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In Wonder, Love and Praise

Approaches to Poetry, Theology and Philosophy

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Edited By Martin Potter, Malgorzata Grzegorzewska and Jean Ward

This collection of essays explores poetry’s contribution to the expression of theological wonder, which can occur both in ordinary life and in the natural world or can arise in the context of explicitly supernatural mystical experience. Poets have a special role in capturing religious awe in ways beyond the power of discursive language. Some essays in this book approach the subject on a theoretical level, working with theology, philosophy and literary criticism. Others provide close readings of poems in which the engagement with a variously understood idea or experience of wonder is prominent, from the English-language tradition and outside it. Poets from culturally and historically different backgrounds are thus drawn together through the focus on the meaning of wonder.

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The Poetic Sources of Anthony Kenny’s Agnosticism

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Abstract: This discussion of the role of poetry in Anthony Kenny’s epistemology of religion takes into consideration the Wittgensteinian context in which the philosopher’s thought develops. Kenny finds in the poetry of both Arthur Hugh Clough and, more surprisingly, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a fine expression of a reverent agnosticism in tune with the outlook he eventually espouses.

Keywords: epistemology, philosophy of religion, agnosticism, reverence, poetry and religion

The purpose of this essay is to analyse the role of poetry in Anthony Kenny’s religious epistemology. In the first part, I take into consideration the Wittgensteinian context in which Kenny’s thought develops and I present Kenny’s attitude towards natural theology, including his conception of religious language. Then I show his original interpretation of Arthur Hugh Clough’s and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems and discuss his way of reading them. Agnosticism, for Kenny, follows his refusal of the evidential value of natural theology and becomes a sort of epistemic duty which leads him to sense the ineffability of God, and to refuse both the via positiva and via negativa in theology. In particular, in Kenny’s scheme, religious faith arises from wonder, which must be preserved from rationalism by using a poetic language instead of propositional language. In this way, the poems mentioned here are not only classic examples of the Victorian crisis of belief, but they assume an epistemic value. I conclude that Kenny’s views are determined by philosophical presuppositions and especially by the contrast between literal and...

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