Postmodernism and the Revolution

black-holeCarl Raschke is interested in revolutionizing the field of religious studies with a semiotic theorizing of religion that departs radically from traditional, scientific approaches. Religion is not on the rise as a return to tradition, rather religion is reformatting itself. This reformulation requires “a more encompassing, theoretical architecture” (1). This departure hinges on conceiving a theory of religion that reflects on the question of the relation between signs and singularity. Cutting sign from referent, postmodernity unleashed infinite semiosis. This would have resulted in an unending “whirl” had not the referent been replaced with the singularity, which designates the generative “event horizon” that initiates religious language.  “The  religious,” Raschke writes, “is the event horizon of the signifying webwork.” In other words, “religion is not a ‘form’ or ‘cultural formation’; it is neither an ‘essence’ nor a generic characteristic of phenomena. It is a singularity around which the signs of language and culture…swarm and circulate…In religious theory, we must begin to theorize from the sign to the singular, and theorize from the singularity to the signs that constitute culture and history” (5).

Religion is a singularity around which the signs of language and culture swarm and circulate.

Religion is not a phenomenon out there in the world like a thunderstorm. It is trans-phenomenal, much like the semiotic formalisms of theoretical physics that never “materialize” but are eminently real. In this way, we end up not with objects but events that are postulated as part of a semiotic chain. This chain plays at the horizon (or event horizon), which we cannot see beyond. It is this event horizon or singularity that Raschke names the religious. In other words, Raschke does “not attempt to theorize religion as a peculiar type of signification, but as the singularity around which the infinity of such significations tend to swirl and mobilize” (8). In the end, the religious is the real that is generative.

Religion is a singularity around which the signs of language and culture swarm and circulate. Religion is not a phenomenon out there in the world like a thunderstorm. It is trans-phenomenal, much like the semiotic formalisms of theoretical physics that never “materialize” but are eminently real. In this way, we end up not with objects but events that are postulated as part of a semiotic chain. This chain plays at the horizon (or event horizon), which we cannot see beyond. It is this event horizon or singularity that Raschke names the religious. In other words, Raschke does “not attempt to theorize religion as a peculiar type of signification, but as the singularity around which the infinity of such significations tend to swirl and mobilize” (8). In the end, the religious is the real that is generative.

*Raschke, Carl. Postmodernism and the Revolution in Religious Theory: Toward a Semiotics of the Event. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2012.

*This summary is for my upcoming comprehensive exam in the study of religion. Each week, I pick what I find to be the most interesting book of the current section and post a short summary of it.