The Nicene Option

The Nicene Option

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  • Author(s):
  • Published: August 15, 2021
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press
  • Page count: 253
  • ISBN: 9781481313728

The Nicene Option

Christian philosophy and philosophy of religion tend to be dominated by analytic approaches, which have brought a valuable logical rigor to the discussion of matters of belief. However, the perspectives of continental philosophy—in particular, the continental emphasis on embodied forms of knowing—still have much to offer to the conversation and our understanding of what it means to be both rational and faithful in a postmodern world.

The Nicene Option represents the full sweep of James K. A. Smith's work in continental philosophy of religion over the past twenty years. Animated by the conviction that a philosophy of religion needs to be philosophical reflection on the practice of religion, as a "form of life" (as Wittgenstein would say), this book makes the case for the distinct contribution that phenomenology—as a philosophy of experience—can make to philosophy of religion and Christian philosophy. Engaging a range of philosophers in this tradition, including Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Luc Marion, Richard Rorty, and Charles Taylor, Smith's constructive proposal coheres around what he describes as "the logic of incarnation," a "Nicene option" in contemporary philosophy of religion. By grounding philosophy of religion in the doctrinal heart of Christian confession, Smith gestures toward a uniquely robust Christian philosophy.

Besides issuing a clarion call for the renaissance of continental philosophy of religion, The Nicene Option also offers a glimpse behind the scholarly curtain for a wider audience of readers familiar with Smith's popular works such as Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and You Are What You Love—all of which are tacitly informed by the phenomenological approach articulated in this book. As an extended footnote to those works—which for many readers have been gateways to philosophy— The Nicene Option presents an invitation to a new depth of reflection.


"In this lucidly written book James K. A. Smith reminds us that religion is always embodied and expressed in concrete practices, not just abstract belief statements. If philosophy wants to understand religion truthfully and to depict if faithfully, it must grapple with this embodied, practiced reality and not focus solely on doctrinal conundrums. Smith shows the ways in which insights drawn especially from the philosophical work of Jacques Derrida, but also that of John Caputo and Jean-Luc Marion, can help us examine religious practice in an incarnational mode. Smith challenges philosophers from both sides of the analytic-continental divide to listen to and learn from each other—and also suggests that philosophy might have something to learn from the liturgical attitudes of religious practices. Building on articles ranging across Smith's productive career, this book makes an important critical contribution to the contemporary need to rethink philosophy of religion in productive and generous ways."

Christina M. Gschwandtner, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University

"The intellectual labor of translating big ideas—and thereby being accountable to them—involves a special form of rigor and originality. James K. A. Smith is in the middle of a career showing how beautiful, and beautifully impactful, such work can be. This book serves at once as fieldnotes to that translational work and as another brilliant contribution to it. The conceptual payoff comes in how the book’s own big idea about embodiment demonstrates why good translation matters."

Jonathan Tran, Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology, Baylor University

"James K. A. Smith offers a lucid defense of the view that religion has never been ‘modern,’ that is, has never been anything other than embodied and liturgical, without the intellectual purity to which modernity aspires. Belief is messy before it gets cleaned up by philosophers, Platonists or not; and Christianity, in particular, is thoroughly messy in that it is incarnational, calling for phenomenological investigation before anything else."

Kevin Hart, Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Christian Studies, University of Virginia

"Postliberal Christian thinking goes Continental? Only James K. A. Smith could do it. Marion, Scripture, and intersubjectivity yields a postliberal Christian philosophy of religion. Come, read!"

Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia


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