Hent de Vries

Hent de Vries holds the Russ Family Chair in the Humanities and is Professor of Philosophy at The Johns Hopkins University. He is also Professor Ordinarius of Systematic Philosophy and the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Amsterdam and Program Director at the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris. He is the author of Minimal Theologies: Critiques of Secular Reason in Adorno and Levinas (Johns Hopkins UP, 2005), Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida (Johns Hopkins UP, 2002), and Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Johns Hopkins UP, 1999). Among the volumes he has co-edited are, with Lawrence E. Sullivan, Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (Fordham UP, 2006), and, with Samuel Weber, Religion and Media (Stanford UP, 2001) and Violence, Identity, and Self-Determination (Stanford UP, 1998). He is Chair of The Future of the Religious Past, an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), which will disburse €5.4 million in support of advanced research and international conferences at Dutch universities in 2002-2010. In this capacity, he is also serves as General Editor of five volumes of proceedings resulting from the program, the first of which was recently published: Religion Beyond a Concept (Fordham UP, 2008).

Posts by Hent de Vries:

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The Niebuhr connection: Obama’s deep pragmatism

One of the most important elements of Obama’s pragmatism is the sense that “hope” can only be “realistic” if it wishes to be more than wishful thinking and whistling in the dark, just as much as “realism” without “hope” leads principally nowhere, but merely brutally affirms whatever is and only strengthens the powers that be. This may sound trivial, a platitude, but it is not. After all, the least one can say of any truism is that it has, well, truth to it. And, in matters political—but, perhaps, not only there—insight into the paradoxical, some would say aporetic, relationship between the ideal and the real holds the key to all. It all depends on what one gives prevalence, when and where and how. No political calculation can do this trick (and keep idealism from turning into “naïve idealism” or realism into “bitter realism”), nor is instinct its sound alternative. The expression “deep pragmatism” captures nicely what is at work and required here. So much for the truism.

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Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

A genuine “theologico-political” phenomenon

Most observers, even the otherwise sober-minded journal The Economist, agree that the anticipation and then election of Barack Obama to become the 44th president of the United States carried—and continues to carry—the promise of something like a “redeeming effect.” What has not been well-understood, even less clearly explained, is what I take to be one of the key factors of Obama’s phenomenal success. He won over an unlikely coalition of voters based on an inspirational message of hope for the common good, while running a campaign that stood out for its impeccable discipline and, at times, ruthless efficiency—at a certain moment the New York Times even spoke of its “military precision”—its message-oriented focus and lack of drama, its technological sophistication as well as its overall outreach where it mattered (its so-called ground battle, “street by street, block by block,” as the mantra went). It is fair to say that both the Clinton and the McCain camps and most conservative pundits fatally underestimated what they were up against, completely misread the signs, the writing on the wall, and, in the end, had no idea what had truly hit them. [...]

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Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Naive and reflective faiths

<br />It was difficult all along to conceive of religion (its ritual practices, mystical unions, or attractions and immersions of any other kind) without at the same time postulating or affirming a distancing—reflective or speculative, in case hypothetico-skeptical—stance vis-à-vis the world and life-world in all its worldly aspects. Religion, throughout the text of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, meant “engagement” and “disengagement” in theoretical, practical, and, more broadly, existential matters at once. To the very heart of religious belief there belongs not only an affirmation, but also a suspension of belief in the cosmic, social, or subjective matrices and fabrics of which we are made up. Our being-in-the world, qua believers, is, after all, if not exactly other-worldly, not-quite-of-or-out-of-this-world. [...]

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Friday, December 19th, 2008

The “option” of unbelief

<br />Charles Taylor suggests in A Secular Age that the “default option” in modernity is “unbelief” or “exclusivist humanism,” both of which make up the major positions or viewpoints that the secular “immanent frame”—both in its open and closed or “spun” variety—solicits and fosters. But this seemingly unproblematic observation merits further scrutiny. [...]

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