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Political Advocacy As A Humanist

This is a challenging question for me, as I am on the margins of political theology as a philosopher of religion and religious naturalist.

 (a) What are the top three “key texts” in the field? 

This is a challenging question for me, as I am on the margins of political theology as a philosopher of religion and religious naturalist. I also find it impossible to choose three works that would be universally important to everyone, or “key” in an ahistorical sense. While acknowledging the fact that the historical emergence of political theology is associated with the oeuvre of Carl Schmitt, I am inclined to focus on three recent texts within the context of U.S. intellectual history. The following are very helpful to me as I have explored the value and implications of political theology when assessing the wide-ranging forms of violence that become apparent when taking seriously the undeniable force, power, and facticity of materiality, imperialism, and xenophobia:  

  1. Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture) (2018)
  2. Vincent Lloyd and Jonathon Kahn, eds., Race and Secularism in America (Religion, Culture, and Public Life) (2018) 
  3. Jeffrey Robbins and Clayton Crockett, eds., Doing Theology in the Age of Trump: A Critical Report on Christian Nationalism (Westphal Seminar on God and the Human Future) (2018)

b)  What are two texts that need to become “essential texts” but are not yet? 

The two texts I consider crucial for 2021 and onward are Michael Hogue’s American Immanence: Democracy for an Uncertain World (2018) and Timothy Morton’s Humankind: Solidarity with Non-Human People (2017).  

c) What are your reasons for including these texts?

As a religious naturalist, these texts, as well as the ones identified above, help me to think about the difficulties of understanding and applying political advocacy as a humanist. In particular, they provide me with wonderful insight into the myriad problems and implications associated with the narratives of human exceptionalism — a key issue that I think is at heart of enacting political theory, political theology, and political ethics. I am compelled by them because I think the perpetual enactments of sovereignty that political work often addresses are steeped in and made possible in and through exceptionalist narratives and constructions. These texts also widen the scope of religious discourse beyond traditional Christian concerns and categories, and they address the conceptual issues I think are at the center of the purported divide between the purported “secular” and “religious.” 

I specifically chose Hogue’s American Immanence primarily because it creatively explores issues of sovereignty and race within the Anthropocene age, all while offering a powerful indictment of contemporary social, political, economic, and environmental realities.  Furthermore, Hogue’s focus on this tradition of American immanence as the starting point for addressing a political theology is ingenious. With it, he rejects the logics of a metaphysics of inside and outside, and rather seeks to draw out the radically democratic, ecological, and theopolitical potential implications of the pragmatic naturalist, radically empirical, and process relational lineages of American immanence. In Hogue’s rendering, this tradition approaches moral values as emergent, provisional and negotiated rather than antecedent, absolute and imposed. This tradition also rejects the symbol of God as unitary, sovereign, supernatural, and metaphysically transcendent, but clears the way for symbolizing the divine and sacred as diffused, vulnerable, natal, and immanent. By affirming the wonder and sublimity of the diverse expressions of creativity and agency in the universe, this traditional of American immanence lures us toward more vital and more resonant ways of being in the world, more existentially and spiritually enlivening modes of life.

Morton’s text is one that many will not readily or easily identify as theological, or even political, in any narrow sense of those terms.  However, his text amplifies my interest in the urgent necessity of addressing human exceptionalism. It fascinates me because it explores the separation between humans and non-humans from an object-oriented ontological perspective, arguing that humans need to radically rethink the way in which we conceive of, and relate to, non-human animals and nature as a whole, going on to explore the political implications of such a change. Morton’s text evokes for me a political activism that is messy, entangled, and embodied,  occurring when humans are attuned to what Morton calls “the fact of our existence in a biosphere, the ‘symbiotic real’ from which we have been ‘severed’. Humans are discrete beings, but deeply interrelated with, and reliant on, other beings (viruses, bacteria, other animals). 

(d) in two to three sentences how would you define and/or describe the field of political theology? 

I view the field of political theology as an interdisciplinary field of studies: a wide range of voices, texts, and forms of advocacy that imbue the older categories of the “political” and “theological” with new meanings and aims. Specifically, I would characterize political theology as an academic-activist model of religious scholarship that assesses the various legacies of colonialism and imperialism; it also focuses on the consequences of the control and exploitation of colonized subjects, their lands, and their ways of life. In the twenty-first century, political theology also challenges the notion of politics as rights, policies, governance, decisions, and it resists the notion that political advocacy is only for the well-being of human communities.  I think the field draws richly from traditional disciplines such as religion, history, political science, philosophy,  sociology,  anthropology, human geography, as well as from the current discourses of feminism, critical theory, critical race theory, ecology, animal studies, and postcolonial thought.  

At the End of Liberal Theory

The texts I have identified as “need to become ‘essential’ texts” function in this spirit…Each addresses questions of community-creation outside of liberal norms and modes of power.

Deconstructing the Canon

If one speaks of Political Theology as a “field” with its own “canon” one must surely be preparing to deconstruct it.

Political Theology (政治神學) A Postcolonial Approach

The field has often shown a Eurocentric bias…As such, the field has left out important reflections on political theology during the anticolonial and postcolonial struggles in the Global South.

From A Liberationist Framework

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.

Political Advocacy As A Humanist

This is a challenging question for me, as I am on the margins of political theology as a philosopher of religion and religious naturalist.

Christian Interrogation

…Political Theology is the sedimented yet changing and multifarious ways in which Christianity divides itself and (which is to say also: from) the world.

The Fluidity of the Field

Even while the concept of canon has been thoroughly critiqued and deconstructed, implicit canons remain and it may be best to acknowledge their presence rather than seek to repress them.

Wittgenstein’s Ladder

…I see my list on political theology functioning like Wittgenstein’s ladder metaphor in his Tractatus. Once graduate students read and grasp these important texts, they should “throw away the ladder”, so to speak, and deconstruct all they have learned about political theology to illuminate contemporary problems on their own. Once they reach the top, they can throw away the ladder.

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