When Expression Is Expressed, Non-Expression Is Not-Expressed: A Zen Buddhist Approach To Talking About The Ineffable

KopfThursday, September 18th, 7:00 p.m., Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center

Lecture by Gereon Kopf, Associate Professor of Religion, Luther College

Philosophy of religion as developed in the monotheistic traditions of Christianity and Islam explores the question as to if/how it is possible to talk about and predicate God. One of the answers to this question is negative theology, which claims that any predication of God in positive terms is impossible.The religious philosophies developed in the Zen Buddhist tradition has often been accused of rejecting any linguistic description of the absolute. While the rhetoric of silence is rather pervasive among Zen thinkers, it is often accompanied by a solid philosophy of language and even, to use a contemporary term, signification. Some Zen thinkers even go so far as to suggest that linguistic discourses on the absolute are not only possible but also necessary. One of them is the medieval Japanese Zen master Dōgen. To Dōgen language is one of the many possible ways to “express” and “manifest” what we call the “divine.” This talk will explore Dōgen’s philosophy of “expression” and suggest a new understanding of philosophy of religion on the basis of his thought.

Gereon Kopf received his Ph.D. from Temple University and is currently professor of Asian and comparative religion at Luther College. As a research fellow of the Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, he conducted research in 1993 and 1994 at Obirin University
in Machida, Japan, and at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, from 2002
to 2004. In the academic year of 2008-2009, he taught at the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Beyond Personal Identity (2001), co-editor of
Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (2009), and editor of the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy.