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[S]ituating demonology more fully in its religious and theological contexts furnishes resources that not only nuance understandings of movements for whom demonization is central, but also recontextualize discussions of core political theological concepts, including sovereignty, power, economy, subjectivity, and freedom.


On December 12, 2020, under a month before right-wing activists stormed the US capitol, right-wing Christians from across the denominational spectrum gathered in Washington to perform a Jericho March. In contemporary Christian practice, a Jericho March is a ritual action involving acts of prayer, circumambulation, and blowing shofars (Jewish ritual trumpets). Such Marches are a key part of contemporary “spiritual warfare” practices, whose purpose—this one included—is to dethrone and exorcise demonic entities that have allegedly taken control of the target: here, the US government and judiciary branches, which Mach participants accuse of overturning the 2020 presidential election in favour of Joe Biden, preventing Trump from maintaining his (in their minds) rightful and God-given power. The March was a tool of legitimation and delegitimation, situating participants and Trump as embodiments of righteousness and divine authority, while casting their opponents—whether individuals or institutions—as agents of illegitimate demonic forces. Demons here are framed—like many human targets of Trump’s presidential rhetoric—as illegally occupying space and resources, requiring violent removal in the name of maintaining or restoring the “proper” order to the nation.

The Jericho March on Washington illustrates the relationship of demonology to a core concern of political theology: sovereignty, the structure and justification of who rules or has the right to rule. In its political commitments, it also exemplifies how demonization—how others are cast as “with” demons, both affliction and affiliation—is a central dynamic of the current global political and religious landscape. The global ascendancy of reactionary forces, galvanizing existing antisemitism, antiblackness, and Islamophobia, has escalated the dehumanization of immigrants as well as attacks on queer and trans people, all fuelling violent backlashes against movements for racial, gender, and sexual justice. In Europe and North America, religion—specifically Christianity—provides the conceptual imaginary of these reactionary movements, in which paradigms of white, Christian, cisheteropatriarchal rule attempt to (re)assert sovereign power over the autonomy and futurity of all other(ed) beings and other ways of being. Demonology is among the conceptual tools these paradigms mobilize, whether by literally framing other(ed) humans as “with” demons, or by marking them with dehumanising and eliminationist notions from the history of Christian demonology. However, through these same concepts political theologians and critical theorists might learn to turn demonology to our own ends, learning to think “with” demons.

To begin, I outline how contemporary scholarship generally employs “political demonology” to connote intense self/other binaries. Critically, this connotation is often wholly secularised, stripped from direct connections to religious demonologies (past and present). From here, I sketch out an alternative understanding of political demonology more closely inflected by political theology. Drawing on the work of Adam Kotsko in section two and Cecilio Cooper in section three, I explore how demonology can recontextualise political theological discussions of sovereignty, power, freedom, and subjectivity, also moreover as a potential resource through which the demonized—those marked as “with” demons—can challenge systems of power and violence that seek to demonize them.

Whither Political Demonology?

To think “with” demons requires reframing a political theology with or as a political demonology. Before doing so, however, it is important to clarify how academic scholarship uses the term “political demonology” (or sometimes simply “demonology”). At least since political scientist Michael Paul Rogin used the term in 1987, “political demonology” has referred simply to systems of dehumanisation. For Rogin, the term refers to the exacerbation of existing racial and class divides tied to a broader reactionary tradition in American cultural and political life, one that engaged in the creation of monsters by inflating, stigmatizing, and dehumanizing political foes. This is the primary sense in which political demonology appears today across academic disciplines, from the political theory of Bonnie Honig to the film criticism of Adam Lowenstein. In these works, political demonology names a process of narrating both culture and history that privileges intense binarization: how one’s politics and life become warped by enmity and projection and the simplification that neat, clear-cut binaries bring. Demonology here names the process of dividing the world into self—imagined as pure, whole, and wholesome—and other—understood as threatening, corruptive, violating, and to be shunned.

One hallmark of this understanding of political demonology particularly relevant to political theologians, however, is its estrangement from both lived religion (such as that displayed in Washington on December 12) and the theological history of demonology. It is almost wholly secularized, collapsing varieties of demonology (past and present) and concepts embedded in them to privilege creating self/other binaries as demonology’s solitary function. I am not suggesting such binaries are unimportant—quite the contrary. Rather, situating demonology more fully in its religious and theological contexts furnishes resources that not only nuance understandings of movements for whom demonization is central, but also recontextualize discussions of core political theological concepts, including sovereignty, power, economy, subjectivity, and freedom. By doing so, we might open the way for thinking “with” demons, as theoretical tools to comprehend social and political processes of demonization, and through which we might challenge those very processes.

The Included Exclusion

The figure of the demon emerging from Christian theology is not simply a figure of evil, but one constructed and actualised by asymmetrical relations of sovereign power. The Devil is illustrative of this construction, as literary critic Neil Forsyth explores. The Devil, previously an angel in heaven, receives his identity as the Devil through his fall. This is his origin as a subject: he is subjected to divine sovereign power—being defeated and cast down by God—a subjection from which subjectivity and identity emerges. This subjectivity exists both inside and outside of divine order: a system that excludes him defines the Devil’s sense of self, while his actions and their results still exist within and feed into that system. Historian Philip Almond refers to this duality as the “demonic paradox.” The Devil, and demons broadly, are simultaneously the implacably opposed to divine order and (often unwilling) agents of it. Demons oppose yet cannot escape divine order. At the same time, their antagonism allows them to be positioned as an other, a figure embodying everything divine order rejects while being scapegoated for that order’s systemic failures.

The Devil’s inside/outside position is a theme political theologian Adam Kotsko explicitly takes up. Positioning his work as responding to the contemporary demonization of Black people in contemporary America, Kotsko traces the Devil’s journey from early Christian theology through the early modern period to show how the Devil’s story—his fall and irrevocable damnation—serves as the template for notions of sin and blameworthiness in Western society. Interrogating the problem of evil from a new angle, Kotsko explores how the Devil’s fall happens arbitrarily at the instant of creation. The Devil is held morally culpable by God for this fall without specifying whether he could ever have chosen otherwise. Moreover, with small theological exceptions, his damnation is irrevocable. In this way, the Devil’s fall creates a permanent reservoir of “evil” whose energies can always be turned toward achieving the divine plan. In Kotsko’s analysis, the Devil and those aligned with him become included exclusions—that is, individuals and groups who are excluded from the benefits and protections of a given social order but whose exclusion is necessary for that order to sustain itself. Divine order manufactures the conditions for the Devil’s exclusion while rendering him blameworthy for it, ultimately recuperating their energies for its own sustenance and survival.

Examining the legacy of the Devil in secularized systems of antisemitism, antiblackness, and neoliberal economic and social order, Kotsko shows how demonization creates the framework in which free will becomes a paradigm for apportioning sin and punishment. It creates systems of power through which individuals are cast as blameworthy for choices they cannot not choose, justifying regimes of violence that fall disproportionately on disempowered sides of racial, class, gender, and sexual lines. The targets of such regimes of violence become demonized, not simply in the more general sense—drawing on Rogin—that they are dehumanized and othered, but in the sense that they adopt the demon’s structural liminality as the included exclusions of social, political, and theological orders. Like demons, the demonized are situated inside and outside systems of power, ineluctably enmeshed in even while persistently struggling against these systems.

The Black Chthonic

By situating demons not simply in relation to constructions of evil or otherness, but also to liminality and asymmetry, we can foster a critical framework that approaches demonized subjectivities as embedded in broader systems of sovereign power and sovereign violence. Understanding demonization as the construction and imposition of relations of subjection and subjectivity opens space through which to articulate a form of political theology “from below”—one that speaks “with” demons, with the demonized, acting in alignment with those forced to embody infernal substrates of sovereign power—its foundations, its fear, its fuel.

This approach necessitates a theory and politics that draws on the insights of demonized peoples, as seen for example in the pioneering work of Cecilio Cooper. Cooper builds off other recent work in Black Studies like that of Jared Sexton that excavates the potential of the demonic as an intellectual resource for thinking Blackness and antiblackness. Exploring early modern witchcraft and alchemy discourses, Cooper demonstrates how blackness symbolically comes to represent a threat to the messianic teleology of white, Christian reproductive futurity—then and now. Cooper’s work follows early modern witchcraft scholarship in chronicling the complex ways sincere belief in the reality of the demonic, and efforts to counteract its influence, galvanize regimes of knowledge production and transformations in sociopolitical structures and concepts of selfhood. Articulating the “black chthonic,” Cooper underlies how ideas of postlapsarian fallenness become imbricated in constructions of racialized Blackness and settler colonial models of Indigeneity.

Unpacking the lines of tension between constructions of racial blackness and those of an ostensibly non-racial symbolic blackness, Cooper’s black chthonic constitutes a symbolic site of demonological threat to a white, Christian, cisheteropatriarchal social order, representing a site of extraction, darkness, hell, death, disorder, indeterminacy, chaos, and counter-cultural revolution, among others. The black chthonic sutures discourses in which messianic victory of light over darkness are mapped onto property relations by which white Christian society claims ownership of Black humanity. Blackness in Cooper’s analysis is something always out-of-place, in a state of perennial falling, and the nadir of universality. As such, within the symbolic and material economy of white Christian cisheteropatriarchy it must yet cannot be controlled. It situates Black existence as demonologically coded, but also grants Black existence an anarchic potentiality. Teasing out the multiplicities of the black chthonic, Cooper’s work exposes how the demonological represents not only a projection of normative order’s threat, which places the demonized in the liminal role of the included exclusion, but also a potent resource from which the demonized might draw to articulate new strategies of subversion, solidarity, and survival.


Heretofore, the field of political demonology has concerned itself with broadly secularized models of intense othering, models divorced from both historical demonology and the lived demonologies of the contemporary world. The ascendancy of demonology in modern reactionary movements as a resource through which these movements frame models of legitimacy, power, self sovereignty, and state sovereignty—as witnessed in contemporary America—highlight the need for political theology to articulate a new, more nuanced, paradigm of political demonology. Cooper and Kotsko’s works represent crucial steps in this direction, bridging theology, early modern demonological analyses, and modern critical theory to lay the foundations for a holistic understanding of Christian demonology’s conceptual landscape and more or less secularized legacy. Their work not only encourages political theologians and critical theorists alike to look beyond demonology as merely a tool for the violent division of the world into self and other, but also to interrogate the relations of sovereign power, subjectivity, and subjection that this division fosters—and also to begin plumbing its abyssal depths for the forbidden resources by which we might learn to unmake the world and its structures.

Annotated Bibliography

Cecilio M. Cooper. “Fallen: Generation, Postlapsarian Verticality + the Black Chthonic.” Rhizomes 38, 2022.

An exploration of political demonology as a critical methodology for examining constructions of Blackness and Indigeneity in discourses of early modern demonology, alchemy, and contemporary ecocriticism.

Adam Kotsko. The Prince of this World: The Life and Legacy of the Devil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.

Presently the sole monograph-length political theology of the Devil. The work explores the relationship between the Devil, blameworthiness, and freedom from patristic theology through to the early modern period.

Adam Kotsko. Neoliberalism’s Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capital. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018.

A sequel and companion text to The Prince of this World. The text interrogates contemporary neoliberalism as a political theological system that demonizes its subjects, rendering individuals blameworthy for systemic problems.

Michael Paul Rogin. Ronald Reagan: The Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.

An early and influential primary theorization of “political demonology.” Decidedly non-theological, but exemplary of how the term is used in academic scholarship broadly.

Jared Sexton. Black Men, Black Feminism: Lucifer’s Nocturne. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Extends Kotsko’s analysis of demonization through afropessimism to explore Black masculinity and the liminal position of Black men in the Black feminist movement.


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.”


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.


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.


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


Where state sovereignty as theology would have subjected groups accept their condition with its attending violence and suffering, the micro sovereignty I propose here – not merely as a futuristic idea, but more as a reflection on how subjected groups have dealt with subjection – invites us not to accept that violence and suffering, but to find creative ways out of it through the cracks of Empire.


Abolition is a process of imagining alternatives to the settler colonial, carceral present; it requires modes of kinship and care to replace prisons and policing.

Gratuitous Violence

Signifying a critical homology between the fields of Black studies and political theology, gratuitous violence is an important keyword for interrogating how religio-political concepts can afford unique insights into issues of slavery, race, and the human which continue to inform our world today.  


Asian American literary criticism’s analysis of contemporary orientalisms centered around the figuration of Asian subjectivities reminds political theologians that unconscious (white) fear and fascination with the Orient still guides political and theoretical engagement with the Asian “other.”


Thing as concept can be helpful to elucidate the specific yet ambiguous interaction of the religious and the political. Using recent thingly theoretical work within these two spheres, with an emphasis on body and shape, I will suggest ways through which thing (and things and thingness) both clarifies and challenges that interaction.


Diaspora might be a problem for political progressives for the very reason that it is so alluring. Diaspora promises both freedom and connection: freedom from national borders or the essentialisms of race and language, connection between people who affirm shared memory and heritage.
But heritage is never really free.


If there is one thing that can be said about blackness, it is this: blackness is unruly.

Black Reason

Black reason is propelled by a fantastic imaginary, a changeling animus that aggregates and transmogrifies the desires and fears of whiteness.

Racial Capitalism

The historical and theoretical relationships between race and capitalism are internally contested and in need of further exploration from theologians and scholars of religion.


Sometimes referred to as “population control,” other times “better breeding,” eugenics has been seen as a religious solution to social ills, and sometimes a new religion unto itself.


Gilroy’s “planetary humanism” contributes to political theology by offering more than a critique: in his work, humanism is a starting point, a concept to guide multicultural political projects today.


Official responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have encouraged us to understand risk in individual terms. They’re wrong: risk is all about interdependence.

Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty represents a refusal of a globally commodified food system in favor of systems and institutions that support self-sufficient communities.


Doxa is a term used in sociology to contend with belief and orthodoxy without reducing either to behavior or cognition. It explores disposition and embodied belief—the gut sense of the world which is acquired through practice rather than discourse.

Settler Colonialism

I propose Decolonial Settler Theology as a contextual political theology that is uniquely the task of the settler, who must face their own complicity in narratives of ongoing colonization and aim at their undoing.


In an era during which police institutions and ideology are so fundamental to our cultural common-sense, how can theologians and critical theorists challenge this form of power?


This essay takes taboo as a critical term to trace the history of our modern present and as a conceptual companion with which to think through the complex entanglement of the ethical, the theological, and the political.


What is still nascent… is an explicit conversation between political theology and critical theories of affect, particularly in a way that might contribute to constructive projects. The sort of political theology that might emerge from such collaboration would consider how affective regimes intersect with theological constructions or religious performances.


While kinship has traditionally held a vibrant conceptual life in anthropological inquiry, more recent studies on kinship as a form of spiritual relationality have opened up a new space of interdisciplinary exploration for political theology.


The modern state form itself is inextricable from the commandement, not just as an emblem for sovereignty in Schmitt’s sense, but also because the exemplary political form of modernity, the nation-state, has racist and exclusionary tendencies that can be understood as political-theological transfers of monotheistic principles.


That structural violence is always also relational, proximate, and personal is, perhaps, one of the core insights that the concept of mourning brings to the fore for political theology.


The conversation about nature’s personhood and rights is always political, often legal, and sometimes theological. Most importantly, it is a localized conversation about the boundaries of a given community – who is part of the community and who isn’t.


For political theology, we might find ourselves compelled by practices that seek to connect us with our ecologies, our communities, and our relations with ourselves – in ways that are more about humility and provisionality than finding cures or solutions.


Queer, I think, should remain different, differing, dissonant, and plural. It shouldn’t contract or calcify into anything singular or solid.


If theorizations of care are to more directly address the current “crisis of care,” we need not only to prioritize the kinds of embodied, particularized care that care ethics has highlighted in the past, but to explore a wider range of caring relationships and their diverse structures.


A preliminary question for political theology is how to understand the meaning and significance of matter. The response to this question shapes how a political theology does or doesn’t engage political economy and theological tradition.


The triangulation of money, sovereignty, and divinity is a good point of entry to study the mutual constitution of theological and political concepts and the questions about ultimate value and social form that they raise.


Refusal is a strong current resisting the structure of settler colonialism. It crashes, churns, and erodes the death-dealing dams of settler knowing. Its path turns away from the settler’s gaze.


Seva lends itself to easy appropriation across political and religious contexts, while also furnishing mutually intelligible tropes of service, welfare, and social betterment.


Political theology intimately understands that given reality teems with forms of life that remain opaque to us.


Spillers, Cheng, and Halberstam provide us with tools to approach the histories of violence, economics, relationships, desires, and contestation that infuse our experiences with flesh in its multiplicity. Flesh is never neutral.


It is not always possible (or advisable) to separate the “political” from the “religious” or “cultural” in Indigenous contexts. Indeed, all of these are concepts developed by outsiders to describe Indigenous life. Instead, Indigeneity invites scholars of political theology and related fields to consider the relationships between these threads of cultural life.


As we watch the illusion that was Man fall apart, we also see these more-than-human worlds that Man called “animal” disrupting and revealing the cracks and fractures in his own divine intentions.

Temporality I: History

William Apess, like Walter Benjamin a century later, sought to shift the paradigms of society with history and theology as orienting poles for colonial critique. Anticipating Benjamin, Apess looked to those who had been wrecked by the advance of colonialism as the grounding site for historical and political theological inquiry.

Temporality II: Futurity

Both Benjamin and Apess discern that historical narratives are imbricated with notions of futurity, that is, which bodies and polities are allowed to inhabit and thrive within the temporality in which the “not yet” and the “always already” co-constitute each other.


In this short essay, written from my perspective as a Jewish feminist, I draw together a plurality of engagements with natality to engender new conversations in political theology.

Critical Race Theory

CRT is a framework or an approach to understanding the way racism is foundational to systems of judicial, political, social, cultural, religious, and theological power.


[S]ituating demonology more fully in its religious and theological contexts furnishes resources that not only nuance understandings of movements for whom demonization is central, but also recontextualize discussions of core political theological concepts, including sovereignty, power, economy, subjectivity, and freedom.


From Myanmar to Mariupol, from the streets of Memphis to the waves and winds of the Mediterranean Sea: resistance to violence takes many forms. So does political protest against precarity. At which point does the unavoidable vulnerability of the living condition come to expression as political agency? Can such precarious politics constitute or configure an alternative community?

Hunger Strike

“Instead of neatly separating the forms of resistance to biosovereignty into life-affirming struggles and necroresistance and mapping them (and life and death) onto the reform/revolt dichotomy, I suggest that we conceive life and death as relational rather than oppositional categories. For every differentiation and intensification of death creates new possibilities of life; and every differentiation and intensification of life entails experiences of “death” that cannot be reduced to the power of one’s death.”

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