Imagining Forth the Incarnation: A Theo-Poetics of the Flesh
Takacs, Axel Marc Oaks
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CitationTakacs, Axel Marc Oaks. 2019. Imagining Forth the Incarnation: A Theo-Poetics of the Flesh. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractThis dissertation is an exercise in comparative theology between two pre-modern textual traditions, one Islamic the other Christian. I read these traditions together, interreligiously, in search of critical and embodied constructive interpretations with a view to our contemporary world. The Christian textual tradition under discussion is the Latin corpus of Johannes Scotus Eriugena (d. circa 877), an Irish theologian whose main influences were Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), Pseudo-Dionysius (who wrote before 532), Gregory of Nyssa (d. circa 395), and Maximus Confessor (d. 662). The Islamic textual tradition under discussion is the dīvān (collected love lyrics, ghazal [sg.]) of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ of Shīrāz (d. circa 1390) along with a 17th-century, South Asian Persian commentary entitled A Mystical Commentary on the Love Lyrics of Ḥāfiẓ (Sharḥ-i ʿirfānī-yi ghazalhā-yi Ḥāfiẓ), written by a certain Abū al-Ḥasan Khatamī Lāhūrī, whose reading is configured principally by two Islamic discursive traditions (which had coalesced nearly seamlessly in his South Asian context): the first known as the madhhab-i ʿishq (School of Love), and the second known as the School of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240).
This dissertation employs the method of comparative theology informed by the work of Francis X. Clooney, SJ. By reading Eriugena’s corpus through an Islamic theo-poetics, it seeks to redress the highly rationalistic and disembodied reading of his oeuvre that prevails in much of 20th- and 21st-century scholarship on the Irish theologian. Rather than a philosophical idealist devoid of any Incarnational theology, the function of the imagination (khayāl), metaphor (majāz), poetry, the Imaginal World, and passionate love (ʿishq), all central to an Islamic theo-poetics (as constructed in this dissertation through a reading of Ḥāfiẓ/Lāhūrī), is applied to Eriugena’s theology to draw out the constitutive and formative function of the Incarnation in his work. This comparative exercise illuminates the Incarnational theology of Eriugena’s thought otherwise occluded by his dialectical reasoning.
The texts are read in the context of their respective historical and intellectual discursive traditions, but in a way that emphasizes the resources they possess for a liberating praxis today. A theo-poetics of the flesh is constructed through this exercise in interreligious, comparative theology. Drawing from the thought of Paul Ricoeur and Cornelius Castoriadis concerning social imaginaries, I transpose this theo-poetics of the flesh into an Incarnational imaginary. The formative function of imaginaries is explored and subsequently related to the Incarnation to suggest that the flesh is constitutive of our relationship not just to each other and the world, but to God. A theo-poetics of the flesh is an Incarnational imaginary that functions to disrupt and subvert dominant and oppressive social imaginaries that have no relation to the Word-made-flesh. Just as the reading of these texts is attuned to their poetics, how texts mean, likewise is a theo-poetics of the flesh attuned to how we may imagine forth the Incarnation in spaces and communities today: theo(poïe)sis is our communal theosis.
In addition to contributing to scholarship on Eriugena and to constructive Catholic theology, this dissertation also produces critical insights into the fields of Persian literature (particularly ṣūfī poetry), the Islamic mystical tradition (“sufism”), and the state of 17th-century, South Asian Islamic discourse. It challenges the dualistic (secular-religious) reading of Ḥāfiẓ’s love lyrics prevalent in the field of Persian literature, and the prominent, modern scholarly conceptions of the purpose of mystical terms (iṣṭilāḥāt) vis-à-vis commentaries on Persian poems. Together, these contributions provide a nondual conceptualization of theology, anthropology, cosmology, and interpretive traditions. This nonduality configures the Incarnational imaginary in the constructive portions of the dissertation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40615598