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-by Gary J. Percesepe

Appropriating the Atheists (Part 1)

Merold Westphal is professor of philosophy at Fordham University. The author of History and Truth in Hegel's Phenomenology; God, Guilt, and Death and Suspicion and Faith, he is codirector of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy and a past president of both the Hegel Society and the Kierkegaard Society of North America.

Last summer Westphal directed a Calvin College Faculty Seminar in Christian Scholarship on the topic "Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought," made possible by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The seminar explored the hypothesis that, in spite of the intentions of its major proponents, postmodern philosophy is not inherently secular but open to possibilities for appropriation by Christian thought. (A book based on the seminar, Appropriating the Post- modernists, edited by Westphal, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press.) The interview took place in the Hekman Library at Calvin College.

There is much confusion as to what postmodernism might possibly mean. How do you use this term?

When I use the term postmodernism I use it in a narrow sense to refer to a fairly small group of contemporary philosophers. What they have in common is a repudiation of certain themes that are not inappropriately referred to as modern.

As far as a larger cultural phenomenon, it's hard to make postmodernism work as a description of it. I'm tempted to play with the notion that, if there is a transition from modernity to postmodernity, it would be a cultural shift from faith in science to faith in technology. Put in Nietzschean terms, that would mean a shift from the quest for truth to the quest for power--not just in social and collective ways, but in personal and individual ways.

Frederic Jameson, in Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, writes: "It is safest to grasp the postmodern as an attempt to think the present historically in an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place." This attempt to write ...

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