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From the Archives: Hope

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 we have published on questions of hope:

Jacob Benjamins, The Politics of Wandering in Michel de Certeau, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2018, 19:1, p. 50-60). “This article examines Michel de Certeau’s analysis of the declining social and political authority of the Church and its political implications for the life of a Christian. In response to the shifting social dynamics of the West in the latter half of the twentieth century, de Certeau advocates for a poetics of “wandering” wherein Christians have no knowledge of their destination, no place to call their own, and no expectation of arrival. While his position provides enduring insights into the contours of religious belief, de Certeau’s analysis raises questions regarding a contemporary spiritual life. The article argues that de Certeau’s poetics of wandering neglects the dynamics of hope and anticipation in the life of a believer. Further attentiveness to these dynamics suggests a move from a poetics of wandering to a politics of wandering, which includes embracing a less institutionalized Christian political engagement and transgresses untenable secular/religious divides.”

Travis DeCook, Sovereignty Over Communion: Heterodox Salvation in Hobbes’s Leviathan, in political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2023, 24:4, p.384-400). “This essay argues for a new understanding of Hobbes’s idiosyncratic depiction of eschatology in Leviathan, and for its relationship to his depiction of sovereignty. In his radical portrayal of salvation, the highest good is maintenance of physical existence free of physical harm. Communion with God is denied, on the basis of fellowship between God and humankind purportedly being inimical to divine sovereignty. Hobbes effectively reduces the affective experience of God to fear and the desire for self-preservation. This article contends that the political significance of Hobbes’s eschatological innovations is not only a matter of devaluing salvation so as to lessen its political threat. It is also a matter of locating the experience of earthly sovereignty, constituted by remoteness and power, in the eschaton as well as in this world. This transformation of the affectivity of eschatological hope, I argue, can be seen to shore up earthly sovereignty.”

Christine Hedlin, Ethiopianist Fiction and the Politics of Theological Hope, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2021. 22:4, p.266-278). ” This essay examines Pauline E. Hopkins’s speculative novel Of One Blood (serialized 1902–03) as it represents the distinctive nonlinear time of Ethiopianism, an African American prophetic tradition premised upon Psalm 68:31, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God” (KJV). Of One Blood proves uncertain about when and how Ethiopianism’s key promise, the rise of a new social order featuring African American leadership, might be enacted. As the text grapples with that uncertainty, though, it models for readers how religious historiographies can drive acts of political resistance against systems of oppression that show no signs of giving way. Rather than an escape from the racist realities of the turn-of-the-century United States, the Ethiopianist narratives in Of One Blood convey a mode of confronting those realities and summoning the theological hope to pursue unseen alternatives.

Stefan Skrimshire, Another What is Possible? Ideology and Utopian Imagination in Anti-Capitalist Resistance, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2006. 7:2, p. 201-219). “When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met in New York in February 2003, thousands of protesters in New York and a simultaneous gathering of anti-capitalists under the umbrella of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, adopted the slogan “Another World is Possible.” Since then it has been used to define the spirit of various social causes, from anti-capitalist to anti-war movements. Is this the cyclical expression of utopianism that has appeared during times of disillusionment with the political order throughout history, and if so, how is it manifest in political participation? The slogan is, I would argue, filled with assumptions, reservations, and ambiguities towards the concept of hope and how the political desires of anti-capitalists straddle notions of possibility and impossibility. Nevertheless it represents, as this essay will argue, a direct response to the fatalistic trend in contemporary political life, those discourses that implicitly declare the “end of politics.” People who refuse such a vision are exploring discourses of an “outside,” the imagination of other worlds. This essay will explore what contribution theological categories of hope, transcendence, and eschatology make to this exploration. In particular, the utopianism of Ernst Bloch acts as a good example of the conceptual tools for a politics of hope that straddle theological notions of the transcendent and immanentist traditions such as Marxism.”

Alex Wright, An Ambiguous Utopia, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2015, 2004.5.2.231 ). “The article begins with a discussion of some Christian and secular ideas about utopia. It shows that after the Enlightenment it has become difficult to conceptualize true utopias while postmodernism has been preoccupied with dystopian visions of the future. The ambiguous nature of utopianism is reflected particularly in science fiction, which powerfully reflects contemporary aspirations and anxieties, and this ambiguity is here explored with special reference to the work of the novelist Ursula Le Guin.”

Special Issue: Secularization of Hope

David Newheiser,  The Secularization of Hope, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p. 117-119). “Hope is an unstable force, powerful and unpredictable. Through hope, act and imagination press into a future that transcends present reality, and this is its power. Because it is directed toward what may be rather than what is, hope is disengaged from prudent calculation. As such, hope is detached from the rational evaluation of probabilities; in extremis, it faces impossible odds and anticipates the miraculous. Through the extra-rational tenacity of hope, religious and political movements have been able to keep faith in the face of shattering disappointment. However, hope itself cannot determine whether such persistence is good. Hope has been the source of transformative change, but hopeful transformation is often evil. Hope presses ahead in the conviction that the future will redeem the pain of the present, but there is no certainty concerning what is to come. Hope is therefore a wager that is unavoidably perilous.”

Devin Singh, Irrational Exuberance: Hope, Expectation, and Cool Market Logic, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p.120-136). “This article examines expectation, optimism, and future-oriented affective postures in financial markets in conversation with theological debates about hope , fanaticism, and enthusiasm. I identify a tendency in economic discourse to valorize calculative and calm rationality over against emotive enthusiasm in market behavior. In recalling the theological debates over passions and interests that proved influential at the inception of capitalism, I argue that the denigration of exuberance in economics bears genealogical links to theological condemnation of the fanatic and enthusiast in early modernity. Retrieving this theological precursor provides an analytical lens for considering the ongoing traction of the language of rationality in economics.”

Tamsin.Jones, Bearing Witness: Hope for the Unseen, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p. 137-150). “Beginning with an identification of the ethical and political ambivalence surrounding hope, this essay considers whether an analysis of the activity of bearing witness to truth could offer a theoretical framework for thinking about hope differently. Specifically it argues that hope can be taken as a discipline, or practice, one which is both required for, and enacted in, the act of bearing witness. Through a consideration of the process of bearing witness in Truth and Reconciliation Commissions responding to national and intergenerational trauma, the essay explores the way in which bearing witness is a fundamentally hopeful action in so far as it ceaselessly seeks to speak to the truth of an event while acknowledging the inability to ever fully capture that event in words.”

Joshua Daniel, Hope in the Face of Temporal Devastation, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p. 151-167). “This article evaluates Jonathan Lear’s account of radical hope in light of the phenomenon of social acceleration. According to Lear’s philosophical exegesis of the life of the Crow Nation’s last chief, Plenty Coups, radical hope is hope based on the conviction that the world’s goodness transcends but includes the goodness of human culture. Such hope enables a culture to persevere in the face of its own collapse through political humility, by which a culture draws on the resources of other cultures in order to revive itself. Social acceleration—which results in the warping of our sense of time as tensed between past, present, and future—demands a more primordial form of radical hope, based on the affirmation of the world’s own temporalities as simultaneously resisting and sustaining our own cultural temporalities. This in turn involves a more self-critical form of political humility.”

Vincent Lloyd, For What Are Whites to Hope?, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p.168-181). “Before directly addressing the titular question, this chapter examines how conceptions of hope often lead us astray, reaffirming rather than challenging the status quo. In analytic philosophy, hope is often understood as a desire that is not entirely justified with reasons. In critical theory, hope has recently been looked upon suspiciously, as an affect the circulation of which is intensified by neoliberal economics. In mid-twentieth-century German theology and theory, hope is viewed as entirely other-worldly. In liberation theology, the object of hope is identification with the poor. This article argues that each of these views produces antinomies, and each of these views ends up perpetuating the status quo: in a racial context, white supremacy. After exploring the antinomies of hope, the article urges that whites are to embrace these antinomies. They are to hope for despair.”

Rick Elgendy, Hope, Cynicism, and Complicity: Worldly Resistance in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Criticism of Karl Barth , in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p.182-198). “This paper seeks to investigate the relationship between hope, cynicism, and despair in the stakes of a well-known dispute between Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr accuses Barth, and those who adopt Barth’s central doctrinal and political positions, of quietism: in the name of religious perfectionism, such Barthians are not disposed toward incremental but necessary social reforms. For Niebuhr, this is a sure sign of “Barthian pessimism,” the despair that results from a conscience oversensitive to the absolute demands of God’s righteousness. This paper seeks to show that a certain form of Barthian political theology is defensible as an ethical disposition since it need not fall victim to the helpless despair that Niebuhr fears, and simultaneously that a defensible account of what I call “total complicity” reflects the self-awareness and self-criticism that often become deformed into cynical despair and reshapes them toward repentant engagement with the world.”

George Pattison, Hope, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2016, 17:2, p.199-205). “The article responds to the other contributions and in doing so sets out reasons why hope is an issue for theology. Noting the intrinsic ambiguity of hope, the article focusses on the biblical testimony to hope found in the prophets and in the New Testament. Paul’s hope had a significant role in shaping the modern philosophical view of time, as in Heidegger, Tillich and other 20th century thinkers such as Michael Theunissen. In an age that believes itself competent to manage the future but, in attempting to do, generates new individual and social neuroses, hope is required for sober reflection on human limits as well as sustaining openness to the future.”

Articles throughout the Journal on Hope-adjacent:

Simon Barrow, Circling the Square: Moving between Practical Politics and Eschatological Performance, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2002, 3:2, p.197-215). “The article explores some dilemmas of current Western liberal democratic politics. It proposes that a necessary tension be held between practical politics and radical critique. It reviews the Christian prophetic tradition as a contribution towards doing that and argues for ‘eschatological performance’ as an appropriate way of re-reading this tradition in a contemporary pluralistic context. The article suggests that, to be useful politically, ‘prophetic imagination’ must retain its theological identity and questioning. It critiques the realist/non-realist philosophical framework for doing this, and suggests how responsibly prophetic political theology can be both fluid and critically realist in its outlook.”

David Boulton, Enabling Dreams, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2004, 5:2, p.239-245). “With reference to both religious and secular utopias and paradise stories, David Boulton suggests that in a postmodern world which has abandoned absolutes and grand narratives, literary utopias still have the power to inspire and motivate when understood and interpreted as poetry before politics, and art before science. Inspirational rather than instrumental, utopias offer us ‘enabling dreams’, picturing a better world of the imagination, and motivating us to help build the New Jerusalem.”

Gastón Espinosa, Barack Obama’s Political Theology: Pluralism, Deliberative Democracy, and the Christian Faith, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2012, 13:5, p.610-633. “Obama won the 2008 election precisely because he crafted a political theology that enabled him to create a truly progressive Democratic Party religious and racial-ethnic minority platform that welcomed pro-choice and pro-life social-justice leaning Catholics and Evangelicals into a new coalition. His political theology was directly influenced by Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright and the black church civil rights tradition, white liberal Protestantism, his mother Ann Dunham’s skepticism and free spirit, and Evangelical and Catholic leaders, advisors and opponents. Obama’s best and most comprehensive statement on his political theology is his chapter on “Faith” in his New York Times No.1 best-selling autobiography The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006). Obama contends that religiously motivated people must learn the art of compromise, proportion, and how to find shared values. They must translate their religious concerns and vision for America into universal rather than religion-specific values, which must be subject to debate, amenable to reason, and applicable to people of all lifestyles and faiths or no faith at all. They should also be willing to sublimate their ultimate theological and religious convictions for the common collective good. Secular people likewise must adopt a similar approach towards religious people and activists.”

Mario Orospe Hernández, Toward a Decolonial Political Theology: Cultivating Justice and Hope Amid Different Worlds. An Interview with Silvana Rabinovich, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2023,p.1-8). “In this conversation, Silvana Rabinovich shares with Mario Orospe Hernández essential aspects of her current project of finding ways to decolonize political theology. They delve into ways of overcoming Orientalism while thinking of sovereignty, the ethical and political stakes of translation, and how it allows us to build connections among excluded communities living in a globalized world evermore traversed by borders. Finally, they discuss how fieldwork could help revitalize the tradition of political theology.”

Barbara Holmes, The Politics of Vision: Transforming the Presidency, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2007, 8:4, p.417-428). “This essay engages the “politics of vision” as a potential template for choosing future presidents. The rhetoric of “vision” is drawn from theological precepts that are grounded in prophetic and transformational discourses. The current politics of popularity, and the reality show atmosphere that surrounds presidential elections, have not held the nation in good stead. We labor under the myth of our own goodness and believe that it doesn’t matter who runs the nation, since the balance of power between the branches of government, and a free activist press will protect us from our own bad choices. Recent history proves that we must pay more attention to the criteria by which individuals are selected, because twenty-first-century high stakes political strategies can neutralize even the best laid plans of the nation’s founders. To analyze the criteria for selecting future presidents, I turn to the work of writer/activist James Baldwin, theologian/activist William Stringfellow, and ethicist/politician Barbara Jordan. They conclude that vision does not require a crystal ball, just prophetic discourse and moral responsibility. The next President of the United States should be a spiritually mature truth-teller, whose vision for America is congruent with the hopes and dreams of a weary electorate.”

Michael P. Jaycox, Nussbaum, Anger, and Racial Justice: On the Epistemological and Eschatological Limitations of White Liberalism, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2020, 21:5, p.415-433). “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.”

Jonathon S. Kahn, The Virtue of Democratic Faith: A Recovery for Difficult Times, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2007,  18:2, p.137-156). “Democratic faith may seem like an ill-advised concept when the ills of democratic life are so glaring. This article claims that it is possible, even necessary, to recover and reinvigorate a notion of democratic faith that grapples with the flaws and intractability’s of the democratic condition. Conceived of as a virtue that inhabits uncertainty, I argue that democratic faith is well-tailored for democratic exchanges — particularly those involved in the risky business of building trust among citizens. Democratic faith’s temporal orientation in the present girds the activist for the spade-work of democratic life, where future success often seems unlikely. On these terms, democratic faith can be distinguished from democratic hope. Jeffrey Stout’s recent work exemplifies both hope and faith as democratic virtues, however Stout neglects the language of faith in favor of hope. I argue that Stout and other activists should consider the ways that democratic faith speaks to the dogged persistence required to face the dispiriting conditions of democratic life.”

Daniel Malotky, Fundamentalist Violence and Despair, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2009, 10:1, p.85-99). “Liberals usually misconstrue the recent political movements, worldwide, that have been motivated by fundamentalist religious ideologies. We often dismiss the representatives of these movements both morally and intellectually as fanatic, benighted anachronisms that cling to medieval absolutes. We would be better served, however, if we regard these movements and their representatives in the light of Reinhold Niebuhr’s psychology of sin. The purpose of such a construal would not be the cheap, ironical pleasure of accusing fundamentalists of sin, but to provide a more nuanced grasp of their beliefs and behavior, and to open a more promising avenue in our attempts to defuse the furor and mitigate the damage caused by their movements on the national and international stage.”

Ivana Noble, Memory and Remembering in the Post-Communist Context, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2008, 9:4, p.455-475). “This article offers an analysis of negative as well as positive examples of how Christians have dealt with the memories of the past against the background of their churches and societies in post-communist countries. It concentrates on the victim mechanisms that survived the fall of communism and prevented people from forgiveness and from accepting responsibility for their life choices, and shows that this not letting go of the past is often paradoxically combined with an intentional as well as non-intentional suppression of memory or a replacement of memory by a fiction. What is claimed as holding on to the past, then, may in fact be holding on to images that substitute past events—but also a moving beyond, towards a reconciled and responsible life. Possible ways of remembering the past that help a more truthful understanding of the present as well as presenting hope for the future are sketched in the conclusion.”

Uzochukwu Njoku, The Influence of Changes in Socio-Economic Thinking on the Development of Post-Vatican II Catholic Social Teaching, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2007, 8:2, p.235-248). “As Gaudium et spes (1965), Octogesima adveniens (1971), Justitia in mundo (1971) and Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) demonstrate, the emphasis of official Catholic teaching on social and political economy changed within a decade from optimism about aid-giving to suspicion of donor intentions and a pleading for a loosening of economic dependency. The optimism of modernization theory helped to shape the arguments of Gaudium et spes and Populorum progressio. Dependency theory helped to shape the visions of Octogesima adveniens, Justitia in mundo and Evangelii nuntiandi. The subsequent papal documents of John Paul II on Catholic social teaching, such as Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987), fall under another influence: namely the shift from a purely economic and political analysis of the problem of development to a cultural analysis.”

Abdulaziz Sachedina, Do Not Despair of God’s Mercy’: Reflections on the Divine Mercy in Times of Tragedy, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2011, 12:5, p.660-665). “The article undertakes to reflect on the events of 9/11 through a prism of critical self-introspection. It takes the reader through a personal journey of a Muslim struggling to come to terms with the tragedy of 9/11 after ten years and to raise serious questions about criminal violence committed by a group of terrorists in the name of Islam and its teachings on jihad.”

Helen Schroepfer, Hospitality and Hope, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2014, 15:4, p.353-369). “Major currents within contemporary continental thought have been significantly influenced by the psychoanalytic tradition, particularly via Jacques Lacan. Thus a pervasive stream of thought conceives of the relationship between self and other as one characterized primarily by conflict, threat, or lack. This reading has often been taken as paradigmatic and broadened to include relations between societies. If not challenged, this paradigm undermines any cause for hope that society might be structured in terms other than us/them, insider/outsider. Jacques Derrida’s work opens up a way to think differently, training our attention on the essential affirmation of the other that underlies all human experience. The central thesis of this paper is that the developmental theory of Jean Piaget, read against the grain of how his work has often been appropriated, lends robust support to this more hopeful reading, highlighting a self constituted in and by orientation to the other. Currents within contemporary developmental psychology provide substantial support for this more hopeful and hospitable image of self and other.”

Susanna Snyder, The Art of Wounded Hope: Forced Migration, Prophecy and Aesth/Ethics, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online, 2018, 19:6, p.497-516). “This paper constructs an analogy between art and prophecy, exploring and comparing their relationship to political change. It does so through considering arts-based responses to the contemporary forced migration context in conversation with the book of Jeremiah. Recognizing that the artistic – in the case of Jeremiah, the poetic – can be an important means of resistance for those experiencing exile and injustice, this paper delineates two key ways in which visual arts, poetry, music and theater are playing a prophetic role in relation to migration today. First, the arts can generate prophetic revelation, helping people to see more clearly and truthfully the pain and suffering experienced by forced migrants. Second, the arts can enliven prophetic imagination, helping people to visualize creatively how a world-in-migration could be at its best by offering glimpses of oneness and hope. The paper concludes by pointing out some ambiguities involved in engaging with the arts as a means of prophecy.”

David True, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Possibilities of Democratic Politics, in Political Theology, (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online,2004, 5:1, p.9-25). “This essay moves beyond the limits of the post-September 11 debate over national security versus civil liberties to consider again the possibilities of democratic politics. It briefly surveys three Protestant interpretations of American democracy that have dominated recent debates. These interpretations leave us with the dilemma of having to choose between democratic dissent and the political pursuit of the good. Such a dilemma begs for other interpretations. Martin Luther King, Jr, stands as an obvious but neglected resource. His interpretation of democracy reconciles the pursuit of the good, a substantive politics, with diversity and dissent. This argument requires the retrieval or reconstruction of King’s interpretation, which involves an examination of King’s religious convictions as well as his engagement in and reflection on the political arena. The essay concludes by suggesting how King’s interpretation informs contemporary debates and shapes Christian practice.”

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