Transcendence & Immanence

The academic year 2016-2017 in the KHK is dedicated to the destinction between transcendece and immanence. Despite the western origin of the notions of 'transcendence' and 'immanence', there is good reason in assuming the interrelation expressed in the immanence-transcendence distinction to be the guiding feature of a religious sphere as such. Though the difference between 'God(s)' and 'the world' as a specific (western Protestant) form of transcendence does not necessarily and in any case have to be found in any religion, some forms of the immanence-transcendence distinction and processes of transcending play a role in every religious tradition.

Dynamics of a Distinction

The dynamic transcendence/immanence-distinction can be operationalized for comparative research, i.e. the distinction can be established as a tertium comparationis in religious studies. We propose a three level model of transcending processes, starting from a basic transcendence expressed in simple deictic actions such as pointing at (and, thereby establishing an interrelation of 'here', 'there' and a common 'world'). Basic transcendence (under the influence of contact) might develop into formal transcendence signifying the self-reflective process of 'stepping back and looking beyond' (B. Schwartz), i.e. the distinction of here, there and the world is self-reflectedly formalized (perhaps in order to differentiate between one’s reflective powers and everyday conduct of life). The distinction might be specified into 'religious' (specific) transcendence, such as the well-known difference between the divine and the worldly sphere. Basic and formal transcendence in this sense might be identified in any religious tradition.

When religions actually do encounter one another in history, the question how to shape the prevailing form of the transcendence/immanence-distinction semantically gains urgency. That is to say that interreligious encounter produces a semantic space of 'controversial commonality', in which the transcendence/immanence-relation may become more distinctive. Situations of religious contact can be an inducement for a specific religion at a specific time to embrace a concept of specific transcendence (for example introducing the 'real' God vs. worldly pagan 'Demons'). Perhaps the processes involved in a religious contact situation themselves might be described with regard to the transcendence/ immanence distinction.

Demarcation Processes

Situations of religious contact might be the trigger of an experience of contingency within one religious tradition. All of sudden, the traditional conduct of life is put to question by the presence of the other. On the one hand, the experience of contingency demands an answer to that challenge that reestablishes certainties by ('spatially') removing them to another, i.e. a transcendent sphere. On the other hand, the experience of the Other at the same time claims for integrating the criticizing other into a semantic field that can be controlled conceptually (for example: introduction of orthodox-heterodox-distinction in order to integrate the other). Religious contact, thus, might induce a double movement (more immanence/more transcendence) that causes intensification of both. Accordingly, the very process of demarcation might be interpreted as an expression of the transcendence/immanence-distinction (introducing notions of 'we' and 'they' and their interrelation). The emergence of general notions (such as 'religion') in order to capture, and, accordingly, to transcend the other on a common linguistic level might be interpreted with regard to the transcendence-immanence distinction as well. The other tradition transcends the first, functioning as a manifestation of an external second-order observation.

Perhaps one might argue that the final absolute (unsurpassable) transcendence of the divine has to be examined as result of a transcending process, i.e. a result of constant self-reflection and multi-folding of observations to a higher and higher order. This process is triggered by critique (voluntary and involuntary, i.e. by the mere presence of the other or many others). Thus, the process leads to a seemingly paradoxical result: The more critique, the more absolute (and distinct) the transcendent, but also the stronger the relation (inseparability) of the transcendent and the immanent, the 'here' and 'there'.