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?
As of late, I have been particularly interested in the trajectory of the field of political theology’s development. The discourse (thanks in part to the work of the journal and the Political Theology Network) has arrived at a sort of a self-critical juncture, which has helpfully offered scholars interested in the host of conversations that fall under the “political theology” umbrella the chance to reflect on what exactly we mean by the term “political theology.” We are currently seeing folks pause to reflect both on what has historically counted as “political theology” and the ways in which those evaluate norms and frameworks need to shift moving forward. This has opened up questions of standard political-theological canons, norms, questions, histories, and goals in really interesting ways. The ways in which those questions are being answered (not to mention the disjunction between certain operative visions in the field) are proving fruitful in breaking down some of the limitations, barriers, and problematic assumptions that have helped to determine what does and does not count as “political theology” in the last twenty years. It will be fascinating the see the ways in which the discourse is re-directed and expanded in light of this self-critical moment.
What conversations working with the concept of political theology do you find most fruitful today?
I find myself drawn, again and again, to the ways in which Christian theologians and scholars of religion are engaging with political and social theorists in order to imagine, articulate, and problematize the role of religion in determining public, political life. Political theology, it seems to me, does a good job of interrogating the role religion has historically played in problematically determining the political and economic structures that so dramatically animate our present while also leaving space for theorists to identify and draw on the resources of those various religious traditions in order to imagine and construct more equitable political and economic structures moving forward. I find both the historical problematizing and the push for constructive proposals quite fruitful, and I’m fascinated by the tensions and resonances between these two related approaches to political theology.
Where do you hope to see discussions of political theology in 20 years?
I think political theology has done (and continues doing) a wonderful job of articulating the import of religion and religious discourse for criticizing and directing political life. And while political theology has no shortage of critics of capitalism, it seems to me we’ve not done as adequate a job of imagining the role religion should play in criticizing and directing economic structures and practices. The latter seems quite important, though, given the ways in which political theorists insist that any viable vision of contemporary life must account for the growing and changing influence of capitalism for contemporary life and politics. Without an adequate analysis of the crucial role that capitalism plays in structuring contemporary politics and American life, we severely misrepresent the nuanced mechanics, pressures, and needs for structuring a faithfully Christian sketch of public life. I thus hope that in twenty years, we will be able to look back at a significant, momentous output of scholarship that draws on the insights of religion and politics conversation in order to clarify the function and import of religion’s role in imagining and organizing economic life.