Before The Speculative Turn (2010)-- around two years before-- there was The Participatory Turn (2008), a book which argues (according to its page in SUNY press' website) that we can "take seriously religious experience, spirituality, and mysticism, without reducing them to either cultural-linguistic by-products or simply asserting their validity as a dogmatic fact." As the word "participation" might tip you off, this is more or less my project too (all my philosophical forays--and that is all they are, border-skirmishes--have their roots in either cultural or spiritual motives). The two books make an interesting pair, and as the earlier one has not made a big splash, as far as I have seen (despite some good reviews, including one in Tikkun), I thought I would examine it a little by way of comparing the Participatory and the Speculative Turns. If the later book wears its revolutionary claims on its sleeve, or at least on its jacket ("This anthology assembles authors, of several generations and numerous nationalities, who will be at the center of debate in continental philosophy for decades to come"), the earlier book is a trifle on the modest side. ("Do we really need another 'turn'?" the introduction opens.) Editors Jorge Ferrer and Jacob Sherman write:
...we do not think of the participatory turn as a radical break with either the past nor the present, but rather as an attempt to name, articulate and strengthen an emerging academic ethos....this articulation is neither a return to previous epistemological structures not a drastic rupture from them, but rather reflects the ongoing project of a creative fusion of past, present and perhaps future horizons that integrates certain traditional religious claims with modern standards of critical inquiry.This smacks of not wanting to put on airs, but the essays included (you can read a modified version of Ferrer's here), while no more unified by a single program than are those of the more recent "speculative" anthology, are every bit as implicitly far-reaching. What they share is precisely a commitment to "take seriously religious experience:" they neither reduce it to something else (something that would be best investigated by, say, anthropology or sociology) nor do they unify it all under a single heading, some ur-religious mysterium tremendum et fascinans. For Ferrer and Sherman, religion is irreducibly plural. Like the editors and authors of The Speculative Turn, Ferrer and Sherman reject both linguistic reductionism and the Kantian premises which made it possible, and so re-open the question of the status of truth. They trace the equation, by which every metaphysical claim reduces to (nothing but) discourse, back to a neo-Kantian framework that regards the issue of any supernatural source of religion to require either suspension (since what is in question is a noumenon, hence inaccessible) or denial. This dismissal of all contemplative traditions' claims that unconditioned facts of reality are experiencable, amounts de facto (argue Ferrer and Sherman) to metaphysical perspective as ethnocentric as it is materialistic.
The Kantian impasse is at work, they argue, in the tug-of-war between perennialists and constructivists with regards to mystical experience. The former argue that mystical experience is one, that it involves some kernel that is common to all religious encounters, and that this experience is then translated, as it were, according to the cultural accouterments of the mystic's particular context. The latter respond that all experience is linguistically or culturally mediated; talk of a "common core" outside of culture is simply meaningless. Not merely the interpretation of experience, but the very experience itself, must be filtered via the mystic's cultural and personal lenses. Both these parties are found by Ferrer and Sherman to be ensnared by Kantian premises: to wit, the assumption that a dualism must obtain between an unconditioned reality and a human framework of interpretation. To the contrary, they argue, no religious event is purely objective or subjective, neither a discovery nor an invention; it is ontologically co-arising, hence "participatory."
Is this, then, a response to that by-now baneful word "correlationism," which is also traced to Kant's door? Not entirely. Though there is no reference to Meillassoux in the book, it would be possible to read The Participatory Turn as a pre-emptive blow on behalf of a kind of correlationism, the kind that claims a metaphysical or ontological status for the correlation itself. (I have some sympathies with this move, though, so I may be projecting.) Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the keynote address at today's symposium "Here Comes Everything: an introduction to Speculative Realism" at the California Institute of Integral Studies is given by Jacob Sherman, and called "Participatory Realism: Two Cheers for Meillassoux." I wish I could be there. It seems the two Turns have been toward each other. Their confluence should be interesting.