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  • Cited by 18
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
January 2020
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Book description

This book argues that hope is the indispensable precondition of religious practice and secular politics. Against dogmatic complacency and despairing resignation, David Newheiser argues that hope sustains commitments that remain vulnerable to disappointment. Since the discipline of hope is shared by believers and unbelievers alike, its persistence indicates that faith has a future in a secular age. Drawing on premodern theology and postmodern theory, Newheiser shows that atheism and Christianity have more in common than they often acknowledge. Writing in a clear and engaging style, he develops a new reading of deconstruction and negative theology, arguing that (despite their differences) they share a self-critical hope. By retrieving texts and traditions that are rarely read together, this book offers a major intervention in debates over the place of religion in public life.


Joint winner, 2020 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, Research Center for International and Interdisciplinary Theology, University of Heidelberg

Winner, 2021 ATF Literary Trust Book Prize, Australian Theological Forum


‘For David Newheiser, hope holds together relation and negation. Hope in a Secular Age explains what this means, drawing on Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacques Derrida and putting the constructive proposal that results in conversation with a range of important thinkers, from Mark Lilla to Giorgio Agamben. Offering important correctives to scholarship on Continental philosophy of religion, this book reframes the field by focusing on ethics rather than epistemology. Particularly exciting are little-known, unpublished, but quite revealing texts by Derrida that Newheiser unearthed and mobilizes to alter how we understand the relationship between deconstruction and negative theology.'

Vincent Lloyd - Villanova University, Pennsylvania

'In using a twentieth-century philosopher (Jacques Derrida) who described himself as the least of the Jews, and an ancient theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, whose work offered the possibility of a resolutely nondogmatic Christianity, David Newheiser displays a dazzling talent for blurring the boundary between expressing faith and critiquing it. The possibility here is immense for extending, deepening, and enjoying those difficult conversations that in today’s world too easily collapse into antagonism and smoldering resentment. Hope in a Secular Age is the book that all intellectuals need to read before they visit their families for the holidays.'

Martin Kavka - Florida State University

'This fine exegetical and philosophical study takes on a contemporary spiritual problem of great significance: how does the darkness of ‘unknowing’ compare in classic mystical theology (Dionysius the Areopagite) and in post-modern strategies of deferral (Derrida), and is one more attuned to the posture of theological *hope* than the other? Newheiser's textual analysis and comparison of these two difficult authors in the tradition is both sophisticated and discerning, and his final theological proposal of considerable moment for our current cultural malaises; his is an emerging talent of great insight and promise.'

Sarah Coakley - Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity emerita, University of Cambridge

'In response to the deconstructive pressures of post-modernity, David Newheiser offers a defense, clearly and concisely argued, of a difficult hope at once individual and political. By calling attention to the ethical significance of Christian mysticism, Newheiser makes a significant contribution to the literature of political theology.'

Denys Turner - Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor emeritus, Yale University

‘Newheiser’s ... aim - to find a way between despair and complacency or presumption - is admirable.’

Ian A. McFarland Source: Scottish Journal of Theology

‘… Newheiser creatively maps a path to exploring hope in the way he does that it opens the door to numerous areas of further inquiry. His nuanced reading of issues pertaining to religion and secularity throws light on new ways of exploring the place deconstruction and negative theology might have for engaging questions in political theology. Furthermore, his careful reading of Derrida relies on texts and archival material often overlooked in the secondary literature, and the lucid exposition of his primary interlocutors will be of interest to specialists and non-specialists alike.’

Myka S. H. Source: Modern Theology

‘Newheiser's … accomplished text can impel philosophers, theologians, and other to consider seemingly impossible new directions for religion in the 2020s and beyond …’

Peter Joseph Fritz Source: The Heythrop Journal

‘This book offers an eloquent and moving defense of the power of hope in dark times.’

Arthur Bradley Source: The Review of Politics

‘… this book is valuable for anyone who is interested in the fields of political theology and negative theology, as well as for those with interest in ethics, secularization theory, and theologies of hope. Hope in a Secular Age skillfully draws from an eclectic and rich well of sources spanning across time and philosophical commitments, envisioning a new way forward through uncertain times.’

Regan Hardeman Source: Reading Religion

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