Michael Naas’s new book on contemporary philosopher Jacques Derrida was the topic of recent symposium at Fordham.

A recently published book that is already being called a “new paradigm for thinking about [Jacques] Derrida” was celebrated at Fordham on March 22, as leading philosophers and theologians gathered to discuss the publication’s impact on the contemporary philosopher’s scholarship.

“Of Miracles and Machines: A Symposium on Derrida and Religion,” featured the book’s author, Michael Naas, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at DePaul University, and scholars from around the country and abroad, including:

•    Penelope Deutscher, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Northwestern University;
•    Sarah Hammerschlag, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion at Williams College; and
•    Martin Hägglund, Ph.D., a junior fellow in the Harvard University Society of Fellows.

Naas’s Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media (Fordham University Press, 2012) is a comprehensive reading of “Faith and Knowledge,” Derrida’s seminal essay published in 1996. Nass’ book expounds the essay that many in the field consider impenetrable.

“It’s not exaggerating to say that ‘Faith and Knowledge’ is Derrida’s most important essay on religion,” said Samir Haddad, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy. “But it’s incredibly difficult, and no one in the discipline actually provides a reading of the essay.”

All three commentators each responded to Naas’s book. Deutscher, who specializes in French philosophy and the philosophy of gender, agreed with Naas regarding Derrida’s speculations on sexual violence. According to Derrida, strategic sexual violence often takes place in the name of certain principles—including religious ones.

Deutscher added, however, that female fertility could also play a role in systematic sexual violence, especially in ethnic and religious wars.

For example, “rape camps” in the Bosnian war forced women to have offspring from fathers of different nationalities or ethnicities. This meant that the new generation—the offspring of these rapes—could “change national or ethnic futures.”

Therefore, Deutscher said, we should also talk about the role of reproduction when we talk about sexual violence.

Naas said it was a “unique pleasure and a rare opportunity” to discuss his work with his colleagues in a public symposium.

“It’s a genuine honor to have one’s work read with this degree of attention and sophistication by three accomplished scholars in the areas of contemporary philosophy and theology,” he said.

The symposium was sponsored by Fordham’s Department of Philosophy, Department of Theology, the Deans of the Arts and Sciences Council, and Fordham University Press.