I first taught this graduate seminar in 2008 as a “Topics in Political Thought” course, and called it “Political Theologies” – a political theory seminar, cross-listed with Study of Religion. Part of the motivation for teaching it was finding a set of themes and readings that would work well in a cross disciplinary way, as I’m jointly appointed to both Political Science and Study of Religion.
. . . We begin with a first dip into the conceptual issues (the issues of political form, legitimacy, cosmic analogy, acclamations, secularization) by reading the third chapter of Schmitt’s Political Theology. Then we move on to show that grounding “political form” (Schmitt) by embedding it into a cosmic structure has been an issue at least from the Hellenistic period (if not before).
The first goal was to open up how students “read” a text, which in turn means opening up how they understand both “scripture” and religion. In that regard I consider myself a Blakean – I read the texts as poetry, most of all, but reified into “theology” and law by “priestly” types, so that, to experience those texts again we must go behind how catechisms have taught us to read them.
When I was asked to contribute syllabi on political theology I thought it would be a great chance to look back and reflect on how my thinking and teaching on the topic have evolved. I think of a course I am currently teaching under this rubric, even though its title and official description eschew all reference to theology, and some of the very first courses I taught were expressly geared toward the topic of political theology.
The phrase “political theology” is used in many ways, across many disciplines. Over the past few years, an increasing number of courses have been offered calling themselves Political Theology, or describing their topics as political theology. We have invited faculty from political science, religious studies, theology, and history who teach courses on political theology to share their syllabi on this blog over the coming weeks, and to reflect on political theology pedagogy
The emergence of a new critical theory for the 21st century, exemplified in the writings of such theorists as Foucault, Agamben, Žižek, and Badiou as well as in such zones of contemporary discourse as biopolitics and globalization theory, has tremendous yet still uncharted consequences for theological thinking.
Let’s be clear. There is no academic field called “Islamic Political Theology”. So naturally there are hardly any books on Islamic Political Theology. Political Theology is largely a field of study within Christian Theology. This field, as I understand it, examines the relationship between the way we describe God and the way we describe the political. In the history of the Church there has been a strange correspondence between the two. A number of shared concepts, narratives, myths and symbols sustain each.
For me the field of political theology does not exist in isolation from a number of other disciplinary genres. There are some older texts which helped mark out the territory and possess a kind of classical importance. That claim needs to be seen in perspective. I am writing out of Australia and, prior to living here, taught theology in Aotearoa-New Zealand following postgraduate study at Cambridge.
I would like to change direction a little in this reflection on one hundred years of political theology. My interest for some time has been the complex intersections – or translations – that take place between Marxism and religion. I find unpersuasive the assertion that Marxism is a secularised or pseudo-religion, a political movement that relies upon a religious framework in order to develop its positions. This is to fall into the double-trap of a secularisation narrative and making theology an absolute and thereby the source of all modern political thought.
…My list focuses on the other conversation, religious voices or theologians, whether practical or professional, immersed in the concrete or engaged in theorizing. My aim is to suggest the kind of reconciling work that Vincent calls for between theology and critical humanities. Such a move makes profound sense to me—emerging as it does out of the tensions within my own biography.
If an academic field is defined in part by its canon, wide divergence on canon would suggest that what appears to be a field might not really be one. In the case of political theology, there seems to be this sort of incoherence: an anthropologist writing an article about political theology may never have heard of Dorothee Sölle, while a seminary professor writing an article about political theology might never have heard of Claude Lefort.