Tsimtsum as a Political Theology for the Secular Age

Seminars and Colloquia

The kabbalistic vision of creation, known as tsimtsum (contraction), narrates the story about a God who withdrew or completely disappeared in order to make space for the Other, for cosmos and life. In this sense, God ceased from absoluteness and sovereignty, which is the first lesson for the creatures: life in its fullness is possible only in irreducible plurality, dispersion, and divisions.

Isaac Luria (1534–1572), who initiated the whole school of kabbalistic teaching about a self-limiting God, could not predict that his idea would one day inspire Christian theologians, then German Idealism, and Polish Romanticism. In his presentation, Rafael Zawisza will concentrate on the political consequences of the heterodox theogonies that sprang from tsimtsum in the regional context of Central-Eastern Europe, since the modern reception of Lurianic kabbalah is related to German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian lands.

According to Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) – the most prominent scholar of Jewish mysticism – Lurianism was a theology created by and for the outsiders, for the persecuted and oppressed people, whose both physical existence and cultural-religious identity were endangered. In order to save the former, the latter went through deep mutation. The political experiences of those people transformed theology from within, resulting in a revolutionary turn that led to a plausible theological legitimization of secularity. Decoding this uncanny genealogy of modernity may serve its critical re-apprehension in a time when the West meets existential threats.

Rafael Zawisza obtained his PhD degree at the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw with his dissertation Cryptotheological Defence of the Secular: Hannah Arendt’s Anthropology and the Secularisation Thesis (2019). The dissertation was distinguished in the Majer Bałaban Contest (2020), organized by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. With Ludger Hagedorn he co-edited a volume published by Campus Verlag in 2021: "Faith in the World": Post-Secular Readings of Hannah Arendt.

Ludger Hagedorn, IWM Permanent Fellow, will provide comments and moderate the ensuing discussion.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.