Traces of History in St. Anselm

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Nancy Levene Indiana University, Department of Religious Studies, Sycamore Hall, Rm. 209A

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This paper is a schematic consideration of the relationship between reason and history through the figure of St. Anselm of Canterbury, the very exemplar, one might suppose, of the pre-modern absence of historical consciousness. I argue that while Anselm may offend a maximal number of contemporary scholarly habits of mind, whether historicist, secular, or simply argumentative, he is at the front lines of a classic question recently posed by Alain Badiou, namely how much can one think outside of one's time? This question expresses an anxiety concerning both what it is possible and/or permissible to think at any given time and what time or history have to do with thinking as such—an anxiety neatly symbolized, I claim, by the leaden specter of the ontological argument. What, it might rightly be asked, is Anselm's argument to us? A provocation, certainly; a theory, possibly.

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