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Beyond Jacques Derrida and George Lindbeck: toward a particularity-based approach to interreligious communication.

Language Theory and Hermeneutics: Meaning in Postmodernism and Postliberalism

Religious pluralism is correlated with the realities of multiculturalism, decolonization, and fluid migration patterns in the contemporary human community. In the wake of the philosophical crisis catalyzed by the challenges to Immanuel Kant's idealism, thinkers from various disciplines (philosophy, theology, sociology, history, anthropology, etc.) have found themselves needing to give a coherent account of diversity. Theories of religious diversity are particularly difficult, because many traditionalist religious expressions assert seemingly incommensurable truth-claims. (1) The challenge of how (or whether) to resolve this tension is extended to contemporary scholars. (2) Two seemingly antagonistic and counterproductive philosophical schools might, when put into controlled conversation with each other, contribute to one such project. Poststructuralism (also called "deconstructionism," with its preeminent exponent Jacques Derrida) and postliberalism (often called "narrative theology or the "Yale School," represented by George Lindbeck) can suggest a concentricity of intelligibility that might extend to meaningful interreligious dialogue.

Postmodern linguistic deconstructionsists (Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze)--applying the methods of hermeneutical phenomenologists Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur to the very process of hermeneutics--have so thoroughly and convincingly problematized the optimism of Enlightenment and modern positivist epistemologies that any philosophical attempt to construct a theory of interpretation must take seriously the poststructuralist critiques.

A culture-centric alternative to the endless deferring and excavating of deconstructionism has emerged from the synthesis of twentieth-century semioticians (Ferdinand de Saussure), correspondence theorists (Ludwig Wittgenstein), symbolic anthropologists (Clifford Geertz), and the "neo-orthodoxy" of the German Confessing Church (Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann) to produce a school of "postliberal" narrative theology (Lindbeck, Hans Frei, David Kelsey). (3) Postliberalism posits that meaning is found within the sum-total of the cultic, mythic, and confessional practices of a narrative community and that a correspondence between the intention of the communicator and the interpretation of the receiver is possible, therefore, if both are fluent in and indigenous to the same cultural-linguistic system. (4) While postliberalism is an optimistic alternative to poststructuralism in its notion of intelligibility and communicability, it is limited in two profound ways. (5)

The first limitation to the postliberal alternative is that it is simultaneously too rigid and too sweeping (and therefore falls into many of the same traps as the modernity that it so vehemently rejects) in its delineation of the in-group and the out-group. To suggest that immediate (oral-aural) and distant (text-reader) communication can take place without confusion if and only if the communicator and receiver share a cultural-linguistic system is to ignore the concentric nature of proximity. Poststructuralism, in turning Heidegger's historicism on itself, has demonstrated that on one level there is a communication breakdown even within an individual. (6) On another level, there is a sense in which distinct religious traditions (if so essentialized a category even exists as anything more than a loose convention) share common languages with other religious traditions to which they are related either historically/genetically or conceptually/morphologically.

Ironically, it has been largely the legacy of the Confessing Church that has prompted recent Christian and Jewish narrations of one another and, therefore, the development (or recovery) of a common cultural language. Though Christian neo-orthodox theology (in its more exclusivist or sectarian instantiations) proclaims the incommensurability of other religious traditions, it (along with Nostra aetate) precipitated twentieth-century interreligious theological dialogue by conceiving of the God of Judaism as being the same essence as the God of Christianity. Postliberal appropriation of Wittgenstein needs to adjust for the fluidity of culture and the genetic or morphological interdependence between religious traditions. (7)

The second limitation appears on the surface to be pragmatic but is, in fact, no less theological and ethical. The realities of globalism, pseudosecular Western "civil religions," and the quasi-syncretistic appropriations of symbols and values from multiple religiocultural systems mean that the notion of "Christianity" as a monolithic, one-dimensional, and internally coherent "religion" is increasingly problematic. A Pentecostal in western China and a Parisian Roman Catholic cannot be assumed to share a single language simply because they are both baptized, nor can that same Pentecostal be said to be utterly incoherent when speaking with a Tibetan Buddhist. Religion is a tapestry of culture, confession, historical location, ritual practice, and narrative tradition. The possibility of cross-(linguistic) cultural dialogue is therefore greater than strict postliberals often concede. The existence of dual practitioners, "spiritual shoppers," and adherents of "nonreligious" comprehensive schemes (nationalism, Marxism, consumerism, scientism, tribalism, liberalism, etc.) problematizes the postliberal notion that meaning is either lost or obfuscated when religious lines are crossed. (8) Interreligious dialogue is both an imperative and an ongoing reality in the contemporary globalized human community.

For Derrida's works, interreligious communication seems irredeemably complicated, while for Lindbeck's it seems irredeemably dangerous, and for neither does it seem to be entirely possible, at least not in a pure or intelligible sense. (9) Yet, as sincerely and innocently as one might want to engage in interreligious dialogue, one must still take seriously the cautions of Derrida's deconstruction and Lindheck's cultural-linguistics. At the same time, deconstructionists and postliberals can ill afford to neglect the pursuit of meaning, the expectation of Derrida's "'messianicity without messianism.'" (10) Lindbeck has provided justification for deep reflection on the potential for interreligious intelligibility: "If a cultural-linguistic approach cannot make at least as good sense of [contemporary] emphases [on nonproselytizing interreligious dialogue and the salvation of nonbelievers] as do alternative theories of religion, then it will be rightly regarded as theologically uninteresting." (11) Thus, while it may seem counterintuitive to employ Derrida or Lindbeck in constructing a philosophy of deep cross-religious engagement, such a project would certainly qualify as "theologically interesting."

The remainder of this essay consists of four parts. The first and second parts will unpack those concepts that are particularly hopeful of genuine pluralistic encounters in Derrida (messianism, the "modal reversal" of hospitality, and the value of intercultural encounter with the "tout autre") and in Lindbeck (cultural-linguistic theology, the integrity of the Other's self-narration, and his global sympathies). The third part will compare Derrida and Lindbeck as two very different heirs to Wittgenstein's linguistic turn. Similarities will be helpful in the excavation of a common impulse that they share (and that will be very useful in the development of any interreligious communicative methodology that takes difference and particularity seriously). At the same time, the differences between the two can also be helpful, for they will show a plurality of "solutions" to the problem of meaningful communication. The specific (often hypothetical) critiques that each has of the other can be used to call into question the indefatigability of each hermeneutic. The fourth part will pair critiques of Derrida and Lindbeck with the "concepts of hope" from the first phase and with notions of "concentricity" and "dialect" to synthesize a theory of interreligious dialogue that moves through, beyond, and after poststructuralism and postliberalism, rather than skirting around them.

Jacques Derrida: Messianism, Hospitality, and Pluralism

Derrida's philosophical deconstructionism is intensely skeptical of the notion of presence, and this skepticism informed his understanding of the religious:
   For me, there is no such thing as "religion"... Within what one
   calls religions-Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or other
   religions--there are ... tensions, heterogeneity, disruptive
   volcanos, sometimes texts, especially those of the prophets, which
   cannot be reduced to an institution, to a corpus, to a system....

      Then I would distinguish between religion and faith, (12)

Nevertheless, he maintained a deep messianism that can be seen pervading his thought. He distinguished (following Walter Benjamin) between "'weak messianic power"' (13) and those "which are a little too strong." (14) Strong messianisms are those that proclaim that fulfillment either has come or will come in a teleological sense, and they have constituted the heresy of Western philosophy since Plato, which depends too heavily on "concepts like 'immediacy', 'proximity', and 'presence'." (15) For Derrida the messiah could not come, for it was "a promise that would be broken if it were kept, whose possibility is sustained by its impossibility." (16) Weak messianisms (what he often called "the messianic") entail promise, hope, and deferral--but never realization. (17) This idea applies to speech itself because "the essence of speech is the promise," and promise is in a sense the essence of deconstruction. (18)

For Derrida, once an idea became concrete or detached from its inherent relationship to its opposite, it lost its potential for transformation and became an instrument of power. The messianic is found in "impossibility," in the self-contradiction inherent in any concept worth contemplating. By deconstructing both certainty and teleology, Derrida challenged the very metaphysical underpinnings of the Western philosophical and theological legacy. (19) Yet, he believed that it was just such deconstruction that provided the condition for the possibility of the messianic. Though often read as a nihilistic atheistic celebrator of the deaths of God and "man," Derrida's messianism (which recent scholarship has shown to be derived in part from his own Jewish tendencies) provides immense hope that, through tension and deconstruction, the messiah of meaning may emerge. (20)

Derrida's messianism (or concept of the messianic") is evident in his "modal reversals" of numerous principles, from hospitality and forgiveness to naming and community to Marxism and democracy. (21) The messiah is only here-and-now when it is not-yet, endlessly deferred but just over the horizon. For Derrida, "the messianic structure is a universal structure.... Someone is to come, is now to come. Justice and peace will have to do with this coming of the other, with the promise." (22) The preeminent example of this deferred promise is hospitality (l'hospitalite'). In Derrida's linguistic theory every word contains within its meaning its opposite; for example, one can have no concept of "tall" without understanding "short." (23)

Drawing on the fact that the French word for "host" is identical to the word for "guest" (hote) and that the Latin root hostis provides French (and English) with the antithetical concepts "hospitality" and "hostility," Derrida noted that hospitality can be hospitality only when it is not hospitality, when its hospitality-ness is truly impossible. (24) Derrida wrote: "For there to be hospitality, there must be a door* But if there is a door, there is no longer hospitality ... As soon as there are a door and windows, it means that someone has the key to them and consequently controls the conditions of hospitality." (25) John Caputo characterized it thusly: "Like everything else in deconstruction, the possibility of hospitality is sustained by its impossibility; hospitality really starts to get under way only when we 'experience'... this paralysis ... Hospitality really starts to happen when I push against this limit." (26) For Derrida absolute hospitality could only break in if such inbreaking were understood deconstructively to be impossible. Open, waiting for the event as justice, this hospitality is absolute only if it keeps watch over its own universality." (27)

The value of Derrida's notion of hospitality for interfaith engagement is that the concept is far more than a word game* Indeed, "deconstruction is to be understood as a form of hospitality." (28) Hospitality requires an openness to the unknown, which is always a necessary precondition for any meaningful interreligious dialogue. (29) Furthermore, hospitality calls people beyond language to action: Any attempt to describe hospitality will result in the aforementioned logical breakdown, but one can easily recognize hospitable behavior. Derrida "warns us not to replace the actual activity of deconstructive reading with a description or conceptualized understanding of that activity." (30) As an ethically concerned instantiation of the messianic, hospitality (and its correlates, community and peace) is a practice that can foster the potential for (nonteleological) mutuality. (31) Connected to the messianic and hospitality is Derrida's esteem for the Wholly Other (le tout autre). (32) This appreciation manifests itself in his sociopolitical beliefs, which he advanced quite frequently in the last decades of his life. As noted above, community is only community when it is impossibly so; immigrant groups help to keep the balance alive between community and its opposite. Multicultural and multilingual societies are in the best position to avoid the threefold pitfalls of immediacy, proximity, and presence. Christians, Americans, and Europeans can all begin to disinherit their legacies of hegemony and violence through openness to the Wholly Other. (33) Derrida did not denounce cultural identity but, rather, homogeneity, as he preferred to open culture "up to difference." (34) It is precisely this exposure to difference--and the messianic hope for meaning through sustained hospitable exposure--that makes Derrida's critique of logocentrism a useful framework for interreligious conversation.

George Lindbeck: Cultural Linguistics, The Other's Self-Narration, and an Ethical Thrust

Postliberalism strongly challenges the deconstructionist view that meaning is perpetually absent. Hans Frei wrote in a veiled critique of the postmodernists:
   Christian theology does not present the finite condition of human
   being as identical with its fall ... Creation is not the fall in
   Christian doctrine. This is a confusion of Christian belief with
   whatever Neoplatonism, gnosticism and the existentialist heritage
   derived from German Idealism have in common. Obviously, then,
   language is, for Christians, a created good and not in principle
   fallen, and therefore it is not 'absent' from the truth. (35)

For postliberals--including Lindbeck--meaning exists within an interpretive community that is shaped by "text," "grammar," or "cultural language." In an inversion of Stanley Fish, Lindbeck has asserted that "the text is what constructs social reality"--a notion that Keith Vanhoozer thinks has helped Lindbeck "to escape the relativity of interpretive communities." (36) Appropriating the "language game" mechanism of (the mature) Wittgenstein to the Christian narrative, Lindbeck proposed "cultural-linguistic" as a type of Christian theology distinct from what he called "propositional-cognitive" and "experiential-expressive." (37) In "cultural-linguistic" theology, meaning is found in narrative (that is, the story of Jesus Christ), and those who are formed by the grammar of that narrative (see Geertz's "thick description" for an anthropological corollary) understand that meaning and, therefore, one another. (38) Such a theology can appear to be insular, since a cultural-linguistic system cannot be intelligible, much less accessible, to an outsider. (39) Yet, it shares two important similarities with Derrida's deconstruction, both of which might be useful for those interested in meaningful interreligious dialogue.

First, it insists that the meaning of a word is always dependent on its context; for Derrida, there was the limitation of an endless chasing of the deferred meaning, while for Lindbeck there was the limitation of the untranslatability of the religious idiom into another cultural language. (40) Second, and related to these limitations, is the anxiety that Derrida and Lindbeck shared concerning miscommunication and lack of communicative rigor. While the work of both scholars comes across as pessimistic (and in the final analysis, as perhaps unnecessarily so) about the potential for and ease of conveying meaning, they have provided a powerful caution to those inheritors of modernity who haphazardly presume that meaning is fixed and unambiguous. To employ the biblical idiom, they scattered the tongues of those who excitedly attempt to construct a tower to the heavens. Interreligious dialogue that accounts for the "linguistic turn" and the critiques of poststructuralism and postliberalism will be more difficult than that which is ontologically prior to this turn, but what this Derrida- and Lindbeck-informed dialogue lacks in its haste it will make up for in careful attention to the use of language.

This careful attention manifests itself in Lindbeck's cultural-linguistic theology in one way to which serious theories of dialogue should pay attention. Lindbeck has been adamant not only that his cultural-linguistic community (Christianity) retains the exclusive right to self-narration but also that other such communities need to be afforded the opportunity to speak for and define themselves. While "natural languages" (English, Arabic, etc.) can be translated effectively into one another, religious idioms are different at one critical point. When translating from one natural language to another, a translator is able to become sufficiently proficient in her or his nonnative tongue to learn what terms simply defy translation (for example, there is no succinct English translation for the Classical Arabic term "jihad," which describes a form of piety-minded struggle for righteousness). (41) When one is trying to translate one religious idiom into another, there is no neutral perspective or 'third language" from which to make such an evaluation. (42)

The incommensurability of religious idioms hints at a characteristic difference between Derrida and Lindbeck. While the former subordinated philosophical language to natural language ("[P]hilosophical ... languages are more or less well defined and coherent subsets within natural languages") (43) the latter subordinated natural language to theological language ("Everything fits into that ["totally comprehensive" religious] framework, but the framework cannot, by definition, be fit into any other framework"). (44) Despite the potential fallacy of distinguishing religions from other historical-cultural-social phenomena, Lindbeck's concern for the internal coherence and integrity of religions does have the positive effect of forcing postliberally influenced interlocutors to take religions (theirs and the Other's) seriously.

Two additional dimensions of Lindbeck's Wittgensteinian notion of incommensurability can help those looking to discover meaning in interreligious conversations.

First, this incommensurability is somewhat softer than many of Lindbeck's disciples and detractors like to imagine. For example, he both conceded that Christianity learned a lot from ancient Hellenism and that there are considerable morphological similarities that unite various religions. (45) Second, postliberal interreligious dialogue avoids some of the obstacles facing adherents of the currently popular theologies of religion. Against John Hick's pluralism, Karl Rahner's inclusivism, and the exclusivisms of Barth and proselytizers, Lindbeck offered that "[t]he direction represented by starting with uniqueness as a question of translation, not salvation, has the advantage of adaptability to postcolonial pluralism and, related to this, of concerning itself with each religion on its own terms." (46)

In addition to the ability clearly to demarcate one's perspective and honestly to refrain from demarcating the Other's, postliberalism offers a third asset to those interested in sincere dialogue: It takes the Other seriously. In 1984 Lindbeck noted that the most pressing contemporary "interreligious problems" were (and likely remare) unsurpassthdlty, dialogue, and the salvation of other-behevers."' (47) He seemed at times to concede that "Christianity has no monopoly on true religiousness." (48) His reluctance seems to be to the idea of a universalized theology of religions rather than to the practice of interreligious dialogue: "The cultural-linguistic approach can allow a strong case for interreligious dialogue, but not for any single type of such dialogue." (49) While reluctant to cede too much ground on the issue of incommensurability, he noted that, "as pluralism increases, what is now marginal may shortly become central," and that this reality may be "the practical case for risking idiosyncrasy" and struggling to navigate "barriers to translation." (50)

Ultimately, Lindbeck's perspective on interreligious engagement sounds similar to Derrida's understanding of communication: It is humanistically useful, but it must be done carefully and nonteleologically in order to avoid the transgressions that it will nevertheless inevitably commit. Lindbeck exhorted, with a caveat, "The missionary task of Christians may at times be to encourage Marxists to become better Marxists, Jews and Muslims to become better Jews and Muslims, and Buddhists to become better Buddhists (although admittedly their notion of what a 'better Marxist,' etc., is will be influenced by Christian norms)." (51)

Heirs to Wittgenstein: Points of Contact and Divergence

Both Derrida and Lindbeck insisted on looking at words within their syntactical and sociohistorical contexts; both were skeptical of hasty translation; and both recognized the inevitable dangers in a search for meaning beyond the interpretation of a text. (52) At the root of their commonalities is their mutual philosophical ancestry: the "linguistic turn" begun by de Saussure and codified by Wittgenstein. (53) Frei noted that, in the philosophical age between the Kantian "turn to the subject" and the "linguistic turn," "[m]eaning itself was thought of as a kind of unvarying subsistent medium in which words flourish ... Language [was considered] a fit instrument because words have stable, lexicaily determined meanings." (54) Wittgenstein challenged this idealist notion, and Derrida and Lindbeck continued the challenge.

Both Derrida and Lindbeck took as their starting point the contextuality of language: "Each use of language occurs within a separate and apparently self-contained system complete with its own rules." (55) Both agreed with de Saussure that "a linguistic signifier (e.g., a word) does not possess a fixed meaning within itself but derives its meaning from its relations within the language system." (56) While Derrida may have moved beyond the linguistic turn (to the "graphematic turn," that is, the turn to the primacy of writing over speech), and while Lindbeck may have looked to traditions chronologically prior to Wittgenstein in order to describe his narrative theology, both nevertheless shared a common philosophical grounding in Wittgenstein. (57)

Although postliberals are less reserved than poststructuralists, both agree that the meaning of a text cannot be located ultimately in the premeditated intent of the author. (58) Both also agree that meaning can be found only in a limited sense in texts per se. (59) From a wider vantage point, one can observe similarities between the ways they both restrict the conditions for the possibility of meaning. Derrida was not quite the relativist, nor Lindbeck the isolationist, that partisans sometimes claim. (60) For both scholars, universals were problematic; for both, true communication was endlessly problematic, and orthodoxies in conversation risked syncretism. (61) In his more exclusivist moments Lindbeck affirmed the problem of competing universal claims: "No reconciliation is possible between the secular and biblical outlooks ... and to the degree they claim universality, they are, like other religious and philosophical world views, both untranslatable and competitive." (62) Both he and Derrida insisted on particularities, which are vital to meaningful interreligious conversa tion. (63) It is not surprising, therefore, that postliberals assert that selective usage of poststructuralist methodologies can be hermeneutically useful. (64)

Another point of contact between Derrida and Lindbeck is their mutual concern for ethics. (65) Interreligious dialogue in the early twenty-fiwst century is certainly a matter of "temporary expediency." (66) Both Derrida and Lindbeck rejected "economic hegemonies" and embraced a "social cohesion" that is flee from "totalitarian force." (67) Both believed in a pseudopragmatic approach to hermeneutics; theoretical reflection should reflect "the continuous process of discovering and deciding" how to approach contemporary priorities. (68) Lindbeck shared with the deconstructionists a rejection of' "the traditional literary emphasis on a text as that which is to be interpreted" (69) and "a common concern [with] 'the play of figural language', 'the grammar of tropes', and 'the rhetoric of textual performance'." (70) Derrida considered such principles as justice and peace to be universals that could not be deconstructed and that were thereby connected to the messianic (parallels can be found in the teleologically minded Lindbeck's "eschatological unity of the divided world"). (71) The work of both Derrida and Lindbeck shares a humanitarian concern that involves commitment to human dignity and integrity and shares with Wittgenstein the hope for an "overlap" of language games, of an ultimate interhuman commensurability. (72) This ethical sympathy must not be lost among inheritors of Derrida and Lindbeck.

The areas in which Derrida and Lindbeck critiqued each other are grounds for hope that interreligious meaning can be discovered, for the conflict between post-structuralism and postliberalism opens up room for a "third way." The primary difference between their two perspectives is the level at which communication breaks down. For Derrida, ideas could be expressed through irony, action, or metaphor, but, once meaning became fixed, it vanished. (73) For Lindbeck, all ideas could be communicated in the Christian idiom. (74) The meaning of the Christian narrative can only ever be understood from within, but it can be understood, nonetheless. (75) Both Derrida and Lindbeck seem to have appropriated Wittgenstein's theory of language games, but they differed on the boundaries within which the game can be played effectively. (76) With Derrida's caution that the meaning of language is always deferred, Lindbeck's optimism about cultural-linguistic intelligibility seems ambitious, but its demarcation seems arbitrary. A certain amount of genuine communication may therefore be possible between interlocutors grounded in different cultural-linguistic systems. When one pursues attentiveness and clarity with the sobriety and thoroughness with which Derrida pursued the messiah and with which Lindbeck pursued idiomatic integrity, one might begin to understand the religious Other.

Concentricity and Dialects:

A Particularity-Driven Theory of Interreligious Intelligibility

The similarities between Derrida and Lindbeck point to a common Wittgen-steinian hope for meaning after the linguistic turn. (77) The differences between them suggest a semiotic fluidity and call attention to the necessity of careful and attentive engagement. Still, their work does not suggest that intelligible conversation is the normative byproduct of pluralistic encounters involving their adherents. Lindbeck noted this as a perceived deficiency in narrative theology: "The gravest objection to the approach we are adopting is that it makes interreligious dialogue more difficult." (78) It is worth noting here that "more difficult" is not the same as "impossible," and even impossibility is not a barrier in Derrida's poststructuralism, as impossibility is the condition of possibility for actuality. Nevertheless, in their rawest forms Derrida's and Lindbeck's positions do not appear to map out an easy route to religiously pluralistic dialogue. At this point it is worth noting that poststructuralism and postliberalism both have numerous detractors, and the perspectives' collective pessimism about interreligious intelligibility is not the final word.

Two of Derrida's most renowned critics, Noam Chomsky and John Searle, have questioned whether deconstructionism simply obscures what is otherwise fairly clear. (79) In asserting that language is utterly complex and that meaning is ever-elusive, Derrida's writings can have the appearance of fulfilling their own prophecy. Searle complained that "Derrida has a conception of 'concepts' according to which they have a crystalline purity that would exclude all marginal cases." (80) Chomsky's sentiment and tone are similar:
   Quite regularly, "my eyes glaze over" when I read polysyllabic
   discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what
   I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a
   fraction of the total word count.... no one seems to be able to
   explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most
   part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how
   to proceed. (81)

Searle's challenge to Derrida's lofty standard for the communication of meaning includes an assertion that, while perfect clarity may always be beyond the grasp of language, adequacy is not. "Our communications are often perfectly adequate; and we can, at least in principle, say exactly what we mean." (82) Wittgenstein himself noted that doubt erodes in a linguistic system: "[A]re we to say that certainty is merely a constructed point to which some things approximate more, some less closely? No. Doubt gradually loses its sense. The language-game just is like that." (83)

The hyperbolic use of obfuscating language and the inattention to adequate conventions are vulnerabilities in deconstruction. Its ultimate dependence on the very language it seeks to deconstruct is a further vulnerability. Derrida tended to treat conventions as universals, implying a concession to the idea that language is useless otherwise. He was famously (and infamously) careful in his use of language, yet, even in his deconstructionist philosophy, he made recourse to conventions as though they were objective realities. For instance, after writing the phrase "I know," Denida clarified the second word: "I use 'knowing' here as a convenient term to designate the relations that I necessarily entertain with the object being constructed." (84) Yet, lost in this explanation is the fact that the word "I" not only remains intact, but it even becomes a tool in his deconstruction of the word "know." The concept of the self as a distinct, coherent, and unified entity simply is assumed here. Only ironically could Derrida make the rather imprecise statement that, "when a distinction cannot be rigorous or precise, it is not a distinction at all." (85) He similarly assumed that ideals such as justice are not deconstructable, though he had no linguistic justification for this claim, (86) While irony, action, and metaphor are ways around these limitations, Derrida ultimately could not exert the infinite linguistic rigor that his deconstruction demands, (87) His work remains vulnerable to criticism, as does Lindbeck's.

Two important critiques of Lindbeck challenge his insistence on the insularity of religious traditions. First, his sharp distinction between the ecumenical and the interreligious is ukimately either conventional or dependent on an implicit theology of religions (which his Barthian heritage would resist), (88) This distinction can be justified only circularly and relatively from within a particular cultural-linguistic system, yet he has applied it universally: "particularity may be useful for the restrictedly ecumenical end of promoting unity within a single religion, but not for the broader purpose of seeking the unity of all religions." (89) There is simply more "fraying around the edges" of distinct and internally coherent religions than Lindbeck has admitted, and the paradigm of concentricity (developed below) might press him both to apply his beliefs about unity to interreligious dialogue (furthering his eschatological hope) and to apply his idea of incommensurability to intrareligious theologizing (strengthening his stress on particularity).

Second, in his utilizing the lingua franca of analytic philosophy, Lindbeck made the types of universal claims that he forbade others from making. (90) This recourse to universals in the name of particularity is similar to Derrida's recourse to conventions in the name of deconstruction. (91) In this sense, Lindbeck can be characterized as a "relative absolutist" or an "absolute relativist." Even Hauerwas noted that the vulnerability in conceiving "theology's task being largely one of conceptual redescription is that one is unsure how questions of truth can ever be asked." (92) In trying to answer such questions of truth, Lindbeck has often been inconsistent. For example, he asserted with a subordinationist air that Christianity alone "can authentically speak of the ground of being, goal of history and true humanity (for one cannot genuinely speak of these apart from telling and re-telling the story of Jesus Christ)." (93) In the same passage, however, he suggested "that other religions have resources for speaking truths and realities, even highly important truths and realities, of which Christianity as yet knows nothing." (94) Though aware that competing exclusivisms pose an epistemological challenge, Lindbeck has not met this challenge in a rigorous way. (95) In the end, his theological solution to the fact of religious pluralism resembles the Rahnerian inclusivism to which it claims to be an alternative. (96)

When viewed from a particular angle, Derrida's intertextuality (bound up in differance) and Lindbeck's intratextuality (the heart of cultural-linguistics) appear to be concentric iterations of a single phenomenon. (97) Derrida should be praised for pausing to deconstruct language, and Lindbeck should be praised for insisting on religious particularity ("One can ... no more be religious in general than one can speak language in general. Thus the focus is on particular religions rather than on religious universals and their combinations and permutations"). (98) Still, options beyond and based on poststructuralism and postliberalism can be developed. Derrida's deconstruction "zooms in" on precision, whereas Lindbeck's narrative theology "zooms out" to cultural idiom. It is not difficult to imagine other magnifications; to return to the image of the Chinese Pentecostal and the Parisian Catholic, one might say that, while they share a cultural language (Christianity) in one sense, they speak very different dialects thereof. Hence, a "zoomed in" cultural-linguistic perspective might conclude a degree of incommensurability between their worldviews. Importantly, one might also "zoom out" to the interreligious level to posit an adequate intelligibility between comprehensive schemes. Of course, the farther "zoomed out" the level of interaction, the more guarded the interlocutors need to be against misconstrual, hegemonic narrations, and egocentric translations--but the concentricity between Derrida and Lindbeck creates within the linguistic turn the condition of possibility for interreligious intelligibility. (99)

The cultural-linguistic perspective (particularly when paired with deconstructionism) cautions strongly against any real hope for "cultural bilingualism." While the postliberals allow for the possibility of fluency in multiple "natural" languages, they are not so optimistic about religious bilingualism. (100) At times, Lindbeck conceded that it was possible for a person to understand a concept from a religion to which she or he was not indigenous. Drawing on Alasdair Maclntyre, he wrote that
   what is untranslatable in a language or tradition of inquiry is
   recognizable even without a common communicative system to the
   degree interpreters acquire competence in the alien tongue. Those
   for whom that tongue is 'a second first language' can recognize and
   flag what is untranslatable in it without falling into the
   contradiction of supposing ... that they have thereby provided a
   translation. (101)

At other times, however, Lindbeck has been more insistent that cultural-linguistic grammar is bound to get lost in translation:
   [W]hen affirmations or ideas from categorically different religious
   or philosophical frameworks are introduced into a given religious
   outlook, these are either simply babbling or else, like
   mathematical formulas employed in a poetic text, they have vastly
   different functions and meanings than they had in their original
   settings. (102)

Despite this ambivalence, Lindbeck has tended to ossify such concepts as "language" and "religion," a crystallization that is challenged by phenomena such as pidgin languages and syncretized religions. Perhaps on one level individual "religions" (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc.) constitute distinct language systems, but on another level "denominations" (Mahayana, Shi'ism, Presbyterianism, etc.) may demark distinct languages. It is easy to see how the logic of concentricity (Pure Land, Twelver Shi'ism, the Presbyterian Church of America) challenges the idea that any specific degree of similarity marks the tipping point between linguistic commensurability and incommensurability. Popular terms of convenience such as "Judeo-Christianity," "Abrahamic traditions," and "theistic religions" suggest that, if one logically can "zoom in" to the level of deconstruction, one also can "zoom out" to the level of interreligious dialogue. (103)

Wittgensteinian logic drove the reluctance of Derrida and Lindbeck to concede that language is a facile semiotic toolset that can be used to express and understand fixed meanings. Those with a sociological, theological, ethical, or ontological stake in multiculturalism and religious pluralism need not dismiss this logic, (104) Derrida's and Lindbeck's cautions, while vulnerable to criticism, are nonetheless immensely valuable contributions to philosophical linguistics. Interreligious conversations need not be unduly encumbered by clarifications, disclaimers, and "scare quotes" for them to take Derrida and Lindbeck seriously. Encounter with the religious Other can present an interlocutor with the complexity necessary for what Frei called "breathing space," which seems to anticipate both Derrida's messiah and Lindbeck's Wittgensteinian hope for understanding: "[A] good interpretation of a text is one that has 'breathing space,' that is to say, one in which no hermeneutic finally allows you to resolve the text--there is something that is left to bother, something that is wrong, something that is not yet interpreted." (105)

(1) See George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), p. 46.

(2) For one appeal to interreligious dialogue as a necessary response to new global realities, see H. E. Allamah Abd Allah ibn Mahfuz ibn Bayyah, et al., "Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict xvr' (2006), pp. 3-4; available at

(3) For the relationship between Lindbeck and both Geertz and Peter Berger, see Michael Root, "Identity and Difference: The Ecumenical Problem," in Bruce D. Marshall, ed., Theology and Dialogue: Essays in Conversation with George Lindbeck (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), p. 172.

(4) Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 280.

(5) Derrida has been critiqued for not taking serious account of Wittgenstein's language theory; e.g., see John R. Searle, "Literary Theory and Its Discontents," New Literary History 25 (Summer, 1994): 639.

(6) See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible. the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 150.

(7) For a simultaneous description of and caution concerning Scriptural Reasoning, see Muhammad Fathallah et al., "Fatwa on Scriptural Reasoning," The London Central Mosque Trust and the Islamic Cultural Centre, July 17, 2007; available at

(8) See Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 119 ff.

(9) The complex relationship between Derrida and religion will be touched on only cursorily throughout this essay. He frequently distinguished codified religious systems from an underlying faith in the potential for the inbreaking of justice, etc. John Caputo claimed that Derrida's eye and ear were "deeply messianic and not a little Jewish" (John D. Caputo, ed. and comm., Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, Perspectives in Continental Philosophy [New York: Fordham University Press, 1997], p. 158). For the need to deconstruct religion itself, see Jacques Derrida, "The Villanova Roundtable," in Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, pp. 3 ff.

(10) Jacques Derrida and Lieven De Cauter, "For a Justice to Come: An Interview with Jacques Derrida," in Lasse Thomassen, ed., The Derrida-Habermas Reader (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 268.

(11) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, pp. 46-47.

(12) Derrida, "Villanova Roundtable," p. 21.

(13) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell. p. 157.

(14) Ibid., p. 160.

(15) Simon Glendirming. Derrida: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 30.

(16) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 163; see p. 165 for the understanding of faith as "not knowing."

(17) See Glendinning, Derrida, p. 39; for Wittgenstein's notion of hope as related to language, see Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, tr. G.E.M. Anscombe (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1958), I.2.i, p. 174; for Derrida's parallel concept of "iterability," see Eftichis Pirovolakis, Reading Derrida and Ricoeur: Improbable Encounters between Deconstruction and Hermeneutics, SUNY Series: Insinuations--Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Literature (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010), p. 162.

(18) Jacques Derrida, "Memoires: For Paul de Man," in Pirovolakis, Reading Derrida and Ricoeur, p. 135; also see Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 173.

(19) For a particularly vitriolic apologetic against the death of teleology, consider Stanley Hauerwas, "The Christian Difference, Or, Surviving Postmodernism," Cultural Values 3 (April, 1999): 168.

(20) See Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 158.

(21) On hospitality, see Hent de Vries, "Den'ida and Ethics: Hospitable Thought," in Tom Cohen, ed., Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 176; on forgiveness, see Glendinning, Derrida, p. 81; on naming, see Jacques Derrida, The Derrida Reader: Writing Performances, ed. Julian Wolfreys, Stages 15 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), p. 231; on community, see Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 113; on Marxism, see Derrida, The Derrida Reader, p. 142; on democracy, see Simon Critchley, "Frankfurt Impromptu---Remarks on Derrida and Habermas," in Thomassen, The Derrida-Habermas Reader, p. 108.

(22) Derrida, "Villanova Roundtable," p. 22; emphasis in original.

(23) For the connection between modal reversals and the potential for the universal, see Glendinning, Derrida, p. 82.

(24) Jacques Derrida, "Hospitality," in Thomassen, The Derrida-Habermas Reader, p. 227.

(25) Ibid., p. 225.

(26) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 111.

(27) Derrida, The Derrida Reader, p. 156; emphasis in original.

(28) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 109; for the explicit connection between hospitality and the messianic, see p. 112.

(29) Derrida, "Hospitality," p. 220.

(30) Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), p. 148.

(31) See Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 111.

(32) See ibid., p. 124.

(33) See Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, p. 313; and Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 115.

(34) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 114.

(35) Hahs W. Frei, Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays (New York and Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 109.

(36) Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 174.

(37) Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), pp. 178-180; for the idea that Lindbeck is drawing on a concept much older than Wittgenstein, see Peter Ochs, "A Rabbinic Pragmatism," in Marshall, Theology and Dialogue, p. 215; for Lindbeck's own noting of the biblical idiom in the theologies of Karl Barth and Hans Urs yon Balthasar, see George A. Lindbeck, The Church m a Postliberal Age, ed. James J. Buckley (London: SCM Press, 2002; Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), p. 220; for the evolution of Wittgenstein's thought, see Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 208.

(38) Michael Root, "Identity and Difference: The Ecumenical Problem," in Marshall, Theology and Dialogue, p. 173.

(39) See Stanley Hauerwas, "The Church as God's New Language (1986),' in Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2001), p. 160; other postliberals such as Kathryn Tanner--and even (at times) Lindbeck-envision cooperative participation of the church in the world.

(40) See Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p. 114.

(41) Incidentally, on this point Lindbeck suggested that Islam may be an especially difficult cultural-linguistic system for translation, for "the Koran in Arabic is mandatory for religiously serious Muslims" (Lindbeek, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 231).

(42) See ibid., p. 232.

(43) Jacques Derrida, "Is There a Philosophical Language?" in Thomassen, The Derrida-Habermas Reader, pp. 43-43 (emphasis added).

(44) Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, p. 182.

(45) See Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, pp. 85 and 230.

(46) Ibid., pp. 228-229.

(47) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 47.

(48) George A. Lindbeck, The Future of Roman Catholic Theology: Vatican II-catalyst for Change (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), p. 37.

(49) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 53.

(50) Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 229.

(51) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 54; emphasis added.

(52) See Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, p. 176; and Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology, ed. George Hunsinger and William C. Plaeher (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University

Press, 1992), p. 85.

(53) See Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 20; and Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p. 152. For evidence that Derrida was beholden to (if nuancing beyond) Wittgenstein, compare Derrida's specific treatment of the concept of shopping lists (Derrida, Limited Inc, in Glendinning, Derrida, p. 72) with Wittgenstein's (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations/Philosophische Untersuchungen, tr. G. E. M. Anscombe [New York: Macmillan Co., 1958], I. 1.i, pp. 2-3]). For the boundaries of Wittgenstein's religiosity, see Earl Stanley B. Fronda, Wittgenstein's (Misunderstood) Religious Thought (Leiden: Brill, 2010), p. 95.

(54) Frei, Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, p. 109.

(55) Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, pp. 113 and 139.

(56) Ibid., p. 143.

(57) See Glendinning, Derrida, p. 51; and Ochs, "A Rabbinic Pragmatism," p. 215.

(58) See Frei, Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, pp. 208-209; and Glendinning, Derrida, p. 72.

(59) See Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 129.

(60) For Derrida's anti-relativism, consider Glendinning, Derrida, pp. 20-21. For Lindbeck's anti-relativism, recall his assertion that "religions may be complementary in the sense that they provide guidance to different but not incompatible dimensions of existence" (Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p.53).

(61) See Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, p. 182.

(62) Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 233.

(63) Cf. Tasi Perkins, "Abraham on Whose Terms? Isaac and Ishmael as a Particularity-Driven Paradigm for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Engagement," in Journal of Comparative Theology 2 (March, 2011): 60.

(64) Frei, Theology and Narrative, p. 137; for a postliberal example merging Michel Foucault with John Howard Yoder, see Hauerwas, "Christian Difference," p. 165.

(65) For the inherent connection between Wittgenstein and ethics, see Joseph Incandela, "The Appropriation of Wittgenstein's Work by Philosophers of Religion: Towards a Re-Evaluation and an End," Religious Studies 21 (December, 1985): 474; for Derrida's intense skepticism of immediate universals, see Derrida, "Villanova Roundtable," p. 23.

(66) Daniel A. Madigan, "A Common Word between Us and You: Some Initial Reflections," in Thinking Faith: The Online Journal of British Jesuits (2008), p. 1.

(67) Derrida and De Cauter, "For a Justice to Come," p. 268; also see Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 218.

(68) Root, "Identity and Difference," p. 183; also see Christopher Fynsk, "Derrida and Philosophy: Acts of Engagement," in Cohen, Derrida and the Humanities, p. 164.

(69) Lindbeck, Church in a PostliberalAge, p. 279, n. 5.

(70) Ibid., p. 280, n. 5; quoting Christopher Norris, Deconstruction: Theory and Practise (London and New York: Methuen & Co., 1982), pp. 106 and 108. Lindbeck highlighted an important difference between "deconstructionism" and "intratextualism."

(71) See Derrida, "Villanova Roundtable,'" p. 23; and Lindbeck, Future of Roman Catholic Theology, p. 80.

(72) Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Relig!ons, p. 185.

(73) See Derrida, The Derrida Reader, p. 93.

(74) See Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 232.

(75) Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 308.

(76) Pirovolakis, Reading Derrida and Ricoeur, p. 162.

(77) For an early example of Lindbeck's optimistic vision, see George A. Lindbeck, Infallibility (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1972), p. 3.

(78) Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 229.

(79) Searle, "Literary Theory and Its Discontents," p. 639.

(80) Ibid. Vanhoozer has suggested that "literary genre has its own resources with which to resist Der-rida's attack on the idea of stable context" (Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 339).

(81) Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Democracy and Education, ed. C[arlos]-P[eregrin] Otero, Social Theory, Education, and Cultural Change Series (New York and London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003), p. 93.

(82) Searle, "Literary Theory and Its Discontents," p. 641.

(83) Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty/Uber Gewissheit, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, tr. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York and Evanston, IL: J. & J. Harper Editions, 1969), no. 56, p. 9; emphasis in original.

(84) Jacques Den-ida, Limited lnc (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 49; cited in Glendinning, Derrida, p. 72 (emphasis in original).

(85) Derrida, Limitedlnc, p. 123; cited in Searle, "Literary Theory and Its Discontents," p. 638.

(86) See Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 162.

(87) See Glendinning, Derrida, p. 64.

(88) See Lindbeek, Future of Roman Catholic Theology, p. 80.

(89) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 23.

(90) Frei noted postmodern irony in the fact of" technical articulation among theological or religious followers of Wittgenstein's later views," observing that "its sharp rejection of the other types [of attitudes to Christian theology] is a purely philosophical rather than theological argument--namely, the rejection of universal, transcendental Wissenschaflstheorie and the appeal instead to the metaphor grammar" (Frei, Types of Christian Theology, pp. 4-5; emphasis in original).

(91) See Jurgen Habermas, "Leveling the Genre Distinction between Philosophy and Literature," in Thomassen, The Derrida-Habermas Reader, p. 24.

(92) Hauerwas, "Church as God's New Language," p. 157.

(93) Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 85.

(94) bid.

(95) See ibid., p. 233; even in his brief writings on interreligious engagement, he either bracketed or short-circuited the problem of interreligious soteriological dialogue (see Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 59).

(96) See Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, pp. 54--55.

(97) For helpful explanations of difference and intertextuality, see Glendinning, Derrida, p. 66; and Grenz, Primer on Postmodermsm, p. 143. For a critique, see Searle, "Literary Theory and Its Discontents," p. 637. For Lindbeck's distinction between the "intratextual" and the "extratextual," see Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 114. Lindbeck has connected deconstructionists to "extratextuality" to the extent that they spurn the cultural-linguistic approach (see Lindbeck, Church in a PostliberalAge, pp. 113-114).

(98) SLindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, p. 23.

(99) Lindbeck in Nature of Doctrine treated the interreligious very differently from the way he treated the ecumenical (see especially pp. 130 ff).

(100) Lindbeck conceded that bilingualism is theoretically possible but asserted that "genuine bilingualism (not to mention mastery of many religious languages) is so rare and difficult as to leave basically intact the barrier to extramural communication posed by untranslatability in religious matters" (Lindbeck, Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 229).

(101) Ibid., p. 231.

(102) Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine. p. 49.

(103) For the idea of common values across religious traditions, see Leo D. Lefebure, Revelation, the Religions, and Violence (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), p. 13.

(104) For this typology, see David Ray Griffin, "Religious Pluralism: Generic, Identist, and Deep," in David Ray Griffin, ed., Deep Religious Pluralism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), pp. 8-21.

(105) Frei, Theology and Narrative, p. 162.
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