Matter and Machine in Derrida’s Account of Religion

Sophia 54 (3):265-279 (2015)
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Jacques Derrida’s ‘Faith and Knowledge’ presents an account of the complex relationship between religion and technoscience that disrupts their traditional boundaries by uncovering both an irreducible faith at the heart of science and an irreducible mechanicity at the heart of religion. In this paper, I focus on the latter, arguing that emphases in Derrida’s text on both the ‘sources’ of religion and its interaction with modern technologies underemphasize the ways in which a general ‘mechanicity’ is present throughout religion. There is no faith, I contend, that is not in some way materially constituted according to a mechanicity operative not only at its origin but continuously and in ever-changing forms, and not only in its interactions with other fields and institutions but within its own structure and daily life. By closely examining ‘Faith and Knowledge’—along with examples from his essay ‘A Silkworm of One’s Own’ and Michael Naas’s Miracle and Machine—I argue that more attention should be paid to the mechanisms, both human and non-human, that populate and perform religion in its factical life. Mechanical bodies and practices are enlisted by religious traditions in order that these traditions continue to exist by continually reconstituting themselves in, for example, the repetitive use of religious objects or the vocal recitation of creeds. Such mechanical acts of religion are not ultimately opposed to the faithful experience that is often taken to be the wellspring of religious life; on the contrary, they are the conditions for the possibility of this experience
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