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A Phenomenology of Discernment: Applying Scheler’s ‘Religious Acts’ to Cassian’s Four Steps

Jason W. Alvis


This article argues that Max Scheler’s conception of “religious acts” and his criticisms of types of “difference” help rethink the relevance of discernment and decision making, especially today, in an age in which we are faced with an unprecedented range of "options" in nearly every area of social lives. After elucidating Scheler’s engagements with religion in On the Eternal in Man, his work is then applied to rethinking more deeply the four steps of Christian discernment developed by the 5th century Mystic, John Cassian.  Since Scheler’s work offers detailed and passionate depictions of the religious relevance of "values", it is an untapped resource for expanding upon Cassian’s still relevant work on discernment; an expansion that is necessary in order to demonstrate the often overlooked importance of discernment. This article concludes by employing the work of these two thinkers to show how discernment can help “sort-out,” like good "money changers", the differences between 1) finite values and supreme values, 2) an authentic and inauthentic doctrine of God 3) true differences and superficial differences (which cultivates indifference), and 4) the social imaginaries of theomorphism and anthropomorphism.

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