Philosophy and Phenomenology of Religion and Art/the Image

A Phenomenological Study of Genesis’ First Two Chapters: An “Ur-Reading” Approach

Abstract: The opening book of the Hebrew Bible contains many myths and ethically instructional folktales that have seeded a great deal of Western literature and art. Yet it also presents particular ideas about God and humanity that have informed large portions of Judeo-Christian civilizational worldviews, notions which have long since become entrenched. By focusing on the first two chapters (renowned for their creation accounts but also offering other aspects), the following article proposes that parts of what we think Genesis states may not in fact be claimed in the text. It is asserted that we tend to misread and misinterpret due to the taught biases of received institutions. Therefore, in order to try and (re-)reveal what is actually in the document a method of textual engagement, herein termed “ur-reading” and which employs phenomenological and dialectical tools, is explained and applied to Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. Notable philosophical-theological results of this exercise are that the image of God which appears to be put forth is seemingly neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Although this may be surprising it is not a conclusive statement about God per se; rather it is simply in regards to the elements of Genesis that are there to be discovered (or “uncovered”) if the book is approached with the kind of detailed and open analysis herein described. Any further “results” thereby obtained, moreover, will depend on the person confronting the narratives and other material, and these will also be temporally bound. It is suggested that these factors be considered as positives.

Keywords: Genesis; Heidegger; hermeneutics; Husserl; phenomenology; reading methodology; theology

A Phenomenological Study of Genesis’ First Two Chapters: An “Ur-Reading” Approach_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Cultural Studies, 12 (2024), 1-31.

The Self as Source and Destination for Intuitive Interpretations of Religious or Spiritual Experiences

Abstract: Religious or spiritual experiences (RSE) are often difficult to fully express even if one might be able to describe particular aspects of them. Yet the influences that such carry in a person’s mode of being can be vast, and they are clearly a fundamental part of the human condition (whether accepted, denied, or dismissed, their occurrence appears universal). How then might these RSE – and the corresponding grounding implications – be better explained? This paper seeks to elucidate the problematic via an applied investigation of a self-theoretical framework which is composed of three interlaced “sets”: 1) Self-defining traits, 2) Self-directing traits, and 3) Self-evaluating traits. We will suggest that these elements (with consciousness and bodily presence) form a core self that is a separable facet from those of personal identity and whole person; and this finding will in turn require a brief look at consciousness and a two-tiered mental model. Taking the self-view into a phenomenological hermeneutical examination will illuminate the position at which RSE might reside within an individual’s cognition, and thence to exploring the pre-thought (the functionally pre-aware) foundations involved. Finally, some considerations will be given for how an understanding of the foregoing structure (if it be found valid) might contribute towards the purposive shifting of that self-basis from out of and towards which RSE are situated in a lifeworld.

Keywords: experience; interpretation; mental model; phenomenology; religious or spiritual experiences; self-theory; self-transformation

Self as Source and Destination: Intuitive Interpretations of RSE_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Religions 13(9): 798, August 29, 2022 (DOI:; available here.

Dry, weary, smiling bones: Finding a 'yes' through Hebrew narrative and a reduced spirituality

Abstract: Life can be a difficult phenomenon to acquiesce to, much less embrace. Tragedy is seemingly around every corner, and very many philosophies and faiths both ancient and modern have championed the exit from existence over its entrance. Existentialism and nihilism proclaim the seizure or suicide of one’s undesired birth, moksha and nirvana the blessed non-return of a wandering soul. Yet against these currents the Jewish ideational approach to being, with its ever-old and newness, has consistently given the world a ‘yes’, and this apparently despite having every reason not to; although perhaps “because” is more appropriate to that prior clause than “despite”. In what follows we therefore consider how we might uncover from within Judaism an abstracted “spirituality” for our times, a numinousness that is not necessarily a “belief”, a “faith” that is more in line with a hope. Our objective is to learn how to think differently rather than to convert, and thus towards this more modest goal we set out to explore some images from Hebrew poetry and narrative, attempting to bring forth core conceptualities which could then be applied to an affirming notional framework befitting anyone who would ponder – who would feel – a way through. How might we state this ‘yes’ for our lives?

Keywords: Ezekiel; interpretation; Judaism; phenomenology; poetry/literature; spirituality

Dry, Weary, Smiling Bones_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Religions 13(1): 78, January 15, 2022 (DOI:; available here.

A Comparative phenomenology of Caravaggio’s “Martha and Mary Magdalene”: Knowing the story and not knowing the story

Abstract: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian painter who became an artistic pioneer for both his portrayal of the models he used and for the new lighting effects he helped to inaugurate. Many of his works were based on biblical narratives, and were produced at the behest of a cardinal or other Church dignitary during his long period of stay in Rome prior to his life ending in exile, a fugitive from charges of assault and even murder stemming from what was essentially a street brawl. Amongst these religiously themed paintings is the title “Martha and Mary Magdalene” (1597-1598), which will form our central concern in the below. We shall seek to examine this portraiture in a double-barreled phenomenological analysis: firstly through the lens of knowing the characters depicted and what they are meant to be doing, and then secondly via a perspective absent background knowledge (an attempted full bracketing). Through comparing the results of these two approaches it is hoped that the image will be allowed to speak its own voice, and in this we may also find ourselves asserting much that might otherwise have remained hidden.

Keywords: Caravaggio; image; Martha; Mary Magdalene; phenomenology

A Comparative Phenomenology of Caravaggio’s “Martha and Mary Magdalene”_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article to appear in the Bulletin of the University of Kochi, 71 (2022), 25-38.

Bloodying God: Crucifixion and the image

Abstract: The Christian image of the crucifixion is one of the most perplexing icons in widespread usage amongst modern faiths. How could any group of people claim a bloodied and broken wreck of a human body as a symbol of the immanent divine? Yet in gazing upon the crucifixion we often find ourselves moved, transposed in deeply emotional ways, and these can point to an experience of transcendence. The physicality of Christ hung seems to touch upon something reactive within us, even for many non-Christians, yet why this should be the case is an open question; perhaps an unanswerable one. In the following we nevertheless seek to probe this phenomenon through an examination of the image and its place, the image and the idea, and then the idea and its reality. What might the manner of our interaction tell us about ourselves and our place?

Keywords: Christianity; crucifixion; image; Jesus/Yeshua; phenomenology

Crucifixion and the Image_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the collected volume: Image, Phenomenon, and Imagination in the Phenomenology of Religious Experience, Libri Nigri series, edited by Martin Nitsche and Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, series editor-in-chief Hans Rainer Sepp (Nordhausen, Germany: Traugott Bautz GmbH, 2022), 209-228.

The Sacred Disguised: An Instance of the Double Use of Space by Japan’s Hidden Christians

Abstract: Christianity arrived on the island of Shikoku, Japan, from the neighboring island of Kyushu in the mid-sixteenth century, an event commemorated by a signboard and gravesite where some of the early converts to the faith were buried. The sanctified area exhibits what might be expected of Hidden Christian spatiality: a quasi-Buddhist nature, syncretistic Shinto elements, and offertory tools; each of which would be quite out of place in any other “Christian” context. What may the sacrality of this ground have entailed? What significance did its objects contain for those who created it and visited it? Moreover, how “ecumenical” could worship there have been if one half (the Christian) was for political reasons forcibly kept hidden while the other half (Buddhist/Shinto) was open? These are the questions we pursue, although our conclusions can perhaps do no more than indicate a direction.

Keywords: Hidden Christianity; iconography; object/artifact; phenomenology of religious experience; philosophy of religion; Shikoku, Japan; Shinto/Buddhist

The Sacred Disguised_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Review of Ecumenical Studies, 13:2 (2021), 214-238. The article is an extension of and expansion on my earlier "The Hidden Christian inbreak on Shikoku: A Remembering, a wondering"; please see the below.

Self-seeing and seeing-self through Kazimir Malevich’s “Epitaphios”

Abstract: Kazimir Malevich was a groundbreaking and visionary Russian artist of the early twentieth century. A man of his times, he shifted and studied through many of the major contemporary avant-garde movements prior to launching a new style, dubbed Suprematism. Before and after that feat, he demonstrated a creative and free use of humanoid figures in works marked by bold colors, firm lines, and unbounded concepts. The idea hangs heavily in Malevich’s frames, and it is this that concerns us here the most, particularly in regards to its entwinement with the self. In the below we will therefore attempt an examination of such through the use of one of Malevich’s earlier, figure centered, paintings. Towards this we will firstly seek to brush on the foundations of the self (psychologically and theoretically) before moving on to analyze the nature of pictorial interpretation as it arises from out of the self, and lastly to remark on some implications for self-expression based on the contours of the preceding. Our target will be a clearer understanding of the relationship between image, idea, and self; of how the first two are ever present in the third.

Keywords: art; expression; image; interpretation/hermeneutics; Kazimir Malevich; phenomenology; the self

Self-Seeing and Seeing-self through Malevich’s “Epitaphios”_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Humanismus, 32 (2021), 2-18.

The Hidden Christian inbreak on Shikoku: A Remembering, a wondering

Abstract: Christianity arrived on Shikoku from neighboring Kyushu in the mid-sixteenth century, and there is a memorial to the first converts located in what is now the northern part of Matsuyama City. The site exhibits what we might expect of Hidden Christian symbols and objects: an aura of quasi-Buddhism, syncretistic Shinto items, and even altars for drink offerings; each of which would be impossible to find in any other “Christian” location. Yet the question of the importance (or even value) of orthodoxy raised here is legitimate, I think, and turns on the position and purpose of faith. In the below we therefore take this inbreaking of a new set of conceptual world-bearings that Japan’s early Christians chose to live as a starting point to explore the nature of belief more broadly, paying particular attention to what is occurring in the brain at a physical level in relation. At this juncture the psychological, phenomenological, and ethical all intersect, and thus there can be fewer areas of more pertinence to philosophical study and application. Our results here may do no more than gesture at a way, but we seek to thereby set a path which might prove worth treading.

Keywords: Hidden Christianity; iconography; neural “maps”; neuroscience; phenomenology; Shikoku; Shinto

The Hidden Christian inbreak on Shikoku_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 9 (2021), 41-60.

Enervating the divine: Seeking new intuitions about God from a time of pandemic

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our planet in ways that could not have been foreseen. Yet even as the world has shifted, the “worlds” of our conceptual habitations have not, and this is particularly the case with regards to religious beliefs. It is from within this context that the present study seeks clarity. Beginning at the beginning, the paper sets out from a re-examination of the foundational creation myth of Western societies, and argues that a more careful reading of the actual presentation of that account, along with some situational explanations, results in an understanding of divinity that stresses neither omnipotence nor omniscience. The article then transitions to the importance of the notional in grounding and generating social behaviors, employing phenomenological and psychological research and analytical methods. Intuitions are seen to be central in the personally-based methodology undertaken, and the conceptual-perceptional brace of the notion/event is offered as a theoretical construct. Finally, an attempt at application is made through a return to the earlier explication of a reduced idea of divinity, and subtle gestures at possibly resulting ethical calls are given. Although the virus has taken charge of our lives, and although even God/“God” might not be in absolute control, the “world” is yet ours to (re)make.

Keywords: behavior; corona virus/COVID-19; creation myth; intuition; notion/event; religion; weak theology

Enervating the Divine_Andrew Oberg

This is a special paper written for the (Ir)Rationality and Religiosity During Pandemics: Phenomenological Criticism SOPHERE Supplemental Research Webinar hosted virtually by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna, September 16-17, 2020. It was published in the journal Open Theology, 7:1 (2021), 140-149; available here.

A Comment on crucifixion imagery as seen from “the kingdom”

Abstract: An image carries worlds of meaning, an image provokes and invokes, pushes and pulls, scattering ideas within the viewer even as she sows understandings into it. In this few religious representata can match the depth (on both sides of the process) like those of the crucifixion of Christ. Yet such implantings inevitably yield determined (horizon-ed, boxed in and blocked) experiences, and these we have received now for two millennia. I think we may have missed something. The below is therefore an attempt, a movement, towards a re-examination of some of the key originary “kingdom” teachings in search of what Yeshua himself may have sought to accomplish – quite apart from his death – and then in that light further explore how an alternative ideational description of the embodied cross might pave the way for an interpretative conceptual set that could better align the phenomenology of crucifixion iconography with the content of the “kingdom” message.

Keywords: Christianity; crucifixion; iconography; image; interpretation; Jesus/Yeshua; “the kingdom”; phenomenology

A Comment on Crucifixion Imagery as Seen from the Kingdom_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Bulletin of the University of Kochi, 70 (2021), 39-57.

The Crucifix and the candle: Gschwandtner on (lived) Orthodox liturgy

Abstract: In her book Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019), Christina M. Gschwandtner seeks firstly to establish a basis for a phenomenological study of specifically Orthodox Christian liturgical practices and then proceeds on such, yielding along the way background theological considerations and phenomenological concerns, the latter mostly from the French tradition and by thinkers orientated more along Roman Catholic lines. In this undertaking Gschwandtner wants to fill in the gap she finds left by a dearth of philosophical work directed at Orthodoxy, and also to show that – whatever Heidegger’s arguments about religion being ontic while phenomenology is ontological – it is possible to apply phenomenological methodology to such a setting. The below is an engaged review of this work, following Gschwandtner’s chapter divisions and providing summaries of what I found most pertinent with arguments and interactions before finally offering some generalized reader comments.

Keywords: book review; Christina M. Gschwandtner; liturgy; Orthodox Christianity; phenomenology

The Crucifix and the candle: Review of Gschwandtner's Welcoming Finitude_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the online journal Phenomenological Reviews, March 01, 2020. <>.

Facing a form of/formed God: Japan’s Hidden Christians and usages of the image – a phenomenological perspective

Abstract: Japan’s Hidden Christians faced a growing number of difficulties throughout the Edo Period as the official persecution directed against them increased in both severity of form and degree of enforcement. Dangers such as forced apostasy, exile, torture, and death came to be daily norms for those who chose to continue practicing their faith, and so as a result various means of disguise and subterfuge were invented by these groups. Primarily these coping methods involved the employment of accepted ritual acts and objects like those found in contemporary Buddhism and Shinto in place of Christian ones. Eventually the blending of these practices gave rise to the blending of beliefs, and a surprising syncretism developed amongst the Hidden Christians during their long years of isolation from the Church proper. The present study seeks to explore this, and to ask what it may have been like to pray to one instead of another, to approach the Bodhisattva Kannon with the Virgin Mary in mind. We attempt this through a background historical survey, an examination of the image’s place phenomenologically, data collected from modern Japanese Christians with a direct connection to past Hidden Christians, and finally an analysis of the impact of the conceptual on the experiential, on the seen and – crucially – the felt. Through this journey in time and place concurrent discoveries within may yet be found.

Keywords: art; Christianity in Japan; Hidden Christians; image; Kannon (Bodhisattva); Kochi City; Urakami (Nagasaki); Virgin Mary statuary

Facing a Form of-Formed God - Japanese Mary Statuary_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 8 (2020), 31-72.

Milking Zen: Lasky’s evocations, Zen’s “only/now”, and the limits of language

Abstract: Dorothea Lasky’s recent collection of poems titled simply Milk (2018) contains works that are powerfully expressive, descriptive of her being, time, place, self; but in that not only her own. However, while her words do move the reader they arguably cannot transpose – yet this is no shortcoming of Lasky’s. Rather I wish to argue that the problem is to be found in the available tools themselves, that when it comes to transmitting what is phenomenologically known by creatures like us what we can do with language is (and possibly will remain) quite frankly insufficient. Nevertheless a skillful employment can provide guideposts for one’s journey, and in studying selections from Lasky (with brief looks at Clarice Lispector and Sylvia Plath as well) we will note how certain aspects of Zen Buddhist thought on the intuitive, the transitive, and on ways of knowing might be applied. Perhaps no poet or writer can get us all the way “there”, but we may be placed at a start.

Keywords: Dorothea Lasky; feeling; knowing; linguistic limitations; poetry; Zen

Milking Zen_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Humanismus, 31 (2020), 16-34.

Preliminary report on the Joint Tosa Folklore Research Project: Use and approaches of Virgin Mary statuary, then and now – a Tosa perspective

Abstract: Japan’s hidden Christian community is a unique and fascinating aspect of the long story of life on these islands. Although the Catholic faith was relentlessly suppressed by official pressure and periodic arrests, detainments, tortures, even executions, somehow a small community of believers persisted in their practices. Of special note was the usage amongst this group of statues of the Virgin Mary that were disguised as those of the Bodhisattva of Mercy Kannon. A new museum related to this period and containing some of these statues opened last year in Nagasaki City’s well known Oura Church, and Kochi City’s own Enoguchi Catholic Church has a direct connection with this group and this history. It is my intention to explore these avenues with a focus on the experiential feel and the approaches to Mary statuary use in both the past and the present, the philosophical implications of such, and the potential crossroads thus demonstrated between the phenomenology of iconography and art. The below is an introduction to a work that has only recently been undertaken yet nevertheless appears to be promising.

Keywords: hidden Christians; image; kakure kirishitan; Kochi (Tosa); Nagasaki; phenomenology; Virgin Mary iconography and statuary

Preliminary Report on Japanese Virgin Mary Statuary_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 7 (2019), 89-100.

A Meditation on the benefits of mysticism

Abstract: Mystical experiences are by their nature difficult to describe and often appear as opaque in form, strange, perhaps even unsettling. Yet mysticism is a real part of our lives and as such should arguably be taken into account, particularly when considered from a pragmatic approach to religious practice. The following therefore attempts to consider mysticism from a wider viewpoint arising out of a reading of the famous Japanese scholar and exporter of Zen to the West D. T. Suzuki’s work Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist (1957). Our study begins with some background comments on beliefs and their lived influences taken from psychological and neurological research before moving into a philosophical argument for an applied acceptance of personal mystical occurrences. Meaning, a need for openness, intrinsic value, and an alternative way of being in the modern world are all examined, and the conclusion is reached that an embrace of mysticism has much to offer both from within and from without established ritualisms.

Keywords: empirical; experiential; mysticism; phenomenology; pragmatism

A meditation on the benefits of mysticism_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 7 (2019), 39-49.

No way but in: The phenomenology of a short poem

Abstract: Poetry has not received an equal amount of attention from philosophers and critics working within the arts, and short poetry even less so. Yet I contend that short poetry has much to offer interested readers, particularly when approached from a phenomenological perspective and methodology. What might be involved in such is explored here, with a focus on the theoretical issues involved in a phenomenological reading of poetry, an application of the concerns discussed to selected works, and then finally a consideration of the inescapable role of the self in any interplay with short poems. It is argued that the paucity of context necessitates a reading in of oneself, and that this reading in is instructive and engaging.

Keywords: aesthetics; appreciation; experience; interpretation; literature; poetry; reading

No Way but In_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Humanismus, 30 (2019), 15-30.

On reading poetry

Abstract: In contemporary times reading poetry is an activity that seems seldom done, and when (or if) done at all it is unlikely to be with much forethought, much mental or attitudinal formation. Yet something special can happen to us when we read a poem, something that is ever unique and almost always unrepeatable. This short piece endeavors to explore that happening between poet and reader, that moment which can find itself becoming an encounter, an event of the without compositionally within.

Keywords: experience; poetry; reading; time

On Reading Poetry_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Humanismus, 29 (2018), 24-34.

Enlightening your laptop: Machine selves and a "real" Buddhist self?

Abstract: Futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and others associated with the idea of "The Singularity" have predicted that as artificial intelligence programs (AI) progress they will inevitably begin to experience and reflect on themselves in the same or in a similar manner to that which we are accustomed to doing in our everyday lives, and thus that these machines will then have their own "soul" or "mind" or "self" just as we are said to have. Buddhist philosophy of course would beg to differ on this point as one of the most central tenets of Buddhism is the no-self or no-soul, yet Buddhism does not deny that we have the kinds of experiences and reflections that we do. Thinking about Buddhism’s stance on this point raises a very interesting question: If there is no self behind the experiences and reflections that we engage in, could AI come to have a mind like we do? The futurists who answer this question in the positive often compare the brain-body relationship to that between software and hardware, stressing a direct analogy. That relationship will be examined in the context of what a machine’s qualia (the "what it is like" aspect of being a machine) might consist in, and it will be argued that in light of such considerations a machine cannot have the metalevels of mind that we have and therefore cannot have qualia in the sense that we do. The argument will then be continued, claiming that without qualia any hope for a true artificial "mind" and/or "self" must be groundless. However, in examining the software/hardware analogy something far more subtle and nuanced can be discovered: the notion of a thing’s reality as functionally existent, and that concept has very interesting consequences for the self from a Buddhist perspective. It may be that in creating machines the way we have been we are becoming capable of learning a great deal more about ourselves, and that learning can both benefit from and add to existing Buddhist insights.

Keywords: artificial intelligence (AI); Buddhist no-self; mind; qualia; the self

Enlightening your laptop: Machine selves and a "real" Buddhist self?_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the Journal of the Korean Association for Buddhist Studies, Special Issue: Encounter of Buddhism & the 4th Industrial Revolution, (2017), 504-537 (Korean translation 539-569).

Reading Sylvia Plath: Does knowing about an artist help us appreciate their work?

Abstract: The approach that we typically take to art, in the unexamined position, is one that posits that appreciation should be based on a correct understanding and interpretation of the artwork in question. Here I argue that as non-specialists we ought rather to begin from an emotive and personal response to the work and in that way base our appreciation not on knowledge but on phenomenology. To make this case three poems from Sylvia Plath’s Ariel collection (1965) are examined. As Plath wrote confessional poetry a short biography is provided and the selected poems are set against what we know of her life and thus what the poems may ostensively mean, with each poem being progressively less transparent. Within this context of decreasing knowledge the question of appreciation is raised and some potential benefits of a personally emotional and time-specific comportment towards art are offered.

Keywords: art appreciation; knowing about art; Sylvia Plath; understanding art

Reading Sylvia Plath_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 5 (2017), 21-40.