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?
The discussion that fascinates me the most is one that perhaps some people might consider is no longer relevant, and that is the role of religion in public life. I recognize that the tide has shifted since the 1990s and a consensus emerged that religion should have a role in democratic public spaces, but the question of how this role should function in a way that doesn’t threaten liberal democratic norms has yet to be settled and has only intensified since the fall of communism in Europe. Since the 1990s and especially over the last few years we see a resurgent role of religion in Eastern European democracies, and even transnational alliances between Russian Orthodox actors and American Evangelicals over promoting a “traditional values” agenda, which has provoked new challenges for theologizing the relation of religion in public life. The culture wars have gone global. A new geopolitical divide has emerged that is marked by differences over social values and that cuts across the East-West divide. Political theology needs to talk more about the role of religion in liberal democratic spaces such that those spaces are constituted as radically pluralistic. Pluralism, in my mind, is one of the most important questions in political theology, and one that is affected by the issue of religion in public life.
What conversations working with the concept of political theology do you find most fruitful today?
There are many conversations that I find fruitful, including the forms of political theology that intersect with issues race, gender, sexuality, and colonialism. In addition, however, to these and to the religion in public life question, I also find fruitful those political theologies that focus on practices rather than more meta-issues, such as church-state relations. I think the emphasis on practices could provide new avenues of thinking for some of the questions being considered by political theology.
Where do you hope to see discussions of political theology in 20 years?
I will tell you where I hope they don’t go: I hope we are not lamenting in 20 years this incessant theological critique of democratic liberalism in a way that all this critique enabled were forms of enclavism, polarization, and fundamentalism. More positively, I hope we more see nuanced theological understandings of democratic liberalism that have integrated some of the more insightful critiques and promote radical political pluralism. I guess another way to put it is that I hope we are not stuck in critique mode in 20 years.