Review by Thomas D. Carroll, 2002
Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa (ed.). From the Sacred to the Divine: A New Phenomenological Approach. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994.
As the title of this volume advertises, the essays within present a ‘new’ phenomenological approach. Most of the essays compiled here were given originally in 1989 and 1990 at meetings of the American Philosophical Association. While clearly continuing in the traditional phenomenology of religion as first articulated by Rudolf Otto, many of the essays within allude to concerns prevalent in contemporary discussions of comparative religion and mysticism. In particular, one can sense the debate between perennialists and contextualists (with respect to religious experience) taking place somewhere in the background in many of these essays.
Most of the papers deal in one way or another with the work of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. She argues that one can know the nature of religious experiences through examining human creativity. She writes, “the creative act situates philosophical research in the fullness of human functioning, which is no longer limited by the intentional system, but is immersed in the complexity of man as a human being, and singles out the threads of that functioning by differentiating them and showing their orchestration.” (p. 5). One might argue that this contextualizing of reason within the ‘human condition’ removes the teeth from phenomenological inquiry. Can this new phenomenological approach really promise to arrive at the nature of religious experience? Does not such contextualizing foreclose on the possibility of arriving at certain knowledge (the primary goal of Husserl’s phenomenology)?
Similar to how this epistemological question is bracketed in naturalized epistemology (in the analytic philosophical world), this question could too be bracketed here. Indeed, perhaps a strength of this ‘new’ approach is how open Tymieniecka, as well as contributers such as Angela Ales Bello and Domenico A. Conci, are to combining phenomenological inquiry with other fields of study (such as the social sciences and neurology). Also, Giorgio Penzo’s essay “The New Dimension of the Sacred as Non-Power” should be of interest to those interested in religious naturalism. In fact, a particular virtue of this collection (especially given that most of the essays within were written over a decade ago) is the number of references to the “natural ground” of religious experiences. Seemingly anticipating the current movement towards the cognitive psychology of religious experience, many of these essays allow for a bridging of ontology (thus potentially allowing for researchers to use concepts from multiple domains of discourse).