The Religious Finite Province of Meaning and Suffering

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Abstract

Alfred Schutz developed a thorough treatment of the pragmatic dimensions of everyday life, which he called the world of working and which includes the ego agens as the 0-point of all spatial-temporal coordinates. This ego agens brings within reach distant sectors of the life-world and what transcends the life-world, pursues pragmatic interests derived from its fundamental anxiety about death, and operates with useful typifications of itself and others that neglect what it is individual and atypical and what the limits and difficulties of communication with others are. However, nonpragmatic provinces of meaning, such as literature, theory, dreaming, or phantasy resist the world of working, reversing these features. The provinces of literature and theory are examples of finite provinces of meaning that can be used to flesh out what might be involved in the religious province of meaning, which Schutz himself never worked out. The experience of suffering and illness, understood in their commonsense, general significance disrupts the world of working, as does religion, but the religious province can offer resources for coming to terms with suffering insofar as it places the perspective of the sufferer within the wider perspective of the transcendent, relativizes working interests and relevances, affirms the worth of sufferer beyond the achievement or nonachievement of pragmatic goals, reasserts the importance of the uniqueness of the sufferer, and opens new possibilities for nonpragmatic relationships with others.

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