The gift of the other: Levinas, Derrida, and a theology of hospitality
Shepherd, Andrew Philip
Despite the celebration of 'difference' and the rhetoric of 'connectedness', the so-called 'global village' of the early twenty-first century is far from a peaceful and harmonious reality. Powerful ideological discourses such as the market and the political 'war on terror' shape a world in which many, classified as Others, are excluded. Conceived of as abstract commodities competing for limited resources, or worse, as potential 'terrorists' coming to 'destroy civilization', Others are seen as threats. In this world of exclusion and hostility the Christian church is summoned to continue to witness to the good news of God's gracious hospitality. The practice of 'hospitality' -what Christine Pohl refers to as 'an essential part of Christian identity' - is, however, rendered problematic due to the emasculation and distortion of the term by the prevailing ideologies of our time. To engage in this historical and life-giving practice faithfully therefore requires a theological rehabilitation of the concept of 'hospitality'. This thesis undertakes this rehabilitative task in two ways. Firstly, the work engages with the work of prominent French philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. In contrast to Cartesian western philosophical thought which has given primacy to the cogito, Levinas and Derrida claim that the self is constituted by the call of the Other. Instead of disregard or fear of the Other, their 'philosophies of hospitality' assert that authentic human existence is characterised by an 'infinite responsibility' before the face of the Other. While finding rich resources in Levinasian and Derridean thought, there are weaknesses and limitations in their respective understandings of selfhood, inter-human relationality, eschatology and teleology, and the differential ontology upon which their ethical philosophies are grounded. Therefore, while continuing the dialogue with Levinas and Derrida, section two of this thesis offers an explicitly theological account of 'hospitality'. Whereas Levinasian-Derridean thought implies that tension and hostility are both ontologically intrinsic and insurmountable, the Christian doctrines of Trinity, creation, and sin offer an ontology of primordial communion in which hostility is understood as arising from the failure of humanity to live in communion with others. This hostility is overcome in the 'once for all' death of Jesus. This sacrificial and substitutionary action, far from sacralising violence and turning suffering into a virtue, prevails over human enmity and offers the true form of personhood. Those who through faith accept this 'gift of God' are indwelt by the presence of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ and incorporated into a new form of sociality - the ecclesia. The alienated self, discomforted by the disturbing Other, undergoes a makeover and is transformed into an ecclesial self; expanded to 'make room' for otherness. Fear is replaced by love, and appropriative desire gives way to mutual gift-exchange. Undergoing this gradual transformation, the ecclesia is empowered to participate in God's redemptive purposes being enacted in the world and thus becomes a witness to God's hospitality.
Advisor: Rae, Murray; Davidson, Ivor
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Theology and Religion
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis