Phenomenology of Listening (no. 1): Theology – University of Copenhagen

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Phenomenology of Listening (no. 1): Theology

It is no coincidence that we often use acoustic metaphors in order to describe the relation between interiority and exteriority. The sense of hearing can be seen as the door to the soul (Johann Gottfried Herder), but it is also essential for a human being’s openness to the external world. Moreover, there is an obvious connection between Vernunft and Vernehmen: according to Helmuth Plessner, the human spirit has its soil and substratum in sensory perception, and thinking is particularly related to listening. While Derrida’s criticism of logo- and phonocentrism assumes an underlying ‘metaphysics of presence’ where ‘thinking to oneself’ means ‘hearing oneself speak,’ we will explore listening as the bond between impression and expression, between call and response, and as one’s link par excellence to the Other. We will concentrate on what eludes the apparent identity between reason, language, and reality.

In a series of lectures and research seminars at CJMC and an ensuing publication, we will develop a multi-disciplinary approach to the phenomenology of listening with an emphasis on the foreignness of the word, voice, or speech experienced by a person who becomes moved and de-centered by more or less harmonious or conflictual events of resonance happening in-between subjectivity and alterity.

Research seminar no. 1 focuses on theological aspects of listening as an exemplary experience of being reached ‘from outside’ and yet being touched in one’s innermost.

While ‘Logos’ in Greek philosophical thought refers not only to reasoned discourse, but also to the rational order of the cosmos, the Hebrew Bible speaks of the living ‘Word of God’ that created the universe (cf. Genesis 1:1). According to the Kabbalists and Gershom Scholem, God reveals Himself in His Word. Yet nobody would be able to hear it if human beings would not pass it on with their own voices. And the continuity of the revelation once given on Sinai can only be preserved if ‘once’ is repeated often. Thus, in interpreting God’s Word, we follow the traces of a written and the echo of a spoken word that does no longer coincide with itself, but is conveyed in a plurality of voices.

Hearing is a hermeneutical process. Emmanuel Levinas has it that revelation is made by its recipient, the inspired subject that shapes what it hears. In inspiration the exterior becomes interior. How are we to understand, for instance, the phenomenon of prayer – is it a ‘dialogue’ (and if so, in what sense) or just a specific form of attention to God? The answer to this question is far from self-evident because God’s ‘voice’ is not audible in the ordinary sense of the word. Moreover, another question arises: What does it mean to speak of God’s ‘silence’ after Auschwitz – is God completely ‘absent’ or just ‘hidden’? If the latter is the case, how can we identify what God wants us to say and do, and how can we know whether a prayer has been answered?




George Pattison (University of Glasgow): “God speaks within: from mystical vision to devout listening”


Coffee break


Ulrich Lincoln (Wolfsburg): “The Intentionality and Textuality of Listening: The Phenomenological Basis of Biblical Hermeneutics”


Coffee break


Claudia Welz (University of Copenhagen):

“God’s ‘voice’ and his ‘silence’ after Auschwitz”


Participation is free, but online registration required by October 16