The Wheatley Institution
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The Unconditional Nature of Faith

December 5, 2016 | Katie Eldredge

On October 19th, The Wheatley Institution hosted Dr. Christina Gschwandtner and Dr. John D. Caputo for a Wheatley Forum in Faith & Intellect titled Responses to Secularism. Dr. Caputo spoke on the effects of postmodernism on religion and Dr. Gschwandtner discussed how an understanding of phenomenology can add to our faith and religious experiences.

To begin, Dr. Caputo explained “modernity was the time in which people began to question and systematically doubt inherited beliefs.” As postmodernism developed, theorists denied objective natural reality and claimed that concepts such as logic and reason are only ideas. While there is no concrete definition of postmodernism, Caputo summarized it as a question: “What is certain? What isn’t?”

What does postmodernism have to do with religion? He stated, “Postmodernity is a suspicion of big theories. Post modernism is post secular because it rejects dogmatic atheist views as overreaching claims. It’s also post-religious because it rejects overarching, too powerful claims that have an account about the final and ultimate nature of things.”

The product of a postmodern, post-secular, post-religious world? Not an elimination of faith, but a new name for it: spirituality. Early postmodern theorists could claim, “I believe something, but I don’t know what I believe.” Even as society adopts more secular ideas and beliefs, religion has stayed inherently the same. Religion “is a being seized by something of unconditional power, value, worth, and depth” that does not change with time. Early postmodern theorists could agree, when it comes to religion, “Something else is afoot. Something else deeper, more untraceable, more unnamable that [the religious] are resonating with: the unconditional.”

Dr. Crina Gschwandtner followed and introduced listeners to phenomenology or “the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.” It is a philosophy that attempts to understand “how things show themselves and are experienced” to fill a “deep need for meaning-making.” She explains, “The philosophical method of phenomenology is useful for the study of religion because it gets back to everyday experience. We need a better understanding of the ordinary, mundane, and everyday aspects of religion.”

“Religion is expressed by what we do.” First-person religious experiences allow individuals to increase their faith because they experienced it. But “even the very personal religious experience has communal aspects. We need a back-and-forth between the two.” A back-and-forth system of personal and shared experiences creates a foundation of beliefs that can be used to navigate through a secular climate.

Gschwandtner encouraged the religious to be more vocal about their spiritual experiences and convictions. Phenomenology is “the unfolding of who we are by [discovering] what we are.” As we embrace faith-driven action, we become more faithful. Those who allow this process to increase their faith will discover an increased confidence as they respond to a secular world.

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