Religion and Violence, by Hent de Vries

This thoughtful, well-researched book seeks to develop and apply a distinctive philosophical approach to reflection on religion--an ap­proach that goes beyond the traditional methods of confessional theologies, secular religious studies and cultural anthropology. Hent de Vries is a philosopher who holds the chair of metaphysics at the University of Amsterdam and is the director of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. He is interested in the manifold ways in which religious and theological perspectives pervade contemporary culture, shaping notions of the modern state, immigration, hospitality, friendship, ethics and politics. This inheritance involves a complex and ambiguous relationship between religion and violence--a relationship that needs to be dealt with. But religion also offers importance resources for addressing pressing issues like welcoming immigrants into increasingly multicultural societies, de Vries argues.

In Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (1999), de Vries explored the ways in which recent philosophers have turned and returned, sometimes in a surprisingly innovative manner, to religious elements in thought and culture. Nonetheless, de Vries is not seeking a return to traditional faith. In his contribution to Post-Theism: Reframing the Judeo-Christian Tradition (2000), he charged that theism and its traditional institutional expressions are in a state of "obsolescence," and he characterized contemporary culture as posttheistic. While he concludes from this analysis that traditional theology is no longer credible, he does not want to leave the study of religion to a traditional secular model. Instead, he seeks a path beyond the alternatives of theism and atheism, a new way of drawing upon the re­sources of religions for understanding and shaping contemporary society and culture without making confessional commitments.

De Vries's method is heavily indebted to Jacques Derrida's deconstructive style of reading. Like Derrida, he questions previously unquestioned assumptions, developing a logic that undermines all transcendental foundations, and insisting on a leap of faith not only in religion but in the knowledge of any reality. Religion is "the relation to the other that does not close itself off in a totality." The hope of Derrida and de Vries is to tease out unthought and unsaid implications of earlier religious perspectives.