Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Deconstruction and Theology: Allegories of Discontinuity in Acts of the Apostles

Christopher D. Morris.

For the past ten years critics have debated whether Derrida’s project amounts to a negative theology, on the grounds that his successive neologisms (difference, supplement, tympan, chora, le tout autre) often seem to name metaphysical entities while at the same time attesting to the dysfunction of language. Derrida and some critics (Taylor, Kearney) deny that this 'impossible' quest of deconstruction shares the theological structure of the work of negative theologicans like Pseudo-Dionysius; others (Hart, Caputo) point to strong parallels. In this paper the relation between deconstruction and theology is taken up from a broader perspective–the tradition of textual study Derrida shares with Paul de Man, Hillis Miller, and (to a lesser degree) Hayden White, according to which the subject of writing represses or marginalizes evidence of its arbitrariness, so that writing–sacred or secular–can be read as an allegory of this process. The New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles is studied as one such allegory, in which the narrative effort to name the sacred (the holy spirit or the legitimation of the apostles) reveals only the breakdown of meaning. This process is traced in the enigmas of the book’s authorship, in the text’s citations of the Septuagint, in the scenes of Paul’s persuasion, and in the puzzling 'We- passages.' The paper’s de Manian conclusion is that theology–whether the author’s (Luke’s?) or Paul’s–exhibits the same vulnerability as Derridean deconstruction: that illusions of reference can be understood only in language whose referential property must soon be exposed as illusory, too.


Christopher D. Morris  (United States)
Charles A. Dana Professor of English
Department of English
Norwich University

  • Deconstruction
  • Theology
  • Christianity
  • Acts of the Apostles
Person as Subject
  • Derrida, Jacques

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)