Is there a conversation around political theology (as concept, field, method, or however you understand it) from the past twenty years that continues to fascinate you?
What fascinates me is that responses to questions tabled by political theology, when addressed through different historical, cultural terrains and forms of ‘enfleshment’ – an area that anthropologists, interested in the ‘how’ questions, tend to be drawn to – have become one of the discipline’s stronger analytical contributions, as well as one of its thorns on the side. That is to say, I see that queries on enfleshment, the nature of materiality and the corporeal intertwining with histories of coloniality and race relations cannot be separated from an understanding of political theology and its mobilization. Hence, some of the powerful and productive critiques moved to a founding ground of political theology – a post-Westphalian division of Church and State – have been prodded by a focus on slave and labor relations and corporeality which have shaped the coloniality of Christianity, and its missionary entanglements. However, this angle of analysis is also opening up possibilities of re-framing theolog(ies) as themselves en-fleshed practices of speech. In so doing new theopolitical lens perhaps can become what de Certeau names as ‘being language’s other’.
What conversations working with the concept of political theology do you find most fruitful today?
The ‘presence’ of the dead and the practice of attunement to sentient beings. Let me explain: in a recent intervention in PTN with a colleague, Carlota McAllister, we have proposed a theopolitical angle that is an exploration of sovereignty attuned to an ethnographic sensibility toward a multitude of more than-human entities. A theopolitical query is interested in the traces of sovereignty, a condition of “power of the powerlessness”. That is an attention to rhythm, plasticity and a corporal closeness connotation of powers. This also echoes with a (neo)baroque sovereignty, which draws attention to the ever-constant un-sovereignty of subjects, and resists a piecing together, in the words of Susan Buck-Morss, “to create a human where a sovereign was once imagined.”
Where do you hope to see discussions of political theology in 20 years?
First, it may well be in the plural. Political Theologies, not as the one and only Christian logos of the Theo, but more as studies of spatialized charisma (being, for instance, of the financial market, or new populist formations), and the relation of the sovereign to soil. Anthropocene’s concerns have begun to percolate political theology’s debates, yet, my bet is that political theology may allow to not “lose sight” of the human, as what is constantly constituted through a web of relations. A de-centered, historicized becoming-human that grapples, as Roberto Esposito would argue, with the tension between the face and mask may also allow us to rethink a Schmittian sovereignty of exception into a political entanglement of nourishing obligations. At the University of Toronto we have recently launched a Connaught initiative on Entangled Worlds: Sovereignty, Sanctities and Soil and beyond the richness and daunting complexity of interdisciplinary entanglements we are becoming clearer that the theopolitical is more than ever a force to reckon with in our times.