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Playing the Scene of Religion

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Beauvoir's atheist existential philosophy demonstrates the plasticity of the concept of religion, exceeding the boundaries of the theistic and the institutional, even as it valorizes the social and ritual. Her philosophy, which she characterizes as a philosophy of ambiguity, acknowledges the human condition as one in which one desires an absolute other even as she acknowledges the absence of any such absolute; it acknowledges that we are both situated embodied singularities and that we are dependent on our relationship with others to justify and found our existence. Against these assumptions, Beauvoir's philosophy displaces faith in a transcendent god, relocating it to faith in other human beings, and redirects the desire for union with another to the custody of those others that provide the condition for meaning in our lives.

The centrality of ontological freedom and its responsibility in Beauvoir's philosophy, situated in the conditions of existence provided by the other, entails appeals and responses undertaken in risk and joy. Because these figures in Beauvoir resonate throughout Derrida's discourse on religion, Playing the Scene of Religion turns to Derrida, and in a more limited focus, to Certeau, to advocate on behalf of this account of religion, one that situates religion in a specific “globalatinized” context at the same time that it exceeds those limits. This reading of religion affords the insight that the atheist existential philosopher Beauvoir is necessarily situated in this scene and, with perfect coherence, enjoins us to acts of religion. Theorizing this atheist existential philosophy through the figure of the scene of religion offers another opening for the critical interrogation of religion.

Published: Feb 1, 2021