Empty cross: Nothingness and the Church of Light

Jin Baek, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation contextualizes the emergence of the Church of Light (1987–9) by Tadao Ando (b. 1941) within the Japanese religio-philosophical tradition of nothingness. The idea of nothingness was revived during the first half of the twentieth-century by Kitaro Nishida (1870–1945) with two cultural ramifications in the post-war period: a series of dialogues on the points of convergence and divergence between nothingness and the God of Christianity, and an architectural art movement called Monoha, or l'Ecole de Choses. Under the concept of “structuring emptiness,” Monoha attempted to restore perceptual depth where dichotomous semiotic representation is overcome through shintaisei, the co-originating corporeal fabric between the subject and object. This two-fold mapping, theological and architectural, not only illuminates the post-war cultural milieu from which Ando's church of spatial emptiness emerged, but also locates the church within the legacy of Nishida's nothingness. Nishida's philosophy of nothingness offers a perceptual theory of the “dialectic of self-negation” enacted by shintai, “the actively knowing body.” Shintai is the agent of emptying selfhood by functioning as ‘the sensational capacity to be filled by’ the world. Shintai concretizes the perceptual matrix of co-emergence between the interiority of selfhood and the outside world. When its sensational capacity overflows, shintai enters into the realm of creative action to accommodate the surplus. The figure thus created is not a sign embodying subjective intentions, but constitutes the corporelly-inscribed, pre-reflective experiential datum of the world. Nishida called such a figure “the pure body (junsui shintai) of the artist,” implying its apprehension not as the other in unknowable confrontation, but as the extended self. The dissertation examines how this notion of self-renunciatory perception through shintai opens a new hermeneutic horizon for the Church of Light. The church presents an unprecedented conjunction between emptiness, based on the reductive removal of signs, and the cross of light. This seemingly contradictory integration confronts the modern degradation of the cross into an atrophied sign of Christianity and seeks to retrieve its fully efficacious symbolic power. The emptiness contributes to the revival of a deeper communicative mode as shintai by negating the habituated perception pivoted upon the dichotomy between the deciphering subject and the semiotic elements. The perception of light, a natural thing rather than a sign, which infiltrates the cross, is a preliminary ritual to save the perception from the paradigm of the semiotic representation. Shintai, the self-emptying corporeality, resonates with and becomes penetrated by, rather than subjectivizes, the light. On this restored perceptual depth, the cross is perceived not as a sign, but as a part of the pre-reflective, ontological datum constructed and apprehended by shintai. This perceptual experience endorses the associational similarity between the pre-Christian datum predicated upon shintai as the agent of the self-renunciatory subjectivity and Christianity with its theology of the self-transcending love of kenosis.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Baek, Jin, "Empty cross: Nothingness and the Church of Light" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3125781.