Wednesday, 1 January 2020

The ‘Holy’. Buber, Heidegger, Lévinas on the ‘Holy’ and the ‘Sacred’: Implications for psychotherapy. Keith Hoeller, Frank Schalow, Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 259 (2 August 2020)

The ‘Holy’

Buber, Heidegger, Lévinas 
on the ‘Holy’ and the ‘Sacred’
What are the implications for psychotherapy?

Keith Hoeller   Frank Schalow
Rabbi Rodney Mariner   Anthony Stadlen
conduct by Zoom
Inner Circle Seminar No. 259
Sunday 2 August 2020
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martin Buber                   Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger   Martin Buber

Martin Heidegger
Mont Sainte Victoire

Emmanuel Lévinas

This seminar is devoted to questioning what people have meant by ‘the Holy’  and the possible implications for psychotherapy.

We start with the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s writings on ‘the Holy’, comparing and contrasting his thinking on the poetry of Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin with that of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Lévinas on the Biblical understanding of ‘the Holy’. We may also refer to the use of the word ‘Holy’ by other thinkers such as Dietrich von HildebrandAbraham Joshua Heschel and Jacques Derrida, as well as in philosophy generally, in poetry, religion, theology, psychotherapy, and everyday life.

Does ‘the Holy’ differ from ‘the Sacred’? Lévinas certainly thought so; one of his books of Talmudic Studies has the title From the Sacred to the Holy. How does Lévinas’s Biblical invocation of ‘the Holy’ differ from Heidegger’s Hellenic-Germanic meditation on ‘the Holy’ in his Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry and other fundamental works? Is Heidegger‘Holy’ merely a kind of Nature mysticism, divorced from Lévinass ethical imperative? Or is ethics implicit in Heideggers quest for the Ereignis, the seeking of Seyn and Da-seinBeyng and the human being, for each other?

Although Lévinas was present as a student at the epochmaking debate between Heidegger and the philosopher Ernst Cassirer in Davos in 1929, and even played the part of Cassirer in a satirical reenactment of the debate by the students attended by both the great philosophers, he developed his critique of Heidegger only after the war, after Heideggers turn to Nazism, and still maintained that Being and Time was one of the very few greatest works of philosophy of all time; he did not confront Heidegger face-to-face.

But Martin Buber did. After the war, Buber said he had made his criticisms of Heidegger, and they met in a castle on the Rhine, according to Buber walking up and down like like dwarves with large heads, gesticulating at each other, in what Heidegger later called ‘a beautiful conversation with Martin Buber. Did they discuss their differing understandings of ‘the Holy?

Perhaps the differing uses of ‘the Holy’ mean there is no single meaning, no essence of ‘the Holy’; rather, as Wittgenstein put it, ‘family resemblances’? But would that make it pointless to ask what ‘the Holy’ is, because this is all ‘subjective’? Is ‘holiness’ just a matter of ‘feeling’? This might be so, but it does not follow logically from the fact that people use the term in different ways, any more than it follows that a family is a figment of somebody’s ‘subjective feelings’.

Research has shown that, among psychotherapists, both psychoanalytic and existential, there is a tendency to disparage religious experience. It may be acknowledged that such experiences are ‘comforting’ for those, including clients, who have them; but the implication is that they are merely ‘intrapsychic’, or ‘social’, or matters of ‘faith’, but do not refer to anything ‘real’. This is logically, scientifically, and phenomenologically unsound. The therapist claims that this attitude does not affect the therapeutic relationship with the client, but such a defence would be given short shrift in relation to any other prejudice. If it were a question of race or sex, the therapist would risk disciplinary action by the registering organisation.

This seminar will attempt a phenomenological exploration of the nature of ‘the Holy’, without starting from this prevailing preconception. It is hoped that there will be respectful and fruitful dialogue, in which we learn from each other, between those with differing positions on this.

There are curious links with next Sunday’s seminar on the Hiroshima pilot, Claude Eatherly, who was locked up as insane because he expressed guilt about his part in the atomic devastation. Not only was Heideggers beloved poet, Hölderlin, whose poetry he regarded as the very quintessence of ‘the Holy’, also locked up as insane (thereby giving us the subject of a crucial future Inner Circle Seminar in the subseries Locked Up: Patients’ and their Gaolers), but Heidegger also memorably observed that the atomic bomb was merely the ‘last emission’ of the ‘atomisation’ effected centuries earler by Descartes. In other words, insisted Heidegger, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as the arms race raged, despite the fact that human beings looked on helplessly at the prospect of universal devastation by perhaps imminent thermonuclear war, the reality was that

The Dreadful [‘das Entsetzliche’] has already happened.’
(R. D. Laing’s translation.)

If the hydrogen bombs did not go off and destroy all life on earth, he warned, a far worse danger would threaten humanity. Men and women were in danger of losing their essential nature as meditative rather than merely calculative beings. He used the same word (‘das Entsetzliche’) that he had used to characterise the ‘Holy’ since the 1930s. We shall try to make intelligible that Heidegger could use the same word for both, and seek an adequate translation in each case.

Professor Keith Hoeller, distinguished translator of Heidegger’s Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (2001), will again join us from Seattle, USA, where he was Professor of Philosophy for many years. He edited the Review of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy from 1978, as well as a number of books of key papers on Binswanger, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Boss, Sartre, Szasz, Foucault, May. He is one of the very few authorities on both Szasz and Heidegger, and edited Thomas Szasz: Moral Philosopher of Psychiatry (1997), contributed a chapter on Szasz to Existential Therapy (ed. Barnett, L. and Madison, G., 2012), and received the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Services to the Cause of Civil Liberties (professional category) from the Center for Independent Thought, New York City in 2002.

Professor Frank Schalow will also join us for an hour (12 noon to 1 p.m.) from New Orleans, where he is Professor of Philosophy. He will speak about addiction in relation to transcendence, drawing on his recent book Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence (2017). His areas of specialisation include 19th- and 20th-century German thought, Phenomenology, and Continental Philosophy. He has published numerous other books, including: The Incarnality of Being (2006), Heidegger and the Quest for the Sacred (2001), The Renewal of the Heidegger-Kant Dialogue (1992), and, most recently, the edited volumes Heidegger, Translation, and the Task of Thinking: Essays in Honor of Parvis Emad (2011), and The Linguistic Dimension of Kants Thought (2014). Currently, he is co-editor of the international journal, Heidegger Studies, which is published in three languages (English, German, and French).

Rabbi Rodney Mariner, emeritus rabbi of Belsize Square Synagogue, London, who brilliantly conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 88, Freud on Jokes, on 8 May 2005, will also participate and be available for consultation on Judaism and the ‘Holy’. 

This will be an online seminar, using ZOOM.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165; or for this seminar and the next together (on 9 August) one third reduction, so trainees £88, others £110 per seminar; some bursaries; payment must be made in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; a ZOOM invitation and instructions will then be sent; no transfers or refunds unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  iPhone: 07809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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