Thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Political Theology Network has been able to sponsor Dissertation Workshops at the last two annual American Academy of Religion meetings. The workshop provides grants to graduate students to attend the annual meeting and to participate in a half-day workshop, facilitated by senior scholars in the area of political theology. The goal of the workshop is to enable completion of the dissertation and to guide students in their transition to careers in academia. The workshop has already seen two cohorts, the first in Boston in 2017 and the second in Denver in 2018. Meet the three of the six 2017 workshop participants as they share their experiences.
My dissertation, “Hermeneutics of Providence: Theology, Race, and Divine Action in History,” explores the implications of the doctrine of providence for Christian life in the context of racialized modernity. In dialogue with the writings of G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Barth, and James H. Cone, I examine the role played by the doctrine of providence in both theological justifications and critiques of modern theories about European progress, the superiority of Western civilization, and white racial supremacy. Building on this analysis, I then offer a constructive account of providence as a two-fold work of the Holy Spirit in (1) making Jesus Christ present to creation and (2) enabling human creaturely participation in that presence. Drawing upon themes in womanist theology and contemporary pneumatology, I suggest that the providential work of the Spirit manifests in three characteristic activities: the Spirit gives live to ordinary, oppressed, and overlooked material bodies, the Spirit draws together those whom the dominant orders of the world would keep apart into surprising forms of intimate community, and the Spirit anticipates the end of time in the midst of the present. Participating in this workshop with the Political Theology Network provided a wonderful opportunity to receive feedback from a number of different disciplinary perspectives, theoretical angles, and methodological commitments.
In my dissertation, I argued that a retrieval of the legal and religious resources of an earlier tradition, expressed in the theological jurisprudence of Francisco Suárez, SJ, could contribute to political theology by indicating new modes of political engagement by which ordinary citizens are empowered to change unjust laws. Suárez’s legal theory, unlike classical legal positivism leaves a large and explicit role for ground up legal process. He engages extensively with creative and constructive ways of responding to law, specifically through the development of popular custom and engagement in creative legal interpretation, rather than assuming that the only meaning of a law is in the intention of the law-giver, rather than developed organically through the engagement of the people receiving the law. Attending the Political Theology Network’s Dissertation Workshop provided a really important opportunity to receive helpful critique and feedback from scholars with many different perspectives. Thanks to the encouragement and challenges I received during the workshop, I reframed the first chapter of my dissertation in a way which contributed significantly to the coherence and relevance of the entire project.
Hannah Amaris Roh
I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. My dissertation, “Specters of Colonial Modernity: Christianity and the Historical Imagination in Early Modern Korea, 1876-1945,” examines the position of Christianity in historical imaginations of freedom and agency in pre-colonial and colonial Korea. Inspired by Jacques Derrida and deconstruction, the project takes a critical approach to the logic of ethno-nationalist subjectivity, as well as the intertwinement of Christian theology and metaphysics in these historical imaginations. In showing how the case of Christianity in Korea exposes the repetition and return of colonial rhetoric in the very attempts to resist and exorcise it, this project seeks to re-examine the status of emancipatory discourse in colonial and postcolonial contexts more broadly. The Political Theology Network’s Dissertation Workshop provided a supportive and collegial environment not only in receiving feedback about my work, but also in connecting with other doctoral students in the writing stage and learning about their dissertations as well. I am grateful to the participants and faculty mentors, whose generous insights and questions have helped me clarify my project during the earlier stages of writing. This experience continues to be an encouragement as I work towards completing the dissertation.
My project examines the politics of language in the early Christian movement, particularly the issue of multilingualism in the Corinthian church as a reflection of the demography of the city of Corinth in the Roman period. Knowing that the first-century Mediterranean world was a multilingual society and Corinth particularly was a pivotal coastal city that connected all parts of the ancient world, it is understandable that Corinth became the center for cultural interchange in the Roman Empire. Thus, when early Christians gathered together they unsurprisingly spoke in their own languages–this Paul found to be chaotic. 1 Cor. 14 records his effort to bring linguistic order to this community. My project demonstrates that Paul’s theological discussion in 1 Cor. 14 could be read as the representation of his political strategies. In other words, Paul’s theology is political because it aims at a certain political goal. Having said that, the Political Theology Network dissertation workshop that I attended last year in Boston was extremely helpful to me not only in sharpening and clarifying my thoughts, but also in establishing many relevant connections between my project and the socio-political situation of today’s world.