Over the past month I have been re-thinking and re-writing my World Religions in Historical Perspective course. Along with that I am finally making decent progress on the Religions of the World Portal for the Northern Blue Publishing Company ….. and, working away at my book length essay on religion and society in the Atlantic world. This may sound like an awful lot of work, but it is not as much as it seems. There is so much overlap that notes I take from one secondary source illuminate my thinking for all these book length essays. For example, today I was reading J. Heath Atchley’s, Encountering the Secular: Philosophical Endeavors in Religion and Culture. In this, Prof. Atchley brings a philosophers eyes to the secular. He draws on many others, but is particularly entranced by Paul Tillich’s 1964 book Theology of Culture.
To give one example how he has made me re-think basic concepts for all my studies of religion in history, he looks at the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and his thoughts on immanence. He notes that Christianity claims to be both immanent and transcendent because the transcendent God came into the world as Jesus Christ. Yet, the emphasis and focus of Christianity is on transcendence, on this immanent world as temporary and broken, and on a goal which is transcendent and eternal. This led me to meditate on Judaism, which emphasized the immanent. Judaism always had a weak concept of an after life. In Judaism, the 613 mitzvot are rules for the here and now – how one lived now in the immanent is the focus of Judaism. I thought too of Islam, which shares a focus on the transcendent with Christianity. I then went through in my mind other religions in my World Religions course and writing, noting which combined immanence and transcendence, and which focussed on one or the other. I have not yet come close to any fuller thoughts on this, but obviously I will need to integrate this philosophers’ ideas into my courses and essays.