Deciphering transcendence and the open code of modernity: SN Eisenstadt's comparative hermeneutics of civilizations

I. Silber

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper highlights the key position and polysemy of the idea of transcendence in Eisenstadt's comparative historical sociology. Eisenstadt's deployment of the idea of transcendence as a tool of systematic comparative analysis applicable to both past and present civilizations stands in clear continuity with directions of inquiry opened up by Weber and later inflected by conceptions of the ‘Axial Age' as first developed by Jaspers and others. But it was also nourished by his time of study with Buber, self-critical revision of his early affinities with structural-functionalism, and dialogical absorption of competing theoretical influences. Transcendence, in the process, develops into a polysemic idea of flexible analytical scope, which can combine with but does not overlap with those of the search for salvation, charisma, or the sacred. The result is a comparative hermeneutics of civilizations that strives to decipher the manifold and contradictory expressions of transcendence in the history of human conceptions and institutions. It is also a cultural hermeneutics that posits the paradoxical operation of generative cultural structures able to both close and open, encode or dissolve, as well as construct and reconstruct collective boundaries and arenas of trust and commitment.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2010
EventSymposium In memory of S.N. Eisenstadt - Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem, Israel
Duration: 9 Dec 20109 Dec 2010


ConferenceSymposium In memory of S.N. Eisenstadt


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