Humanism and the resistance to theology

William N West*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


‘Theory’ has taken long aim at theology, from Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead… And we have killed him!' to Roland Barthes’ ‘We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God).’1 This thin description hardly establishes a theology that fifteenth-or sixteenth-century thinkers would have recognized, although they might well have been interested in some of the questions that poststructuralism raised. Robert Markley, for instance, claims that in the seventeenth century ‘Theology… marks the contested territory of what literary and cultural critics and some historians call theory’, differently represented but similarly directed.2 In the discourse of ‘theory’, all too often citing theology has served as little more than a signal of disparagement, but the overt rejection - resistance is too moderate a term - of the theological from ‘theory’ is recurrently tempered by reappropriations of its projects, or perhaps attempts to recover conceptual territory from it. For Nietzsche proclaims not God’s disappearance, but the mode in which God’s anxious absence continues to work; Barthes announces the death of the author-God with a line from ‘Sarrasine’, but his S/Z on the same story relies on a version of Christian allegoresis; in his later works Derrida turns toward both thinking religiously and thinking within the religious traditions of Judaism; and in his final interview, the prophet against metaphysical thinking Heidegger laments that ‘Only a God can save us now.’3

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Return of Theory in Early Modern English Studies
Subtitle of host publicationTarrying with the Subjunctive
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9780230299986
ISBN (Print)9780230235496
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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