Apocalyptic Phenomenology: On the Lucid Nihilism of Jean Vioulac

Matthew Peterson

PhD Candidate, Divinity School

Apocalyptic Phenomenology: On the Lucid Nihilism of Jean Vioulac

TUESDAY, October 31st, 4:30 PM, on Zoom

Please read as much as possible of Matthew’s paper in preparation to engage in discussion and Q&A (see PDF). Please contact us for the password. We hope to see you there!


This article assesses the politics of the critical phenomenology of religion in contemporary France through a reading of the work of Jean Vioulac. Given that it has been nearly thirty years since the so-called theological turn in French phenomenology, the return to such a nexus could appear at best nostalgic, and at worst regressive. As I argue, however, Vioulac’s concept of apocalypse revitalizes the phenomenological epochē, the critical stance that suspends our everyday way of looking at things. By bracketing the world ordered by the “totalitarian logic” of Greek metaphysics, apocalypse accounts for a negativity that had been suppressed by philosophy. I first show how this perspective is mobilized by way of a materialist phenomenology of technology. I then unpack the ambiguity of an “apocalypse of truth” as both a philosophy of the concept and a philosophy of experience. On the basis of this project, I characterize Vioulac as a communist Cathar for whom the philosophy of religion consists in the archeological demystification of theological concepts. Finally, I consider the ways in which his method of “anarcheology” extends—but also risks reneging on—the insights of Foucauldian genealogy and Derridean deconstruction. On my reading, Vioulac’s project reminds us that philosophy wards off its dogmatic tendencies not by doing away with religion but by critically appropriating it.

Hosted by the Philosophy of Religions Workshop at the University of Chicago.


The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to being a fully accessible and inclusive workshop. Please contact Workshop Coordinators Danica Cao (ddcao@uchicago.edu) or Taryn Sue (tarynsue@uchicago.edu) in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.

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