Spinoza’s Religion: A New Reading of the Ethics” by Clare Carlisle— Rethinking Spinoza

Carlisle, Clare. “Spinoza’s Religion: A New Reading of the Ethics”, Princeton University Press, 2021.

Rethinking Spinoza

Amos Lassen

Throughout history, Spinoza has been seen as either one who forsook God or one who was a pantheist. Claire Carlisle in “Spinoza’s Religion” presents him as neither. Looking at “Ethics”, she brings together Spinoza’s metaphysics and his ethics together through the concept of“being in God” and grounds it in a deep questioning of how to live a joyful, fully human life. We see Spinoza wrestling withreligion, looking critically and constructively in the broadly Christian context in which he lived and worked. For him, philosophy was a spiritual endeavor that showed his devotion to a truthful, virtuous way of life.

His ideas about eternal life and the intellectual love of God are problematic and Carlisle uncovers a Spinozist religion that unites “self-knowledge, desire, practice, and embodied ethical life to reach toward our ‘highest happiness’―to rest in God.” Reading this, we reconsider both Spinoza and religion. Focusing on the “Ethics”, we think again about Spinoza’s relationship to religion and to modernity and their meanings.

Carlisle’s makes a compelling case for the importance of religion for Spinoza’s vision of human self-fulfillment. We get a “nondualistic, nondogmatic, and life-affirming spiritual philosophy” that places Spinoza in a rich dialogue with Christian theology along with new approaches to ethics, freedom, transcendence, and participation in God. It will be impossible to consider Spinoza without reading this.