can religion make genuine truth claims - especially when the prevalence of suffering and evil in the world seems to belie those claims? These are some of the basic questions raised in this engaging collection of essays by philosopher Louis Dupre. According to Dupre, a philosophical analysis of faith must take account of the unique system of symbols in which it expresses its beliefs, rituals, and modes of worship. The justification of religious symbols has become a particular problem in an age that tends to separate the objective from the subjective, interpreting the former literally and denying objective reality to the latter. Dupre's essays on von Balthasar's theory of religious form and on the nature of ritual attempt to restore the original meaning of religious symbols, while integrating them with the modern emphasis on human creativity.

CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY AND THE CULTURE OF MODERNITY: The Thought of Louis Dupre by Peter J. Casarella (Editor), George P. Schner (Editor) ($28.00, paperback, 359 pages 802 edition, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., ISBN: 0802845908) Not all thinkers have closed the book on modernity and opened a new one on postmodernity. Louis Dupre continues steadfastly to hold out the hope that we may be able to reclaim fragments of the premodern and modern syntheses and reconstruct, from the epoch of high modernity now being left behind, a more mature but still modern culture. In critical and sympathetic conversation with Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, and other greats, Dupre has shown how western modernity, for all its humanistic-dialectical and technological rational sophistication, has been missing, systemically as well as increasingly, ‘the other dimension’ the mystical and the truly communal. This broad sweep of his thought has attempted to maintain open communication with a natural longing for transcendence, too easily forsworn by many postmodern pundits. In these volumes we are offered entree to Dupre’s hopeful thought.

This volume celebrates the thought of Louis Dupre, a man who, in such important works as Passage to Modernity, has assayed our present situation by plumbing the spiritual foundations of the present crisis. Dupre’s probing into the genesis and maturation of the cultural epoch we call modernity not only enthralled a decade of Yale undergraduates but impels a new generation of scholars reconsidering the configuration of premodern, modern, and postmodern.

CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY AND THE CULTURE OF MODERNITY is both an excellent introduction to Dupre’s thought and a valuable resource for reevaluating the most basic categories of our thinking.

A rich collection of wise, sophisticated, and elegant essays developing a Christian theological and spiritual genealogy of modernity in its various forms. Theology, philosophy, the arts, and the history of ideas are brought together, taking further the conversation that Louis Dupre’s work exemplifies with consummate skill and erudition. No one seeking to ponder the relation of faith to modernity can fail to profit from this fine set of reflections.

The fourteen scholars contributing to this volume all carry with them some measure of Dupre’s hope, and they enter into conversation with his view of modern culture from a variety of perspectives philosophy, theology, the history of ideas, social ethics, and the study of mysticism. This substantial work constitutes both an excellent entree into Dupre’s thought and a valuable resource for reevaluating the most basic categories or our thinking.

Contributors: David Tracy, Thomas P. McTighe Adriaan Peperzak, Charles Trinkaus, Philip Clayton, Michael J. Buckley, S.J., Cyril O’Regan, Kenneth Schmitz, James Wiseman, O.S.B., Karsten Harries, William O’Neill, S.J., George P. Schner, S.J., Peter Casarella, Philip Chmielewski, S.J.

Peter J. Casarella is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Program in Medieval and Byzantine Studies at Catholic University of America.

George P. Schner, S.J., is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology at Regis College, Toronto School of Theology, Ontario.

SYMBOLS OF TRANSCENDENCE: Religious Expression in the Thought of Louis Dupre by Paul J. Levesque ($30.00, paperback, 405 pages, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 080284488X)

The main objective of this book is to demonstrate that in Louis Dupre's work all religious expression, insofar as it has a transcendent reference, is intrinsically symbolic. Religious language is never purely objective nor purely subjective, but a dialectical relation with a transcendent dimension; as such religion is never detachable from its symbolic expression.

The main methodology of this project is a synchronic investigation of Dupre's thought. While some historical ordering of his books and articles will be noted, the primary presentation is by way of synthesis. The strategy of this book is not to critique his works, but to provide an elucidation and application of his conception of symbols and the ideas it entails. Note that in his earlier writings Dupre followed the accepted style of his day employing masculine pronouns instead of inclusive terms. We will leave the quotations as originally printed, acknowledging this limitation here and recognizing that in later works he is sensitive to this need.

In investigating symbols of transcendence, Chapter One first asserts the necessity of employing symbols in general for religious expression. The author begins by taking a look at the meaning of "religious" for Dupre, in order to clarify the field of study. Then, a twofold justification to speak of symbol as primary is presented. The first is theological and proceeds from Dupre's conception of mysticism as belonging to the essence of religious faith. Mysticism must use the language of symbols, and since Dupre argues that a mystical impulse belongs to the core of religion, religion of necessity must employ symbolic language. The second argument is philosophical, employing Schleiermacher polemically and Hegel in a more positive fashion. In contrast to Schleiermacher, Dupre distinguishes religious experience which requires symbolic expression from a purely aesthetic feeling which does not. In agreement with Hegel, Dupre accepts religion as representation, and interprets this as asserting the necessary use of symbols for religious expression. The justification also extends beyond the question at hand to the larger justification of the methodology that Dupre embraces, which is to some extent both philosophical and theological, phenomenological and ontological.

The second and third chapters study in detail Dupre's appreciation of symbol. Chapter Two investigates Dupre's symbol theory in general. It begins with an outline of certain features of the thought of Cassirer, Hegel, and Langer. These authors are foundational for Dupre's perception of symbol. Next, symbols are discussed in their necessary relationship to Dupre's interest in culture and metaphysical ultimacy. In addition, three general patterns essential to understanding symbols are culled from Dupre's thought. They are form, representation, and language. In investigating these concepts, key elements of Dupre's general regard for symbols are manifested. Chapter Three applies this general knowledge to the specific religious symbols of ritual, sacraments, and religious art. At this point transcendence is singled out as the unique referent that sets symbols which give rise to religious understanding apart from symbols which do not. Chapter Four examines the modern inability to fully form religious symbols. In the history of Western culture, the shift from premodernity to modernity entails the breakup of the unified concept of nature into its component parts of cosmic, human, and transcendent spheres. This fracturing occurs in the eviction of transcendence to a realm distinct from nature, and in the severing of the human subject from the cosmos. These occurrences created a new situation in which human culture became devoid of a transcendent dimension. This predicament is still operative today as Dupre designates the contemporary scene more properly as "late modernity" than "postmodernity." Without a transcendent referent, religious symbols lose their religious significance. While some suggest solutions such as returning to the past or locating transcendence within secular experiences, Dupre advances an inward turn akin to the mystical practice of past ages. This does not recover a sense of transcendence for culture, however, but it is successful in doing so for one's personal spiritual life. The fourth chapter develops these ideas under three sections detailing first, the move from premodernity to modernity, second, the modem situation and third, hope for the future.

Lastly, SYMBOLS OF TRANSCENDENCE offers a complete bibliography of all of the works of Louis Dupre through June 1997, and also a collection list of reviews of Dupre's books and other works on his thought.

Paul J. Levesque teaches in the Department of Comparative Religion at California State University, Fullerton. He was a Theodore T. Basselin Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America and holds the Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of Louvain (K.U. Leuven).

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