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Apocalypse by Marian Kloon CC BY-NC 2.0
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From the Archives: Apocalypse

For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the journal Political Theology, we are diving into the journal’s archives to share highlights of what we have published. In this installment, here are some of the articles and blog posts we have published on questions of apocalypse and the apocalyptic.

Ira Chernus, The Wrong King: Apocalypse and Transformation (or Not) in the White House in Political Theology 12, no. 6 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p. 870–93, 2011). “Jonathan Z. Smith has argued that apocalyptic discourse grew out of a political desire to remove the “wrong” king from the throne. Later, though, the same discourse was used to prevent a “wrong” king from taking the throne. Thus apocalyptic discourse can either motivate or resist transformative change. In US political history it has served both purposes. This article focuses on the trend in presidential discourse, especially in foreign policy, since Franklin D. Roosevelt to use apocalyptic language to resist transformation. The electorate’s desire to prevent substantive change was the determining factor in the presidential election of 2008. In Barack Obama’s first year in office, though he seemed to promote transformation, his dominant message was a reassuring one: The threat of fundamental change would continue to be contained both at home and around the world. No “wrong” rulers would be allowed to disturb the security of America.”

Richard Crane, Reimagining Capitalism and Christianity Today: Articulating and Negotiating Contestable Faiths in a Minor Key in Political Theology 12, no. 2 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.237–74, 2011). “Jim Wallis’s The Call to Conversion features an apocalyptic theological imagination with an ecclesiological focus. The church is entrusted with the communal mission of making visible the intrusion of the reign of God in Jesus Christ. The thesis of this essay is that The Call to Conversion is a better resource for Christian political engagement than Wallis’s more recent book, God’s Politics, which is characterized by a turn toward a “public church” social ethic. The accent has shifted to the formation of a larger political movement seeking social change primarily through congressional lobbying. Wallis’s error is the extent to which he has pinned his hopes on the institutions of American democracy. The Call to Conversion helps us recover an account of political engagement flowing from local ecclesial witness. Sheldon Wolin, Romand Coles, and other political theorists, provide support for approaches to political engagement that begin with local struggles for justice.”

Daniel Shank Cruz, Mennonite Speculative Fiction as Political Theology in Political Theology 22, no. 3 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.211–27, 2021). “Recent definitions of speculative fiction make ample space in the genre for religious concerns. This essay shows how recent works of Mennonite speculative fiction such as Casey Plett’s short story “Portland, Oregon,” Sofia Samatar’s short story “Fallow,” and Miriam Toews’s novel Women Talkingarticulate acts of resistance that draw on Mennonite values of peace and community to make “theapoetic” arguments. These arguments are inseparable from the texts’ genre, which critics theorize as queer. This essay considers Mennonite speculative fiction as a kind of literary political theology that offers ethical guidance for how to live in a time of apocalypse.”

Michael P. Jaycox, Nussbaum, Anger, and Racial Justice: On the Epistemological and Eschatological Limitations of White Liberalism in Political Theology 21, no. 5 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.415–33, 2020). “Martha Nussbaum argues that anger is a threat to democratic institutions, but she also concedes that a nonviolent version of anger remains necessary for motivating reform. This reversal from the more sanguine position she previously held invites a broader investigation into the social and intellectual conditions that make liberal rejections of anger and exhortations to civility seem plausible in the contemporary U.S. political context. The author suggests that her argument relies upon a white epistemological frame, which suppresses attentiveness to racial struggle as a political context in which the ethical significance of anger may be understood. Moreover, a particular cultural product of this frame, the liberal narrative of social progress, functions as a secular eschatology in her argument, generating a false hope in the reliability of systems and in gradual institutional reform as guarantees of racial justice. The author draws upon apocalyptic traditions to address this eschatological problem.”

Bradley Johnson, Doing Justice to Justice: Re-Assessing Deconstructive Eschatology in Political Theology 12, no. 1 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.11–23, 2011). “In this essay I critique Jacques Derrida’s “eschatological” understanding of justice, by way of an assessment of Theodore Jennings’ dual reading of the Apostle Paul and Derrida. I take issue with the deconstructive presentation of justice as deferred and/or constitutively incomplete, and instead introduce a conception of Pauline justice that draws from the unlikely source of Jacques Rancière. Here, justice is not so much necessarily deferred by its identification in/as law as it is always and only issued in/as law. Importantly, and in a way I aver to be faithful to the Apostle Paul, the truth of this law (and thus too of justice) is apocalyptic in nature, in that it points to the unveiling of a new creation. I conclude that this secularized, heterodox apocalypse occurs by way of the attention we pay to law’s essential and absolute creativity.”

Andrew Santana Kaplan, Richard Wright’s Anagrammatical Allegory of Liturgical Reading, or Inhabiting the Black Messianic in ‘The Man Who Lived Underground in Political Theology 22, no. 4 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.279–95, 2021). ‘This essay reads Richard Wright’s speculative novella, “The Man Who Lived Underground” (1940/1996), as an anagrammatical allegory of liturgical reading. By anagrammatical, I invoke Christina Sharpe’s understanding of how Blackness singularly “exists as an index of violability and also potentiality” in its foreclosure from the World’s grammar of anti-Blackness. With allegory (of reading), I draw attention to both (1) how Wright recasts Plato’s allegory of the cave in modern America and, following Paul de Man, (2) how Wright’s text is an allegory of un/readability. Finally, with liturgy, I draw on Giorgio Agamben’s understanding of mystery as a performance that (re-)enacts the text. This leads me to theorize that Wright’s anagrammatical allegory of liturgical reading brings the reader into speculative attunement to the Black messianic, which is a radical mode of fidelity to the Black’s singular positionality in aspiring to the un-veiling [apo-kalyptein] of the katechontic anti-Black World – toward gratuitous messianic freedom.”

Catherine Keller, Connolly’s Mysterious Trinity Machine: A Panentheistic Reading in Political Theology 12, no. 2 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p. 202–9, 2011). “Drawing Connolly’s work into a conversation with Christian theology of a feminist and process persuasion, this article explores and builds upon the way in which Connolly offers a third way between the theistic certainties of George Bush’s “Christian America” and the crass secularism of those who are and were appalled by the latter’s religious fundamentalism. Discerning a secret Trinitarian structure in Connolly’s immanent naturalism, though not the Father, Son and Ghost, the article explores the potentials for developing a counter- apocalyptic strategy for political theology that can counter fundamentalist drives and lay the basis for releasing new energies of earthly becoming.”

Maxwell Kennel, Müntzer, Taubes, and the Anabaptists: Emancipatory History and Political Theology in Political Theology 20, no. 3 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.191–206, 2019). “The radical apocalypticism of the sixteenth century mystic and revolutionary Thomas Müntzer has served as an enduring resource for the political left, from early investigations by Engels and Bloch to the recent works of Alberto Toscano and Wu Ming. In one of his lesser-studied works – the 1947 dissertation Occidental Eschatology – Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes places Müntzer at a key juncture in the history of eschatology, first by situating him at the end of the Reformation period, and then by connecting his revolutionary apocalypticism to the critiques of Hegel leveled by Marx and Kierkegaard. This study aims to give a new perspective on Taubes as a philosopher of history, first by showing potentially surprising connections between Taubes’ Occidental Eschatology and the historiography of Anabaptism, and second by making suggestions about how Taubes’ distinctively emancipatory philosophy of history might contribute to thinking about time and history within contemporary political theology.”

Nathan Kerr, Transcendence and Apocalyptic: A Reply to Barber in Political Theology 10, no. 1 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.143–52, 2009). “This essay takes up Dan Barber’s challenge to think Christian theology non-analogically. It does so by re-affirming and re-conceiving transcendence according to a kind of apocalyptic exigence. Apocalyptic transcendence, it is argued, occurs according to a mode of action that is irreducible either to the univocal production of pure immanence, or to the analogical mediation of transcendence within immanence. Rather, apocalyptic transcendence is operative as a mode of action by which immanence is suspended and the territorial conceptions of this-worldly sovereignty are denied. Through engagement with the work of John Howard Yoder, it is argued that apocalyptic thus gives way to doxology as that mode of engaged and embodied action that alone exceeds the presumed need for effective ontological production.”

Vincent Lloyd, Post-Racial, Post-Apocalyptic Love: Octavia Butler as Political Theologian in Political Theology 17, no. 5 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.449–64, 2016). “The African American science fiction writer Octavia Butler (1947–2006) wrote explicitly about the relationship between religion and politics in her books Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). On the surface, Butler dramatizes the catastrophes that she anticipates will result from an alignment between American evangelicalism and neoliberalism, including climate change, mass incarceration, totalitarian politics, and corporate capture of political institutions. In her pair of novels, Butler proposes New Age spirituality aligned with community-based, ecology-minded politics as a necessary response. I argue that Butler’s attempt to make a literary intervention in political theological critique ultimately fails because it grows out of unacknowledged commitments to the same neoliberal cultural forces that it ostensibly rejects. This failure is particularly evident when we focus on how race and love are represented in Butler’s work.”

Marius Timmann Mjaaland, Apocalypse and the Spirit of Revolution: The Political Legacy of the Early Reformation in Political Theology 14, no. 2 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p. 155–73, 2013). “The article identifies some typical traits of apocalyptical thinking by analysing the approach of Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer to apocalyptical texts. They both applied apocalyptical perspectives on historical events but they had conflicting views concerning its social and political consequences. The author asks whether the Reformation may be called an apocalyptical movement and why the Reformers are split on the question of political revolt. After studying the conflict between Müntzer and Luther in some detail, he proceeds to Engels’ analysis of Müntzer in the aftermath of the revolution in 1848, seeking an answer to the following question: How and to what extent have the biblical apocalypse and apocalyptical movements contributed to the formation of Marxist theory of revolutions?”

Charles Samuel Christie Pemberton, Liberation Theology and Zombies: Paralysis and Praxis in Political Theology 18, no. 8 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.730–49, 2017). “In Fredric Jameson’s formulation it may now be “easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” What Jameson suggests is that our current preoccupation with the drama of the apocalyptic belies a deeper paralysis of the imagination, and with this the concomitant loss of actions conducive to a new politics. Jameson’s comments here foreground a contradiction in our experience of late capitalism, representations of dramatic rupture which obscure fundamental political stasis. This paper takes Jameson’s reflections and the contradiction of action which is also non-action as the point of departure to query the current state of Liberation Theology, particularly the work of Ivan Petrella, to defend the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez, and ask how our contemporary predicament might be illuminated by Danny Boyle’s zombie film, 28 Days Later.”

Marcel Poorthuis, The A-Cosmic Doctrine of Marcion and Paul’s Apocalypticism: Theo-Political Implications in Political Theology 17, no. 3 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p. 289–96, 2016). “Whereas Paul’s apocalypticism can be regarded as a highly political approach to the tirannical “powers of this world”, Marcion, although a disciple of Paul’s, cut the thread by preaching an a-cosmic doctrine, in which no trace of the Biblical god can be found. Still, marcion is not anti-Semitic because his aggression is directed towards the god of the Old Testament, no towards the Biblical people of God, Israel.”

Marla Selvidge, The New World Order: Messianic Rhetoric and Dreams of the Senior Bush Administration in Political Theology 9, no. 1 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.61–78, 2008). “George Bush, Sr. and his speech writers had their creative pens on the pulse of popular Judeo-Christian American Messianic beliefs. With skillful wit and apocalyptic religio-political rhetoric they successfully employed and combined Messianic myths with social failings in order to rationalize, gain support, and sustain the Persian War in the Gulf. Americans were glued to their televisions. George Bush, Sr.’s grandiose aims included nothing less than economic and military world domination. From his nominating speech in New Orleans to the final days of Desert Storm, he planned to create a New World Order. He began his acceptance of the nomination speech in New Orleans with a hint that something new was dawning in America. He would move the country forward toward “an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light.”

Stefan Skrimshire, Activism for End Times: Millenarian Belief in an Age of Climate Emergency in Political Theology 20, no. 6 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p. 518–36, 2019). “To be labeled an “eco-millenarian” has invariably pejorative connotations, insinuating the use of catastrophic rhetoric of an ecological end-times to bypass rational decision-making and democratic processes. In this article I critically assess this association, and also consider whether new political concerns – the suggestion that we are in a “climate emergency” – lend a new credibility to the structure of millenarian belief for an era of climate change. Clearly, caution is required here: the legacy of Christian millenarianism to secular politics has at times inspired peaceful, egalitarian revolution, but it is probably better known for motivating violent conflict and new forms of authoritarianism. Thus, we need to specify carefully which theological legacies are being evoked when discussing the relevance of millenarian belief today. Political theology can offer guidance to a new generation of environmental activists seeking resources with which to renew politics in times of emergency.”

Lorenz Trein, On Genealogy Critique of Secularized Christianity in Political Theology 22, no. 6 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, p.457–74, 2021)”Genealogy critique has furthered the debate about how theological ideas continue to inform secular claims in modernity. At the same time, there are arguments suggesting that genealogy critique tends to locate secular modernity inside theological self-descriptions of the world-historical and eschatological orientation of Christianity. This article sheds light on theological debates that directly or indirectly informed notions of rupture and continuity in the older secularization debate by pointing to similarities in the works of Karl Löwith and Hans Blumenberg. If the secularization narrative was framed with a view to contemporary theological discussions about history and eschatology, as well as the problem of specifying the apocalyptical orientation of early Christianity as it intersects with or separates itself from “late Judaism,” then the question arises how scholars of religion, who engage in genealogy critique today, respond to these theological legacies.”

Political Theology Network Articles

Natalie Avalos, The End of This World Portends the Birth of a New One in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “We are left with the possibility that this time of revelation can not only visibilize the harm that colonial relations have wrought but also enable a resurgence of counter practices and lifeways that actively build a new world out of the ashes of this one.”

Nicolete Burbach, Creation, Vengefully Transformed in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “Pope Francis suggests that trans people are destroying the world. Perhaps he might learn something if we did.”

John J. Collins, The End of the World in Biblical Tradition in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “In the Hebrew Bible, the destruction of Jerusalem and other cities is sometimes projected onto the cosmos. The destruction is taken more literally in apocalyptic literature of the Roman era. Destruction is not the end, but a prelude to a new creation (with one notable exception).”

Jacqueline Hidalgo, Our Book of Revelation’: Apocalypse as Temporal Fugue in US Latina Literature in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “For several Latina writers, apocalypse as both revelation and catastrophe appears as an unavoidable framework that echoes across time, a framework shaping the past and future whose ultimacy must also be upended. Apocalypses large and small continue, but not all truths are disclosed equally and some endings—and the meanings they should yield—are abrupt but never ultimate.”

Andrew Kaplan & Kyle Lambelet, Anti-Black Original Sin and the Unnarratable Catastrophe of Modernity in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “For Afropessimism, the World is the katechōn, rather than a particular institution within it. The language of the katechōn as the “restraining power” facilitates how the structure of anti-Blackness is not only a structure of domination and gratuitous violence, but also the foreclosure of a more radical mode of what Wilderson calls gratuitous freedom—which is precisely freedom from the World.”

Catherine Keller, Apocalypse After All? in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “Amidst climate catastrophe and accompanying disasters, references to “apocalypse” on the right and the left won’t desist. So its ancient meaning– not “the end of the world” but “unveiling” — can help resist the denialisms and the nihilisms that close, rather than disclose, possibilities of world transformation.

Jakub Kowalewski, Decolonizing the Climate Apocalypse with Joachim of Fiore? in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “Can a medieval monk help us decolonize eco-apocalyptic history?”

Jakub Kowalewski, The Science of Last Things in Time of Climate Apocalypse in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “What happens when Catholic eschatology confronts the environmental apocalypse? “

Kyle Lambelet, Whose Apocalypse? in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “The world of extractavism must end, whether by our own agency or by the collapse of the system it unsustainably supports. “Transition is inevitable, justice is not.”

Elizabeth Phillips & Kyle Lambelet, Narrating Catastrophe in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2022). “It would be a mistake to suggest that the apocalyptic is just one thing. It is a fecund tangle of symbols, practices, beliefs, and narratives. Yet, as the catastrophes of our times confound our capacities of narration, there may yet be resources in these troubling archives of worlds’ end.”

Elizabeth Pyne, Unnatural Futures and Hope for our Common Home in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “The call to abolish the family sounds bad – really bad; then again, so does the end of the world. In a moment rife with talk of “environmental apocalypse,” the position of negativity and non-futurity assigned to queer people in Catholic environmentalism becomes a starting point for rethinking the role of “the family” in a genuinely integral and sustainable ecology.”

Ben Randolph, Is Nature Taking its Revenge on Us? in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2023). “There’s an understandable temptation to think that climate disaster is nature’s way of rebelling against the Anthropocene. But this is a dangerous way of thinking we should ward against.”

John Reader, Utopia or Apocalypse in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2012). “The recent blogs relating to Radical Orthodoxy and its differences from the work of the William Temple Foundation appear to have ground to a halt. This is a pity as they were just about to get beyond the realms of intellectual points scoring and into some serious debate. An angle that had yet to be pursued was that of the former’s advocacy of localism and how that might be operationalised in the UK context where the current administration is keen to promote this as a policy initiative. As someone who through parochial ministry, has been eager to operate at a local level and been involved in various community work projects, I feel that I have a powerful stake in this debate (examples of this are to be found in my Local Theology: Church and Community in Dialogue, 1994, and again in Blurred Encounters: A Reasoned Practice of Faith, 2005). So when I read that there should be a renewed interest in and support for church-based projects that are indeed locally based and developed, I would have to say that I am broadly in agreement. My problem, however, is that it is difficult to see how this can be operationalised given the current pressure upon local voluntary resources, and that it fails to take into account the reality of many local issues.”

Michael Toy, The End of the World is not the End of the World in Political Theology Blog Post (Political Theology Network Online, 2021). “Jesus’ saying about the destruction of the temple gives us a way to view human structures as the powers they are but also as provisional—as all human things are.”

Thanks to Shayla Jordan for her help compiling this list.

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