Three Essential Texts
- Schmitt, Political Theology
- Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies
- Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul
These texts — all written by men — are essential reminders that “political theology” is, first of all, a development internal to Christianity, an instrument to interrogate it anew. This includes the dispute with Judaism and with Islam (for Schmitt, many forget, political theology is always already about the enemy), both of which are all too easy to ignore of course (which may be better if the alternative is to speak, with even more and terrifying ease, of “the Judeo-Christian tradition”). The universalizing explosion we have witnessed in recent years (Derrida called it: globalatinization) make it futile to say this, but please try to remember the massive missionary and colonial effort that was involved in the dissemination of that Latin term, religio, to every corner of the Earth. Remember when there were alternative modernities? Secularism took off at the precise moment when the Christian — forgive me, secular — West felt entitled to reassert that it was special after all. Political Theology (no “alternative” there) went the other way. Still, it should have been harder to find “political theology” — to translate it — everywhere and everywhen.
Three Equally Essential Texts
1. Nicole Loraux, The Divided City
2. Tomaž Mastnak, Crusading Peace
3. Catherine Keller, A Political Theology of the Earth
4. Denise Kimberley Buell, Why this New Race
5. Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus
6. Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption
Against my better judgement (see above), but true to my counting skills, I place Loraux high on this list because hers is an extraordinary book that reminds us that — surprise — the Greeks were not secular, nor were they secularists. Loraux’s is a crucial contribution to thinking politics as division. And though I might take issue with the way she refers to the “politico-religious” (the Greeks were not “religious” either), she helps us conceptualize division and conflict (and democracy, that vanishing thing) under different lines, a different mapping. Mastnak brings us back to Islam and the constitutive enmity that shaped — and continues to shape — Christianity and/or Christendom. Keller teaches us that conceptual and translations debates might have become moot, talk of the future optimistic (albeit necessary), yet we may still profit from thought. Buell, who inspired a number of us on religion and race, is a must read, as is Susannah Heschel on the German theological traditions that preceded (and survived) Nazism. Fessenden — because we can make America great again.
Aside from the renewed energy it provided (for just about five minutes) toward rethinking what it is that we call (or don’t call) Christianity, political theology has also contributed to a different imagination of the sacrosanct separation that continues to operate between religion and politics (did anyone really think that collectives can exist in the world without having a political dimension? and vice-versa?). Having chipped away at that one, some have begun to address that other Christian contribution to world history: the (no less sacrosanct) distinction between religion and race (see Buell, mentioned above, as well Vincent Lloyd’s Race and Political Theology and J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, for starters). The list of such divisions goes on: economic theology, religion and science, etc. To conclude: Political Theology is the sedimented yet changing and multifarious ways in which Christianity divides itself and (which is to say also: from) the world. And then there was globalatinization.
Read the footnotes. You’ll figure it out.