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Theology Giving Back: A (De)constructive Reading of Jacques Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Gift

Issue: Vol 40 No. 1 (2021)

Journal: Religious Studies and Theology

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies Biblical Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rst.42151


This essay lays foundations for a postmodern theology of donation by supplementing Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of the gift with Marcel Hénaff’s analysis of ceremonial gift exchange, John Milbank’s theology of reciprocal exchange and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Trinitarian kenotic theology. Derrida’s philosophy of the gift provides normative criteria for the experience of transcendence within human conscious awareness. Hénaff and Milbank nuance and expand Derrida’s theory of the gift by demonstrating the asymmetrical and open-ended character of human interactions. Balthasar’s kenotic theology fleshes out Milbank’s communal understanding of donation. Jesus Christ embodies the gift, empowering human beings to bear witness before God and one another as a community able to give and receive unconditional love.

Author: Jean-Pierre Fortin

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