Simone de Beauvoir and the Scene of Religion

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Zoppa, Karen
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Simone de Beauvoir, existential philosopher, avowed atheist and award-winning novelist, has received substantial analysis as a philosopher in her own right, but scant treatment of the theme of religion in the body of her work. This study demonstrates that not only is “religion” a persistent figure in her writing, but that her existential ethic is constituted by a relocation of faith, situating it firmly in her philosophy of ambiguity. I am arguing that the unavoidable presence of faith in her philosophy emerges from the fact of Beauvoir’s own social, intellectual and historical context, a context that I am introducing as a theoretical figure called the "scene of religion." Beauvoir's writings testify to her rejection of the vertical tradition of faith in an unattainable transcendent heavenly Other, and to her horizontal relocation of the coordinates of existence. The transcendent is now addressed between free persons, and faith is the condition of their response to one another. Drawing on the theoretical resources of Jacques Derrida and Michel de Certeau, I cultivate a description of “the scene of religion” that offers both a site and a play of forces at work in Beauvoir’s philosophy. In this scene, Beauvoir's philosophy operates as an agent of auto-immune resistance, and, at the same time, enjoins one to acts of religion in its call to originary faith. This study contributes to a hitherto neglected theme in Beauvoir studies. As well, it situates her thought within a viable, if marginalized, theoria for the study of religion, bringing together for perhaps the first time these three French intellectuals. This reading of the existential faith required in Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy provokes different thinking of the play of religion in the contemporary world, and offers renewed resources for the analysis of religion in the broader context of global capitalism.
Beauvoir, Religion, Ethics, Derrida, Certeau, Alterity