Back to the Future

By: Piotr Sawczynski  

In my paper I would like to critically analyze the dispute between two prominent Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century – Leo Strauss and Gershom Scholem – over the religious meaning of progress and return. With reference to the messianic idea in Judaism, Strauss argued that the role of religious thinking is to “redeem” modern people of progress, bring them back to tradition and restitute the origins. Scholem accused Strauss of misreading Jewish messianism and accentuated its dialectical spin: the function of religion is neither restorative, nor progressive but restorative and progressive at the same time. In other words, the return in Judaism shall not be associated with restoration but with a utopian figure of “return to what has never been.” The aim of my paper is not only to reconstruct the debate (Strauss’s "Progress or Return?" and Scholem’s "Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism" being of primary importance here) but also use it to deconstruct the apparent opposition of progress and return in the religious discourse.

Judaism, Messianism, Leo Strauss, Gershom Scholem, Progress, Return
Religious Foundations
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Piotr Sawczynski

PhD Student, Department of International and Political Studies, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland

I am a PhD student at the Department of Philosophy and the Department of International and Political Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. I am currently preparing my doctoral thesis titled "Jewish Sources of Political Subjectivity in Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben." I have been a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago (Divinity School), the University of Nottingham (Department of Theology and Religious Studies) and Heidelberg University (Department of Political Science). I am the author of several articles and book chapters, the most recent one being "Giorgio Agamben - A Modern Marcionite? Marranic Messianism and the Problem of Law" ("Religions" 10(1)/2019). I have presented at many international conferences, e.g. in England, Italy, Spain and the USA. I am a member of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. My academic interests are Jewish philosophy and theology, modern political theory, Kabbalah, and the problem of subjectivity.