Phenomenology as an instrument of critique


  • Sven Sellmer


methodology, reductionism, deconstruction, experience, phenomenological method, Hermann Schmitz


The present paper aims at showing that the phenomenological method is a crucial methodological element of every research that is based on the interpretation of utterances or texts based on experiences, like religious studies. Following the neophenomenological school, the notion of “phenomenon” is understood in a radically relative way: “A phenomenon for a person at a given point of time is a state of affairs for which this person cannot — in spite of trying to vary the presuppositions she makes as much as possible — withdraw the belief that it is a fact” (Schmitz, 2003: 1). Starting from this notion, phenomenology may fruitfully criticise two common strategies: reduction and construction. The first one tries to reduce experiences to allegedly more fundamental processes like electrical impulses in neural nets. Here the phenomenologist must object that in doing so without preceding phenomenological analysis the reductionist will lose large parts of potentially important information. As to the second strategy, constructions — in the sense of presuppositions, ready-made concepts etc. — are present in all texts that are meant to express an experience. In order to describe the underlying experience more adequately, the phenomenological researcher has to remove as many constructions as possible. In this way she does not only produce a description that is ”closer” to the experience (though she can never hope to fully grasp it), but she also paves the way for comparison and dialogue across religions and cultures.