The Everyday Power of Liturgy: On the Significance of the Transcendental for a Phenomenology of Liturgy
2. Phenomenology and the Transcendental
3. The Transcendental Function of Liturgy
4. The “Religious” Character of Liturgy and Its Everyday Power
5. The Necessity of a Transcendental Element for a Rigorous Phenomenology of Liturgy
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I argue for this four-fold distinction within phenomenology at length in [citation removed for purposes of blind review]. Briefly, Husserl discusses the distinction between empirical and transcendental in (Husserl  1999, § 14), among other places. Derrida argues for the need for an “ultra-transcendental” dimension to phenomenology (Derrida 2010); note especially page 13. The “transcendental empirical” level then accounts for Merleau-Ponty’s use of Stiftung; cf., e.g., Renaud Barbaras’ claim about Stiftungen as the mode of being of sense (Barbaras 2004, p. 58). Michel Henry also discusses four distinct “transcendental relationships” (Henry 2002, p. 61)—though it would take some argumentation to determine whether his categories map on to the ones outlined here or not.
For a summary of this term and its significant for Merleau-Ponty, see (Vallier 2005).
Whether all phenomenology must operate on this transcendental level is a matter of great debate; see, for example, (Zahavi 2021).
While phenomenology seems to have fallen out of favor in much of contemporary religious studies (at least as an explicit method of inquiry), it has been argued that phenomenology is fundamental to the kind of examination of religion that happens in the field of “religious studies”; see, for example, (Livingston 1998); (Kristensen 1960); and (Jurij 1963).
For example, the work of Otto, Eliade, etc., is almost entirely absent from the philosophy of religion conversations that happen in the phenomenological tradition with thinkers such as Marion, Henry, Falque, etc., thereby suggesting that people working in the “theological turn” do not consider Otto et. al. to be doing helpful phenomenological work.
Here I mean to highlight that people’s lives include more than the ways they do or do not participate in various institutions or practices that scholars of religion consider to be “religious”. Limiting our focus only to the latter limits our understanding of the significance of both liturgy and, potentially, of religion; on the latter, see (DeRoo 2018).
Ryan Duns, S.J., argues for the religious significance of orthoaesthesis (right perception) in his reading of William Desmond’s work as a kind of “spiritual exercise” see (Duns 2020). For Duns, we must therefore consider orthoaesthesis alongside orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy (right feeling) when considering the implications of religious actions or practices.
I acknowledge that this may be different than how the term is used in liturgical theology, where the term seems to mainly refer to Christian ritual practice. My hope with the phenomenological analysis of liturgy provided in this article is to provide a broader account of the structure or function of liturgy (specifically, its transcendental and formative function) that is therefore less committed to theological specificities or particular religious traditions. While this is not without risk (especially in assuming that the theological or religious specificity does not impact the structure), part of what I hope to show via this analysis is that our use of the term “liturgy” should be expanded beyond that narrower theological usage—including, perhaps, to begin to account for consumerist or capitalist practices, as James K.A. Smith suggests in (Smith 2009) and (Smith 2013).
Nicholas Wolterstorff contends that liturgies must follow a “script” (cf. Wolterstorff 2018, p. 43); however, if “script” means something that is linguistically codified (either in writing or in memorization), this seems potentially too restrictive, as it would rule out any non-linguistic rituals, and those learned through bodily repetition rather than linguistic communication. Hence, I am using the more broad “regular and repeatable action” in place of the notion of a “script”, given the latter’s linguistic connotations.
Gschwandtner is speaking here specifically of the space of ritual, though it seems that if it holds for the spatial dimension of ritual, it holds for ritual itself as well.
I contend that this clarification of “religious framework” as that which is deliberately organized to frame our experience in particular religious ways is not circular insofar as it does not seek to define the “religious” element, but to clarify the religious framework in which a ritual action must take place for that action to be considered liturgical. In this sense, suggesting that the relevant framework is to be understood, not simply in light of particular institutions or practices that religious scholars consider “religious”, but rather in light of the entirety of one’s experiencing of the world is an interesting clarification of “liturgy”—though not, perhaps, a helpful clarification of “religion”. On the latter, see (DeRoo 2018).
This is especially true in philosophy of mind, it seems to me, but also in colloquial discourse, where doing something “consciously” simply means doing it purposively and with volition.
This is true in Husserl’s work on passive synthesis (for example, in Husserl 2001), Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “operative intentionality” in Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty 1962, p. xx), or of the notion of “style” in engaging the world (see Merleau-Ponty 1964b, “Eye and Mind”) and (Merleau-Ponty 1964c, “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence,” pp. 53–54), Heidegger’s accounts of thrownness and attunement in Being and Time (Heidegger 1996), and virtually the entirety of what is known as “critical phenomenology” (for an introduction to this stream of phenomenology, cf. Guenther 2020, pp. 11–16).
This is a major theme of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology: that the transcendental conditions of our experience are inscribed in our body and in the “flesh of the world” before and so that they can be inscribed in consciousness.
For Wolterstorff, this seems to be part of the value of liturgy—that it can help us “worship God” (which is the purpose he ascribes to Christian liturgy) in ways better than we may (consciously) know how to do ourselves (cf. Wolterstorff 2018, pp. 43, 107, and 118).
Merleau-Ponty explores the transcendental dimension of visibility and tactility (as representative of other “sensings” [Empfindnisse] of the world) in The Visible and the Invisible (Merleau-Ponty 1968) in ways that differ significantly from his more “psychological” work on modes of embodiment in The Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty 1962). At stake in the different approaches between these two works is differing understandings of the relation that holds between transcendental and empirical (cf. Merleau-Ponty 1964a, “An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of his Work”) and (Barbaras 2004, p. 84).
For further justifiction of these distinctions, see (DeRoo 2020a), “Phenomenological Spirituality and its Relationship to Religion.”
Though of course this etymology is not uncontested; for a classical summary of this question see (Hoyt 1912).
The nature of this “reality” and our connection to it is therefore precisely what is at stake in the question of religiosity: is “reality” primarily super-empirical (God, brahman, etc.) or simply empirical? Is our connection to it brought about by spiritual exercises, everyday actions, or scientific inquiry? The question of whether liturgy connects us to God or to a particular concrete community can therefore be seen as taking place within a broader religious question of the nature of reality and our connection to it.
Some may wonder whether this claim is too grandiose: would we not be better to say that liturgy is intended to function to bring spirituality to the forefront of our experience, though it may not, in all cases, do so? However, I think such an objection is premised on an ambiguity in use of the term “liturgy”: I am here trying to define liturgy according to a certain role or function that it plays in shaping our experiencing of the world. Let us call this a “phenomenological” definition of liturgy. On such a definition, something that does not have this effect would cease to be a liturgy. This may seem problematic, insofar as various actions that religious scholars would deem “liturgies” may not be seen as having such an effect, and hence would cease to be “liturgies”. However, this is because they are working with a substantive defintion of “liturgy”, in which liturgy refers primarily to a kind of thing, and not to the function such a thing plays. The objection, then, would be that my definition of liturgical functioning does not seem to fit the actions that religious scholars are inclined to call “liturgies”. However, this is only problematic, for my definition, if liturgies do not, in fact, perform this function, and it is far from obvious to me that this is the case: while it is clear that not all participants, or even scholars studying liturgy, are consciously aware that this is happening in a particular action, this is not sufficient, on its own, to say that it is not, in fact, happening, as I have already suggested above. Moreover, it strikes me as plausible that something that used to perform a “liturgical” function (in this sense) could cease to perform that function, and therefore cease to be a “liturgy” in the strict sense outlined here. In such a case, my definition here would simply say that we are technically incorrect to say that those actions still function “liturgically”, and therefore it may be technically inappropriate to continue to call them “liturgies”. Granted, if much of what we take to be “liturgies” do not fit a proposed definition of “liturgical”, this seems to suggest the definition may be a bad one—but, as I said, I do not think that is necessarily the case here: I think most people performing a “liturgical” action, in the traditional understanding of that term (e.g., a communal prayer), are having their spirituality foregrounded, if for no other reason than that they are performing them explicitly in the context of a religious worship service, which thereby is bringing their “spirituality” to the forefront of their experience, even if they are not consciously aware that it is doing so. Perhaps this problem could be ameliorated with further clarification of the notion of non-consciously bringing something to the forefront of my experience, though I do not have the space to do so here. Such a clarification may also end up opening new possible avenues of “religiosity” and new “religious” Stiftungen, which strikes me as potentially fruitful, provided it does not reduce everything to religion. For the problems with the latter move, see (Schilbrack 2013).
Cf. Augustine’s famous claim in Confessions that “Our heart is restless until it rests in [God]” (I.i.1), and see (Smith 2016).
See the traditional American hymn, “The World is not my Home” the first line of which reads: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” see (Brumley 1965).
See Barbarism (Henry 2013) for one argument (albeit a critical one) to this effect.
Originally from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Kearney uses this quote as the epigram for “Epiphanies of the Everyday” (Kearney 2006, p. 3).
For more on this alteration of the notion of “religion”, see (DeRoo 2018).
I refer here to “my experiencing” as the singular first person in the preferred mode of phenomenological discourse. However, I do not mean to thereby discount the communal nature of liturgy, insofar as the individual is always shaped (in their subjectivity) by communal forces, as Husserl’s discourse on spirituality or Merleau-Ponty’s discourses on “institution” make clear. For more on this, see [citation removed for purposes of blind review].
While I do not have time to argue it here, the “or not” is crucial here, for if some (liturgical) practices are performed that enable me to see a possible sacrality to the pots and pans, it is also and equally the case that some (liturgical?) practices have been performed that would enable me to see the pots and pans as simply mundane, as not sacred at all. Since, humans can, and have, experienced both the sacrality and the mundanity of everyday phenomena in various cultures at various times in human history, we know both are possible ways of experiencing the world. What is of interest to the transcendental phenomenologist of liturgy, then, is what actions shape our experiencing such that we can experience X religiously or such that we do not experience X religiously. Both outcomes are the result of “liturgical” formation.
Though I have serious reservations about whether the transcendental effects of our actions can ever be controlled or predicted in advance; cf. [citation removes for purposes of blind review], especially chapters four and six.
For one recent example of Catholic phenomenologists exploring the ultra-transcendental conditions of the Eucharist, see (Falque 2016).
The phenomenon of prayer would perhaps drive this point home even better than the phenomenon of the Eucharist, insofar as Yogic or Zen Buddhist prayer practices differ greatly from Protestant Christian prayer practices, and open not just new understandings of how to perform prayer, but of its effects (e.g., regulated breathing, lowering anxiety, clearing the mind of one’s own concerns so as to re-connect with a higher power).
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DeRoo, N. The Everyday Power of Liturgy: On the Significance of the Transcendental for a Phenomenology of Liturgy. Religions 2021, 12, 633. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080633
DeRoo N. The Everyday Power of Liturgy: On the Significance of the Transcendental for a Phenomenology of Liturgy. Religions. 2021; 12(8):633. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080633Chicago/Turabian Style
DeRoo, Neal. 2021. "The Everyday Power of Liturgy: On the Significance of the Transcendental for a Phenomenology of Liturgy" Religions 12, no. 8: 633. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080633