Irreconcilable Mourning: Inheritance, Redemption, and the Critique of History

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John D. Caputo

Second Advisor

M. Gail Hamner


Benjamin, Critique, Derrida, History, Memory, Mourning

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religion


Nearly seventy years after 1945, this project is situated at a crucial nexus between the generation who experienced the Second World War first-hand and the later generations assuming responsibility for their stories and histories. In my exploration of what I call "irreconcilable mourning," I question whether and how people transmit and take responsibility for the catastrophes of earlier generations. What are the motivations not to forget the past? How do these concerns translate philosophically, in material sites of mourning, and in specific forms of narrative and history writing? I first reinterpret the concept of mourning in order to understand it not only as psychological grieving but as an activity with temporal, historical, ethical, and political resonances important to religion and philosophy. From this foundation, I proceed in the second half to examine how irreconcilable mourning takes hold in the postwar religious "situations" presented in post-Holocaust and post-Bomb Japanese narratives. I argue that the response to loss that I have called "irreconcilable mourning" is not a static event or moment but an ongoing, fluid process across generations.


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