Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricoeur

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Xavier Lakshmanan
American University Studies
  • New York, NY: 
    Peter Lang Publishing
    , February
     2016.
     196 pages.
     $79.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781433133268.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Xavier Lakshmanan’s Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricoeur bears the marks of its origin as a dissertation. The goal is to provide “a rigorous philosophical framework for contemporary theology” (ix) but not the contents of that theology, drawing on the work of Paul Ricoeur. That theology, though, turns out to be a discourse that “appropriates the biblical text as a source of selfhood, identity, and meaning” (ix), pointing to the possibility of a good life set against a horizon of hope. The goal is to arrive at this theology by offering an account of “the overall theological tenor of his [Ricoeur’s] thought” (x) as relevant to contemporary theology. However, only a small portion of Ricoeur’s oeuvre is referenced in Lakshmanan’s work; basically just the texts found in the period from The Conflict of Interpretations through Time and Narrative, with only the barest glance at Oneself as Another.

Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricoeur gets a few things right about Ricoeur, but ends up badly misreading him in its attempt to generalize from the material discussed. The framework for theology it tries to derive from Ricoeur turns out to be a list of desiderata for a narrative theology: that it be based on texts (the Bible); that it follow a rigorous method (i.e., read scripture as a narrative about divine events open to interpretation yielding an intelligible account of human existence); and that it have an ontological dimension (some link to the divine or to the tie between time and eternity). In appropriating Ricoeur’s philosophy of language and discourse, Lakshmanan ignores the fact that for Ricoeur there are many kinds of discourse other than narrative. In focusing solely on narrative, and narrative as figurative discourse, Lakshmanan forgets that figurative language is only possible in dialectical combination with literal language.

Strikingly, for a thesis that is meant to make sense of how to interpret scripture, Lakshamanan does not consider any of the texts where Ricoeur himself discusses biblical texts. Were he to have considered this material, he would have seen that Ricoeur’s own understanding of the Bible recognizes a plurality of forms of discourse in it that are not reducible to a totalizing narrative about a possible good life. He might also have acknowledged that more needs to be said about the problem of evil and the tragic dimension of human existence and action in interpreting Ricoeur’s thought. Not every narrative or every reading of a narrative is emancipatory.

Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricoeur should not be recommend to people seeking information about either Ricoeur or theology, particularly if they are not already knowledgeable about Ricoeur or the existing literature on this topic.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Pellauer is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University.

Date of Review: 
August 24, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Xavier Lakshmanan received his PhD in systematic theology from Charles Sturt University, Australia. He currently serves as Faculty Head of Theology at Australian College of Christian Studies, Sydney, and has published several articles in theology and hermeneutic philosophy.

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