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Category: Critical Theory for Political Theology 2.0

What tools from critical theory are useful for scholarship in political theology, or more generally for thinking in novel ways about the connections between religion and politics? While political theology is increasingly understood as an interdisciplinary field, bringing together scholars of religious traditions and scholars from across the humanities theorizing the connections between religious, political, and secular ideas and practices, the reservoir of contemporary theory and philosophy from which the field draws has often remained relatively narrow, centered on European men such as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Jacques Derrida – with Carl Schmitt looming in the background.

We started this project with a few names in mind – Achille Mbembe, Adriana Cavarero, Enrique Dussel, Byung-Chul Han, and Julia Kristeva, among others. We put out an open call for essays that would introduce these figures and would point to ways that their work can contribute to conversations in political theology. We were enormously pleased with the enthusiasm and creativity colleagues brought to this project, volunteering to write essays about other important figures and making connections that open up new avenues for research. Contributors range from graduate students to senior faculty members, from secular to ordained clergy, from scholars of literature to political theory to religious studies to theology – reflecting the rich diversity of the Political Theology Network. Collectively, these essays offer a foretaste of where the field of political theology is heading in the decades ahead.

While these essays are focused on political theology, we think that they can be read as resources for broader conversations about theory in the study of religion. Indeed, even scholars with no particular interest in religion will find these brief introductions, complete with annotated bibliographies, helpful guides to entering into the thought of these important figures.

We realize important figures are still missing from this project. We see this project as a living archive, and we welcome proposals for new essays (they can be sent to Alex Dubliet at aleksey.dubilet@vanderbilt.edu and Vincent Lloyd at vincent.lloyd@villanova.edu). We also realize that there are plenty of important theoretical topics and tools that go overlooked by organizing this project around theorists. Indeed, we anticipate a sequel that will focus not on theorists but on key terms that are important for political theology, with particular attention to terms circulating in Black, Indigenous, and feminist studies.

Essays will appear at a rate 1-2 a week over the next few months. After all the essays appear, we will reflect on what the collection as a whole teaches us about the state of the field and its future. We are confident that, in their conceptual diversity, the essays will demonstrate the irreducible importance of theoretical work for any serious understanding of political theology. By helping us focus our attention and questions in novel ways, the theoretical approaches introduced by the essays that follow will help sharpen political theology’s critical edge in its struggle against the injustices of the world.

Autopoiesis

In autopoiesis, there is no separation between what we do and the particular way in which the world appears to us.

Martyrdom

Facing the violence of contemporary terror, many intellectuals have spoken in our present times about a return of political theology and religion in its violent forms. Attention to the concept of martyrdom has reappeared due to an increasing interest in religious conflicts.

Relationality

Where relationality is most productive in critical projects is where it transcends its projects of critique and explores the possibilities—ethical, political, and theological—of its account of subjectivity and community.

Survivance

Native survivance, in [Gerald] Vizenor’s parlance, is a combination of the words “survival” and “resistance,” and it “creates a sense of presence.” According to him, “The suffix -ance designates a condition, a nature, or a quality that is more than a mere description of survival.”

Critical Theory for Political Theology: From Theorists to Keywords

We launched this series to make available theoretical resources that keep pace with the concerns raised by those working with political theology today, whose interests are increasingly tied not only to questions of genealogy, speculation, and political modernity, but also to questions of race, colonialism, gender, sexuality, disability, ecology, labor, finance capitalism, and economies of affect. 

Lauren Berlant

Berlant is our preeminent contemporary theorist of how intimate practices bleed into and with national formations, and condition specific and powerful fantasies for what a good life or functional society would involve. To read their work is to become attuned to a set of dynamics that can be excavated in any given scene: the attachments being made and unmade, the forms of belonging that flash up and dissolve, the feeling-worlds that mediate everyday life, what remains unfinished.

Hortense Spillers

What would it mean for scholarship in political theology to claim monstrosity? Perhaps it would mean focusing on underappreciated aspects of the Christian tradition, and other religious traditions, particularly those developed by women’s intellectual labor.

Sara Ahmed

Scholars and activists cannot rely on fact-checking or dry reason in this political climate. We have to feel our way toward change.

Gil Anidjar

While Carl Schmitt claims that the enemy constitutes “the political,” his various writings largely ignore the historical and discursive evolution of the enemy. Anidjar’s major contribution to modern political theology lies in responding to this lacuna.

The Invisible Committee

The Invisible Committee may be productively, albeit counterintuitively, understood as Gnostic, a perspective that will put into question some of the assumptions behind the way the political and the theological are demarcated from and related to each other in contemporary debates.

Ernst Bloch

In many ways, Bloch’s work inverts the classic dictum of political theology advanced by Carl Schmitt, that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.” For Bloch, theological concepts are intimations of the freedom of the secular and revolutionary socialist society.

Roberto Esposito

In Esposito’s most explicit political theology work, he is concerned with re-working, or rather destabilizing, the essence of political theology.