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Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies

Chapter: 10. Negative Dialektik and the Question Concerning the Relation between Objects and Concepts

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.34175


In his piece, Matthew Baldwin lays bare the key epistemological issues pertaining to the question regarding subjects and objects in the study of religion, focusing particular attention upon the intersubjective character of objects. In this response, the author attempts to illustrate through an explication of a shared source – Theodor Adorno – the ways in which Baldwin’s account of intersubjectivity fails to capture an essential element of the intersubjective relation between objects and subjects – namely, the fact of contingency. Rather than attempting to juxtapose mystification and “what is going on,” object and subject, Lucas Wright shows how, for Adorno, an element of objective unknowability phenomenologically conditions subjective positing. The result of this formulation is neither a primacy of subject, nor of object. Rather, Lucas Wright's analysis of Adorno yields a dialectical conception of the subject as always already objectively conditioned, and objects for-thought as always already figured by the so conditioned subject. There is, in the final instance, only the oscillation between objectivity and subjectivity – the real always remains unknowable in any total sense precisely because it conditions, the constructed positing of the subject arrests the fluctuation between condition and conditioned in a circumscribed sense through the use of concepts. In the end, this chapter argues, what is at stake in the theoretical and methodological discussion regarding objects in the study of religion is nothing less than the larger epistemological and existential question concerning how to conceive the conditions of thinking, the interplay between freedom and necessity. As such, it is both possible and necessary to reconceive the problems and debates in religious studies theory and method as specific occasions for thought, open to a larger range of theoretical and philosophical inquiry.

Chapter Contributors

  • Lucas Wright ( - lucaswright) 'University of California at Santa Barbara'