sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Phenomenological / Political

Hear Sarah’s 4 minute clip on Levinas

Books in Progress…

[Click the pull-down bars per entry to read more about each project]

Pardon, Pause, Politics: Rereading Levinas through Existence and Existents (book in progress)

In this book, I explore a unique phenomenology of “pardon and pause” in Levinas’ 1947 Existence and Existents with implications for contemporary philosophical–including political–issues. In effect, I take up pardon and pause in way of developing a ‘pre-Totality-and-Infinity‘ (and hence, pre-“infinity”/”transcendence’) lexicon through which to approach anew (and with new insights) the anti-existentialist contours of Levinas’ work from even his earliest writings.

In the project, I develop a “pausal subject” who stands in a primordial need for pardon and who is ultimately grounded in multiple layers of paradox. In this frame, I explore the mood and mode of “trembling agency”–related to a tripartite paradox of temporality–at the ground of human subjectivity and action.

I also look at the uniquely past-inflected (though not in the sense of conservative) “Covenantal” element of Levinas in which pardon and pause go hand-in-hand with past-ness and paradox as a core “double” (and ultimately “triple”) groundings of human subjectivity. In this regard, I also develop a theory of Levinas’ “Time of Genesis” and “Time of Exodus.”

After starting with a robust chapter on method (including a discussion of what I call “Judeo-Inflection” in a reading of Levinas, and including a comparison of phenomenology and empiricism and their differing senses of basic inter-human indebtedness), I end with a chapter on politics where I draw out implications from the phenomenology of pardon and pause for questions of civic friendship/love, civic hope, and civic forgiveness. Following on some of my earlier work, I highlight Levinas’ critique of liberalism, and I show how the pardon/pausal modes of “trembling agency”–found in the Judeo-inflected spaces of Covenantality and the overlapping Times of Genesis and Exodus–can serve us well in a contemporary context.

Friendship is not a Civic Strategy: An Unusual Guide to Better Bipartisan and Interfaith Health (book in progress)

Written for a general audience, and set in the context of current-day American socio-politics, this guide sets out to pursue the unexpected details and implications of the following simple (but of course, not so simple) claim: In a pluralistic democracy, we are civically responsible for — and must feel viscerally responsible for — even neighbors whose ideas we hate.

After starting with exclusion of racist views and other hate speech, Friendship is not a Civic Strategy sets out to explore the surprising way that our best civic friendship strategies–when left unsupplemented by a deep new spirit of responsibility–can actually make us worse at civics (and make civics worse).

The project includes an exploration of embodiment for politics, and ends by exploring applied solutions.

The Miracle Option in Interfaith: From Literacy to Liturgy (website, guide-book, and webinar/workshop; in progress)

In this project–aimed primarily at religious and spiritual practitioners, though ending with a chapter for atheists, agnostics, and others who don’t identify as religious/spiritual–I reframe interfaith work by highlighting the mysterious and miraculous element that is often overlooked. Doing so involves a practical shift from interfaith work to INTRAfaith work, and from work primarily centeredon (1) improving literacy and (2) meeting as many people from other religions as possible to: liturgy.

I speak of ‘liturgy’ in two senses: (1) Prayer: I call on congregations to engage in INTRAfaith prayers and sermons that highlight the miraculous nature of interfaith encounter by using resources strictly from within their own thought/action traditions. (2) Works: Focusing on the etymology of “liturgy” (lit. people-work), I connect The Miracle Option to doing concrete works together in the world. While this second point (albeit not under the header of ‘liturgy as people work’) is much more common in existing interfaith frameworks, MANY important differences emerge when the spirit of working together is recast within the context of prayer itself understood as the main appropriate response to an inter-human miracle.

In the end, while I think there is a place for increased religious literacy, I recommend giving new (and higher) priority to approaching interfaith relations under the primary sign of the miracle. Our work in interfaith in this way becomes more intra-group focused as we embark on the delicate and risky (and uncomfortable) task of precipitating, fostering, and revering the miracle of encounter with someone whose form of life is nothing like our own.

Also underway:

Celebrity Virus: A Phenomenology & Politics of Fame

(book in progress)

Recently published…

“Kenosis, Emancipation, Pastness: Reflections from a Jew,” The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory (JCRT) (Spring 2019) 18:2: 214-223

http://www.jcrt.org/archives/18.2/Pessin.pdf

“America’s Love Problem: How Oprah’s Call to Friendship Feeds Bannon’s Call to Racism (or: On Three Strains of Liberal Lovesickness),” Political Theology Network, Love and Politics Colloquium (August 2018)

[https://politicaltheology.com/americas-love-problem/]

“Kenosis, Charity, Love: On the Mystical Element in Greco-Judeo-Islamic Thought,” English Language Notes (special issue on mysticism, ed. Nan Goodman), 56 (1), April 2018: 139-152.

“Khoric Apophasis: Matter and Messianicity in Islamo-Judeo-Greek Neoplatonism,” in Negative Theology as Jewish Modernity, ed. Michael Fagenblat, 180-197. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

“From Mystery to Laughter to Trembling Generosity: Agono-Pluralistic Ethics in Connolly v. Levinas (& the Possibilities for Atheist-Theist Respect),” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Nov. 2016

DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2016.1248128: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09672559.2016.1248128

Also published in: Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the ‘Return of Religion’, eds. Michael Staudigl and Jason W. Alvis, 171-94 (Routledge, 2018)

See Late Ancient & Medieval Philosophy Research

Go Home