Roger Haydon Mitchell on his “Church, Gospel, and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West”

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After nearly a lifetime of working as a consultant to the church, with particular concern for its positive political role as reconciler, servant and scapegoat at the heart of city life, I became convinced that the trajectory of its perceived and often actual role as oppressor, dominator and benefactor needed to be exposed and confronted. The research that followed led me to investigate the genealogy of the relationship of the Western church with dominant political configurations of sovereign power, which I term ‘empire.’ Following the contours of the arguments of contemporary theologians such as Balthasar, Milbank, Cavanaugh, and de Lubac who posit a kind of lapsis or fall in the genesis of modernity, I propose a much earlier fourth century fall that precipitated the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty and the consequent displacement of the corpus verum. The book suggests that this was of such a deeply ontological nature that it not only characterised mediaevality but remained the distinctive of modernity despite the enlightenment and reformation. By means of four case studies, or conduits of Christendom, the genealogy of this supposed subsumption is traced through the subsequent history of the West in a way that contends for a continuity of manifestations of empire from Constantine through to the formation of the modern capitalist nation state and on into the present globalised biopolitical world. Having set out this genealogy, the book embarks on the crucial task of reconfiguring a theopolitics decontaminated from empire. It does so by exploring the synergy of the twentieth century coincidence of kenotic theology and the recovery of the work of the Spirit in pursuit of a hermeneutic and theology that can reconfigure and resource the embodiment of a radically other kind of political power based on the kenotic life of Jesus, which I name ‘kenarchy.’

 

Roger Haydon Mitchell directs a charitable trust that advises the church on negotiating social change. From 2005-2011 he was a postgraduate researcher in Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster, where as well as his advisory work he is now a teaching assistant in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion.

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