Languages of love : the formative power of religious language

Lewin, David (2019) Languages of love : the formative power of religious language. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 53 (3). pp. 460-476. ISSN 0309-8249 (

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How we are to understand the formative and informative processes of language? At one level, language is understood as a medium for communicating knowledge through propositions that form or represent cognitive understanding and so can be defined as informative. The concern of this article is to explore the scope of this notion of linguistic and conceptual informing and to consider what it overlooks. I argue that straightforwardly propositional, descriptive and cognitive accounts of language leave out a great deal that properly belongs to language, namely the poetic, aesthetic and affective. I consider the distinction between the propositional statement and the poetic utterance initially through a discussion of the cognitive and affective modes of understanding. The argument explores a number of contexts in which language is primarily affective and formative, from Yoga Sutras to medieval Christian monasticism, in order to consider the varieties of affective and formative language. I argue that forms of devotional speech intended to form the person (the soul of the practitioner) are significantly affective as well as cognitive, forming the speaker in ways that are seldom considered in the context of more rationalist views of language. I then explore how a more poetic, aesthetic or affective kind of language can be seen shaping, or re-orienting desire. Finally, I argue that the theological understanding of negation (apophatic theology) can be helpfully applied to both the negation of our cognitive understanding (of God), as well as our desire (for God) and show the educational significance through considerations of formation.