PHIL Guest Lecture – “Kenosis, Dynamic Sunyata, and Weak Thought: Abe Masao and Gianni Vattimo” by Prof. Thorsten Botz-Bornstein


4 Nov 2015




The verb κενόω (kenos) means “to empty” and St. Paul uses the word ἐκένωσεν (ekenosen) writing that “Jesus made himself nothing” and “emptied himself.” Sunyata is a Buddhist concept most commonly translated as emptiness, nothingness or non-substantiality. An important kenosis-Sunyata discussion was sparked by Abe Masao’s paper “Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata” (1984).

I confront the kenosis-Sunyata theme with Vattimo’s kenosis-based philosophy of religion. For Vattimo, kenosis refers to ‘secularization’: when strong structures such as the essence and the fulfilment of the Christian message are weakened. Parallels between Abe’s and Vattimo’s thought will be demonstrated with regard to themes current in East-West comparative philosophy: reality and emptiness, the overcoming of metaphysics, the position of the Self, the human and the divine, and the relationship between science and religion. The latter point is particularly timely because since the 1990s religious fundamentalism has pushed forward a curious “religion as science” hypothesis. Both thinkers’ relationship with the idea of Nothingness will also be explored. Finally, Abe’s interpretation of śūnyatā will be presented as a form of “weak thought.”

Both Abe and Vattimo design a religious attitude based on negativity without falling into the trap of anti-religious nihilism. Abe’s negation of the subject, which leads to a pluralism of beings, can very well be compared with Vattimo’s paradoxical “credre di credere” (to believe to believe), through which Vattimo describes the attitude of an ego that has lost its own subjectivity. The person who does not believe but only “believes to believe” is a sort of non-ego. I show that a “half-theistic” way of thinking God based on kenosis can work in the service of plurality because it deconstructs the principle of reality based on faith and “fullness.”


All are welcome




Philosophy and Religious Studies Programme
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