Naming God and the Techné of Language

Charles University, Faculty of Catholic Theology, Prague

14.11.2016 -

“Religion”, “technology” and “language” are certainly all suitable candidates for being considered the most foundational domain of the human phenomenon. While many would argue in favour of language as it is the domain most likely to fulfil the role of a ubiquitous medium, some may justifiably object that, along with the techné of writing, spoken language is also a kind of techné imposed on the organs of the human body with a sophisticated artificiality and astounding precision. And while we all know that there are things called “computer languages” and that “communication technologies” are redefining our social life, it is the technical dimension of these developments that impresses us rather than the linguistic. At the same time, however, it would be equally reasonable to make a case for religion as the most comprehensive framework for explaining the world, in that it is able to disclose and reveal the way language unfolds and technology operates.

These three domains form a unique constellation in a remarkable interpretive practice within Judaism which embraces a theology of divine names as a major point of orientation. Such practice constitutes an essential part of the Jewish Kabbalah (and its somewhat tendentious counterpart, the Christian Kabbalah) whose long history yielded illuminating developments like the curious reading of scriptural texts as sequences of characters and the related idea that the whole of the Torah is a single divine Name. Accordingly, the Kabbalistic view of language may be regarded as a kind of celebration of the techné of the Hebrew alphabet and, by extension, the phonetic alphabet in general. What is more, it appears to celebrate an even more ancient techné of language, that is, the techné of phonemes, which can be traced much farther back than the actual invention of the phonetic alphabet and phonetic writing.

Might there be an underlying technical operation in language which may condition and enable what makes language as such, what brings language into its own: “dialogue”, “understanding”, “meaningfulness”? To what extent can language be viewed as a techné? What is the significance of the fact that such a view of language emerges in a religious perspective, especially in a world that is ever more dominated by technological systems and seems ever more distant from God? In our current circumstance, can theology benefit from this way of looking at language and technology? Is it not the case that, among the divine names, what distinguishes the supreme Name of God, the Tetragrammaton, is God’s historical revelation to Moses as well as millennia of Jewish and Christian prayer to God? Can the Name ever disintegrate into a sequence of silent cyphers, below or beyond meaningfulness?

Program

14/11/2016 9:00

Dean Prokop Brož, Prof. Helen Alford

Welcome and Introduction to the Seminar

14/11/2016 9:30

First Session

14/11/2016 9:30

Gabor Ambrus

The Hebrew Alphabet as a Divine Name with respect to Psalm 119

14/11/2016 10.00

First respondent: Michaela Laštovičková

14/11/2016 10.10

Second respondent: Barbora Šmejdová

14/11/2016 10.20

General discussion

14/11/2016 11.00

Coffee

14/11/2016 11:30

Second Session

14/11/2016 11.30

George Pattison

Poetic theology in an age of technology: after Heidegger

14/11/2016 12.00

First respondent: Tim Noble

14/11/2016 12.10

Second respondent: Martin Koci

14/11/2016 12:20

General discussion

14/11/2016 13.00

Lunch

14/11/2016 13:30

Third Session

14/11/2016 13.30

Janet Soskice

Naming God and the Techné of Language: can we name God wrongly?

14/11/2016 14.00

First respondent: Frantisek Stech

14/11/2016 14:10

Second respondent: Filip H. Härtel

14/11/2016 14.20

General discussion

14/11/2016 15.00

Tea

14/11/2016 15.30

Prof. Helen Alford and Gabor Ambrus

Conclusions and Next Steps