As it is, much scholarship associated with political theology has been captured by the same fantasy that animated the 9/11 attacks. It is a very white, very male, very Western fantasy, one that is taken too literally by foreign subjects of American hegemony who have gone astray. There is such a thing as Sovereignty, which can be wielded by a Dictator or embodied in a People or hidden in Capital or represented in Towers. The goal is to defend It, or capture It, or displace It, or pluralize It, or expose It, or destabilize It – or, quintessentially for the academic, interrogate It.
We are in an economic crisis, but we are also in an identity crisis. Who are we? What do we, as a nation, stand for?
Perhaps I am mistaken, but it sure seems that President Obama began his much anticipated jobs speech with a little political theology. In classic civic fashion he could have referred to an economic crisis that has left “millions of Americans jobless,” or “millions of our fellow citizens jobless.” Instead, he referred to an economic crisis that has left “millions of our neighbors jobless.”
While I would not want to deny the political importance of forms, I would add to this analysis the importance of the kinds of spirit or inner drive (desire) which may be astir in them. An essential part of the explanation for the enormity of 9/11 is that the terrorist network responsible for them was not animated by a drive to produce new configurations of value and meaning so much as by a reactionary desire to bring judgment upon forces of modernity which were perceived to be a threat to established (traditional religious) values. The animating spirit of terrorist networks is a spirit of ressentiment.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon threw the debates over the definition of “religion” into a stir. Though religion was obviously a central factor in the events of 9/11, overly phenomenological and essentialist construals of religion were suddenly and starkly at a loss in making sense of how and why.
Political Theology 12.5 (2011) is a special issue entitled ‘Ten Years After 9/11’, in which twenty-two contributors from across the religious spectrum take stock of the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. Perspectives are offered from theologians, specialists in the study of religion, historians, philosophers, ethicists, anthropologists and political scientists. A number of the contributors are active in the area of interreligious dialogue and interfaith relations. Some are grassroots activists.
This essay is part of a collection of papers on William E. Connolly’s ‘Capitalism and Christianity, American Style’ published in Political Theology 12.2.