A couple of weeks ago I shared my thoughts on transcendence and religion in our modern age in a TEDtalk. I gave this talk for the student speaker choice award of TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh. Together with 13 other students I took the stage after weeks of workshops and preparation. I’d was an amazing experience. Not only taking that stage and giving a talk that breaths your own thoughts word by word, but also working on that talk.
My reasons for giving this talk were clear to me. For years I’ve occupied myself with a thorough study of the notion of religion, secularism and transcendence. A rather solitary process, since not many people (in respect to the world population – or even my surroundings) are familiar with the debate, the jargon, the problems, and questions. But I truly believe that addressing the notions of religion and transcendence today, is addressing a topic that occupies everyone. In one way or the other.
“Belief in transcendence is a fundamental aspect to religion, because of the character of religion; whether it is polytheistic, monotheistic, or non-theistic, religion always refers to something transcendent, something higher or beyond, to something that goes beyond our own capacities, responsibility, and control. The notion of a sense of fullness is crucial for our practical context. All human beings ask questions about the quality of their life and are concerned with living a life that is worthwhile.”
The question remains whether religion is the only way to connect to something transcendent and reach a state of fullness. The religious landscape has changed dramatically in our contemporary society, especially compared to to the year 1500. Moreover, the distinctions between different sorts of religious or non-religious practices and beliefs have become less definite. In addition, new forms of non-belief as well as beliefs outside Christian orthodoxy have risen.
Maybe you are a fervent atheist, and annoyed by being discriminated or even worse silenced because of this belief. Or maybe you’re born in the bible belt, loyal to your religion and having troubles with certain legislations in the modern society because of this. Maybe you don’t believe anything at all, but at the same time you are searching for ‘something’ because this world of fast consumerism doesn’t make sense. A topic that is engaging to so many people on so many levels, needs to be addressed. Preferably to much than to little. And this is why I the TEDtalk. To contribute to this engaging topic. Where philosophy sometimes lakes the possibility to reach many people, youtube video’s like the TED video’s can.
If you want to read more about the transcendent in our modern world, have a look at the “Immanent Frame” theory of philosopher Charles Tayler (in another fragment of my thesis).
According to Taylor, we all share an immanent frame nowadays. This immanent frame is a central concept in Taylor’s theory and one of his most influential and useful notions. The immanent frame must be understood as a shared structure that constitutes a natural and immanent order over against an order that is supernatural and transcendent. Furthermore, the immanent frame is characterised by a modern scientific world view, modern exclusive humanism, and the buffered self which is disciplined and individualistic. Our lives take place in an order that is self-sufficient and immanent, on a social, moral, and cosmic level. Here, a reference to a higher or divine realm lacks necessity. We can do without a God, because we can attribute everything to “Nature” and even to “developing human motivation”.
Accordingly, our idea of religion has changed. Nevertheless, despite our immanent frame and the lack of a necessity of transcendence, we can still choose to be open to something beyond: to the transcendent realm.
Taylor frames the idea of transcendence as an option as follows. He states that the immanent frame can have two different ‘spins’. These spins can have a tendency towards either closure or openness. Taylor calls immanent orders closed when they ignore or deny the possibility of transcendence completely. Reasons for choosing an immanent frame that is closed are fear for religious fanaticism; the attraction of the idea that we belong to the order of nature; and the belief that there are no miracles or mysteries. An immanent frame that is open keeps the option of transcendence open. The main reason for open immanence is the belief in a higher, and possibly collective, good: the idea that there exists a better, more moral, way of life which we can reach by aiming at something higher. A second, negative, reason expresses that there is a need for transcendence because we feel that something is lacking in the immanent order. We cannot believe that this is all there is.
Of course my position here (and if you’ve seen the talk you can probably guess this) is that this being open to the transcendent, the having of the open spin, does not necessarily have to be connected to the religious. It can be religious of course, and it often is. But as Dreyfus and Kelly have learned me, as well as my own personal experiences: all things can, potentially, be shining. The transcendent can be found in the other person that you love. During a football match. In a song that has a personal meaning to you. In the beauty of nature. In the encounter with a work of art.
If this grasps you as well, and your informative hunger is not yet satisfied, have a look at the immanent frame blog: an amazing online space where great scholars share their thoughts on this and related issues.