Lunchtime seminar: Ash Collins on the forgotten Spinozist

The Forgotten Spinozist: Romain Rolland, Gilles Deleuze, and the Figure of Christ

To this day, the thinking of Spinoza still serves as a powerful tool for those seeking to negotiate the nexus between theological transcendence and the immanence of worldly existence. This paper explores the thought of one of the most important—and yet least remembered—Spinozists within 20th century French intellectual history: the Nobel Prize-winning French novelist, Romain Rolland (1866–1944). Past scholarship has repeatedly identified a divergence between the Catholic orthodoxy against which a youthful Rolland rebelled and the Spinozist non-conformism that shaped his thinking throughout life. By re-reading Rolland’s intellectual engagement with religion through the thinking of Gilles Deleuze, this study counters such critical interpretations and argues that the tension between Catholic orthodoxy and Spinozism cannot purely be seen in terms of a polemical conflict, but rather as the opportunity for a fruitful dialogue that has much to offer our own treatment of the religious question in the 21st century.

Ash Collins is Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University. His primary research interests include 20th and 21st century French intellectual history, 20th century French literature, continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of education. He has published his research in journals such as Australian Journal of French Studies, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, and Educational Philosophy and Theory.

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