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Love In A Time Of Capital – Announcing POLITICAL THEOLOGY Special Issue Vol. 17, No. 5 (Devin Singh)

Political Theology, Volume 17, Issue 5, September 2016 is now available online on Taylor & Francis Online.  The full text of the editorial for the issue by Devin Singh entitled “Love In A Time Of Capital” is republished below.

Special Issue: Love in a Time of Capital

This new issue contains the following articles:


“Speaking of Love in a Time of Capital”
Devin Singh
Pages: 413-416 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211281

Original Articles

“The Political Theology of Laissez-Faire: From Philia to Self-Love in Commercial Society”
David Singh Grewal
Pages: 417-433 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211287

“Debt Time is Straight Time”
Linn Marie Tonstad
Pages: 434-448 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211289

“Post-Racial, Post-Apocalyptic Love: Octavia Butler as Political Theologian”
Vincent Lloyd
Pages: 449-464 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211296

“The Bible as Biopolitics in Obergefell v. Hodges: Theopolitical Subtexts and the Economic Management of Democracy”
Erin Runions
Pages: 465-485 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211297

“Love in a Time of Capital”: A Response to the Papers
Charles Mathewes
Pages: 486-495 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1211299

Book Reviews

“God and Mrs Thatcher”
Edward Dowler
Pages: 496-498 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1161913

“The Work of Theology”
David P. Gushee
Pages: 498-500 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1186930

“The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology”
Kathryn D. Blanchard
Pages: 500-502 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1161923

“Deliverance from Slavery: Attempting a Biblical Theology in the Service of Liberation”
Tim Gorringe
Pages: 502-504 | DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2016.1186927

Speaking of Love In A Time Of Capital

What does it mean to speak of love in a time of capital? In what sense does this even emerge as a question? What are the implications of raising such an inquiry?

Capitalism names a particular ordering of relations of production and exchange. The term indexes the forms and possibilities of the bonds between us under a particular historical regime. It dictates how we behave in our relationships with one another. Capital provides incentives and limits that shape our range of interactions. It also plays with promises and hopes. It projects possible futures and summons desires. Such relations of production and exchange invoke certain affective postures. They can bring us to the heights of bliss and depths of despondency. This is why some speak of the ontological and metaphysical dimensions of capital as well, its totalizing and world-historical characteristics.

With such attributes we also find ourselves in the provenance of love. For this term, diversely defined as it is, attempts to capture something of the patterns, postures, affects, and obligations of relational existence. Love speaks to the bonds between us. It serves as a placeholder for the promises we would require from one another. It invokes the past and memory. It makes claims on the future. We also speak of the “labor of love,” and might know love to be “costly.” Love includes exchanges of varying types, both material and symbolic. Love involves economy. As such, love converges with capital, raising the question of how each is altered in the encounter.

Taking as points of departure the notion of the financialization of daily life and the ongoing transformations and innovations of global capital, this special issue considers the effects of economy on relational existence. In what ways is the continued diffusion of economic thinking and financial calculation transforming concepts of selfhood and subjectivity, particularly as relationally construed? Is there a vision of love and a zone within relationships that can or should be protected from the commodity form and from money? How is the concept of social relation itself altered by this (re)structuring of life? Are there particular religious sources — historical, philosophical, theological, or biblical, for instance — that enlighten the current situation or bring alternative perspectives? What sorts of religious practices shape, encourage, resist, or otherwise reply to this financialization of life experience? Are human beings now truly disposable and replaceable, calculable and instrumental? Can anything be priced? Finally, in homology to García Márquez’s novel, from which this issue’s title clearly takes its nomenclature, might we posit capital as a disease? Is eradication even an option? Or must we proceed with the work of love as the epidemic rages on, accepting that such love will be transformed and consumed in the process?

The following four articles and response are the result of a two-day gathering at Yale entitled “Love in a Time of Capital: Relationality and Commodification as Subjects of Religion.” Nine papers were read and discussed around this theme from various methodological and thematic standpoints.1 The subset of papers in this volume was selected on the basis of a common thread of theological and/or biblical engagement within the Christian tradition, coupled with a critical theoretical methodology. Forming their own emerging conversation, the papers converge with political-theological questions of power, institutionality, value, and social formation as informed by Christian discourse and practice. They reveal the problematic and multifaceted ways in which the legacy of Christian thought in the West offers moments of legitimation and resistance to the excesses and deformations associated with capitalist practice. In so doing, the authors demonstrate why it remains critical to engage the processes of late capitalist subjectivity and society with the tools not only of critical social theory, but also of religious studies, systematic and historical theology, and biblical studies.

David Singh Grewal offers a historical and genealogical exploration of the theological justifications for self-interest in Western economy. He demonstrates how notions of charity and grace were transformed into an authorizing ethic for modern commercial society. Assessing the work of Jansenist theologians in seventeenth century France, such as Pierre Nicole, Grewal highlights the redeployment of Augustinian theology that formed the basis of the “private vices, public benefits” view of economic sociality so central to emerging capitalism. Inscrutable divine sovereignty and benevolence were invoked to make sense of persistent depravity within a stable and productive civil society. Grewal also notes the political-theological function of such theory as an attempt to mitigate powers of the monarchy and buttress the independence of an aristocratic class and emerging bourgeoisie. Grewal’s work uncovers the polyvalent politics of love, the ways in which classical Greek, early Christian, and early modern understandings of desire, affection, gift exchange, and relationality inform our modern views of society and economy.

From a theological vantage point, Linn Marie Tonstad confronts the ways contemporary subjectivity is formed and burdened by the temporalities of debt in current manifestations of finance capitalism. She assesses the economies of religion and sexuality as they interact ambivalently with financial logics, considering what spaces or moments of reserve persist that might disrupt the enforced normativities of debt time. Arguing that “debt time is straight time,” Tonstad explores the constraining and limited horizons that pre-exist and determine subjective and communal trajectories in the present, noting that such constraints come as much from the future as from the past. For debt is an anchoring to the past that fixes a set future, inasmuch as it is a promise of the future that enables a tyrannizing obligation from the past. From the colonization of sleep and dreams to the dissolution of any — even mythic — work/life balance, debt-bound, capitalist temporality is demonic in its totalizing force. Tonstad reclaims understandings of performance to explore queer collectivities and non-normative alliances as possible routes toward exorcising this demonic temporality and refiguring the present in more life giving directions.

Taking up the genre of science fiction, Vincent Lloyd engages the work of Octavia Butler to examine the afterlives of religion and race in neoliberal America. While Butler’s work offers a vision of radical love within apocalyptic context, Lloyd claims that it ultimately re-presents, more than challenges, neoliberal logic, manifesting a political-theological reinforcement of the relational status quo. Challenging the efficacy of the post-racial future Butler champions, Lloyd suggests this may reflect a seductive multiculturalist logic, one that, in turn, replicates the pacifying liquidity of relations under late capitalism. According to Lloyd, then, love in a time of capital risks being a white love, deploying colorblind rhetoric that serves the ends of white supremacy. Such love, it emerges, is also a problematically secular love, one that truncates any openness to transcendence that may provide the space between the constraints of capital to reclaim and reorient relations. For Lloyd, such reorientation is found in the stabilities of identity and permanencies of relationality that such transcendence grounds, ones that resist the destabilizing, if heady, fluidities of capital.

Erin Runions takes on the voices of conservative dissent in the recent Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, assessing the use of biological arguments to defend heteronormative familial relations. She demonstrates how a more archaic fascination with bloodlines and purity is now couched in biological terms and, when wedded to a particular theological and biblical vision, can function as a tactic to buttress a normative, exclusionary, and state sanctioned manifestation of love. Runions illuminates how the diverse language of democracy, protection of children, and two-parent, heterosexual households functions as a screen for more primary political-economic interests. She also shows how biblically inflected moral discourse is marshaled to serve such ends. Furthermore, while the ruling was a landmark victory for gay rights and marriage equality, Runions shows the ways the institution of marriage continues to be marshaled by both liberals and conservatives in the interests of capital accumulation and asset preservation. This raises the question of whether love and capital should be so wedded, or whether love might be marshaled in the service of more critical ends.

Together these articles provide insight on and intervention into the radical transformations in notions of selfhood, love, and relational value in our present moment. They shed light on the role that religion plays in these processes and how it continues to offer possibilities for diagnoses, alternative visions, and potential transformations. The collection reveals a dominant and normative vision of love in a time of capital that is self-interested, straight, and white, and that utilizes bloodline ideology and scientific rhetoric to protect material interests. While such correlations are in themselves unsurprising, what is of inestimable value in these pieces is the work done to trace these very connections, links so often intuited as present but seldom revealed. They also offer resources to refigure this pattern of love.

In a provocative response, both laudatory and critical, Charles Mathewes draws out the implications of these engagements and charts routes for further inquiry. Importantly, he offers reflection on the nature of love, temporality, and capital, drawing on the papers to provide some working and provisionally normative definitions. Such points of focus might serve as strategic sites of dialog and contestation as we labor together to seek clarity about the nature of our moment. Such demarcations also invite ethical directives, as new patterns of love may emerge to sustain us through the current epidemic.

Devin Singh studies religious thought in the modern West and in sites of colonial encounter, with attention to the Christian tradition and its interaction with economy and politics. He explores religion and politics, religion and economics, secularization, sociology of markets and money, and topics in Christian thought, philosophy of religion, and social ethics. His current book project examines the ways early Christian thinkers made use of monetary and economic concepts as they created Christian doctrine, and how this close relationship between theology and money has lent a sacred aura to economics as it developed in the West. Singh’s work has received national recognition by the Mellon and Whiting Fellowships, as well as international recognition by the Lautenschlaeger Award from the University of Heidelberg. Prior to joining the faculty at Dartmouth, Singh was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Integrated Humanities and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Yale University. Singh is a 2016-17 Dartmouth Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.


1 In addition to the four revised papers contained herein, presentations were made by Kate Bowler, David Goodman, Charles Mathewes, Ann Pellegrini, and myself. A special thanks to all participants and to my co-organizer, Kathryn Lofton.

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