Key texts in the current state of political theology:
I’m sure others have already mentioned Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Paul W. Kahn’s Political Theology, Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer project and Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God. But I would like to add more (couldn’t limit to three):
James Cone, God of the Oppressed
Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It?
Joerg Rieger, Nestor Miguez, and Jung Mo Sung, Beyond the Spirit of Empire
Joerg Rieger, No Rising Tide
William E. Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style
Need to become essential texts:
bell hooks, Killing Rage
Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth
Miguel De La Torre, Embracing Hopelessness
Harvey Cox, Market God
Reasons for Including these texts:
I’m suspicious of a discourse that features a Nazi as its seminal and framing thinker. Why? Or more specifically, why are Schmitt’s writings regarded as a starting point for thinking about the theological within the political? Surely for American thinkers, black freedom fighters, abolitionists and suffragettes are a more likely starting point for understanding how liberal democracies (and their limits) are rooted in and derive power from theological idioms. White sovereignty, in the modern period, has always been linked to black labor. The discourse of political theology focuses on sovereignty and is silent on the global conditions of its emergence. (Modernity/ coloniality – Mignolo)
I would challenge people to imagine Frederick Douglass as an equally resourceful starting point for discussing the relationship between the political and the theological as Carl Schmitt. My point is that in addition to being annoyingly Eurocentric, the discourse of political theology focuses more on administrators and theorists of the modern State than the victims of State.
If political theology is going to be housed as a theology (and not just a sociology of religion) it must amplify the voices of the marginalized and gesture toward emancipatory practice. My conception of political theology is conceived from a liberationist framework, it privileges languages and standpoints from below. It encourages people to reimagine the “political” as the anti-imperial and anti-capitalist and re-situates the “theological” in the struggles of the marginalized.
Define or describe Political Theology:
My first introduction to the term “political theology” was through German systematic theologians such as Johannes Metz, Dorothee Solle, and Jurgen Moltmann who contextualized liberationist themes in the European context. They were responsive to and in constructive dialogue with Liberation theologians throughout the world, especially in EATWOT (Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.) It was years later that I realized these systematic theologians were de-nazifying a term popularized earlier by Carl Schmitt.
During the early 2000’s, it came as a surprise when I began to notice how theologians on the American Left, primarily white males, were resurrecting the Schmittian conception of political theology for progressive interests. I greeted this new trend with a raised eyebrow. After all, wasn’t one of the fundamental tenets of liberation theology is that all theology and theological categories are “interested,” therefore “political.” Why was there a need to restate the obvious? Furthermore, it was puzzling to me why the Schmittian Left thought it was acceptable to nonchalantly disavow Schmitt’s Nazi politics yet uphold him as a foundational thinker? As if his politics were incidental to the character of his intellectual work. It felt like another attempt to ignore placing movements of the marginalized as interlocutors (just as theorists of secularization did), evade the American terrain (how are abolitionists not political theologians?) and continue an academic love affair with European theorists.
As I read more, the primary interest and emphasis of these reconstructed Schmittians was finding the sacred (theological) in the field of the political rather than finding the political in the field of the sacred (theological). “All significant conceptions of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” was the mantra. To my eyes, much of the work looked similar to Robert Bellah’s concept of “civil religion,” with less of a focus on America’s revolutionary and civil war history and a deeper connection with the Continental philosophy of Europe. The tracing of the sacred from the field of theology to liberal democratic theories of the state mirrored the movement from the sovereignty of an omniscient God to a conception of an omniscient or sovereign law giver.
With the notable exception of Agamben, the conception of “the political” in political theology presumes each member of a society has citizenship status. Black folks were not citizens for the majority of their history in the US, nor were they conferred the status of a “political” friend or enemy. America’s juridical and legislative heritage was not designed to be protective of black bodies, as a matter of fact, “white” sovereigns were active agents in shaping the circumstances and life options of black communities. Therefore, the traditional issues of political theology—sovereignty, consent, the suspension of law, states of exception, violence are understood differently, and mytho-religious understandings of sovereign power are quite normative. The “religious” or the “theological” has always been quite explicit in black politics. Martin Luther King’s call for a “Beloved Community” was a theo-political category. The politics of Malcolm X and Black Power advocates were grounded and animated by the Nation of Islam’s creation narratives about white and black people. Political theology conceived from the below is not only the unmasking the political within the theological, it shares in common with Eurocentric theological interpreters that the consolidation of authority is a theological moment. Therefore, its descriptive task is to articulate the conditions of possibility for the emergence of this consolidation.