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Universality and Historicity: On the Sources of Religion

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image of Research in Phenomenology

One of the central questions of Jacques Derrida's later writings concerns the sources of religion. At times he gives explicit priority to the universal dimension of religion. In other places, however, he considers the primacy of faith in its concrete, historical context. This paper will clarify Derrida's relationship to universality and historicity by first comparing his notion of "messianicity without messianism" to that of Walter Benjamin's "weak Messianism." After drawing out these differences, I will focus on Derrida's later writings. I will show that much of the ambiguity of Derrida's thinking on religion can be resolved by turning to his work on khōra, the Greek word for "space" or "matter." The rhetoric of khōra can allow us to think through a twofold logic, one that includes the universal/historical distinction and exceeds its alternatives.


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