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What are the prospects and limits of confronting sexual violence from within political theology?

Sexual violence is intensely political, and it is also theologically laden. Scholars of religion who confront sexual violence have not, however, tended to do so using political theology as a guiding framework or as a primary set of conversation partners. Among scholars in religion who focus their research on sexual violence, there is interest in political theology, and there is also some hesitance. This symposium invites scholars who work at the intersection of theology, politics, and sexual ethics to reflect on that interest and hesitance in a way that helps to envision a more collaborative relationship. Contributors to this symposium were asked to reflect on the prospects that political theology opens for confronting sexual violence, as well as what, if anything, keeps these prospects from being generative. We, together, hope to craft a conversation that addresses both opportunities and limits involved in confronting sexual violence from the position of political theologian.

The central question organizing the symposium is, then: What are the prospects and limits of confronting sexual violence from within political theology?

Our first contributor, Julia Feder, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Creighton University, proposes that political theology has the potential to offer critical resources for confronting sexual violence. Feder suggests that in order for that potential to be realized, political theology must, first, consciously articulate an analysis of and resistance to rape culture, and second, keep watch for the way in which perpetrators might manipulate these to accomplish their own ends. Our second contributor, Jaisy Joseph, Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University, discusses sexual violence in the context of Indian Christian immigrant communities. She holds out Simon of Cyrene and Veronica, two figures who entered into the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, as models through which political theologians might conjure religio-political practices of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. Third in this series is my own essay, which reflects on what it would take for political theology to confront two particular crisis of sexual violence that have unfolded in recent months: The U.S. confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the academy’s response to accusations of sexual violence made against renowned NYU professor Avital Ronell. Traci West, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University, will close out the symposium with a reflection on what it would take for political theology to address the gritty, raw realities of sexual violence and its consequences in ways that do not participate in the common and problematic tendency for those realities to be put on display to fulfill others’ (sexually violent) pleasure.

Symposium Essays

Confronting Rape Culture

Political theology, insofar as it can articulate an analysis of and resistance to rape culture, offers many resources for confronting sexual violence.

No Longer Bearing the Cross Alone

Like Simon and Veronica, those in the pews and those in the academy are called to accompany those who are abused by sharing in their pain so that survivors no longer bear this cross alone.

Kavanaugh, Ronell, and Political Theology’s Prospects for Making a Difference in Sexual Violence Today

Political theology’s prospects for contributing helpfully to movements of resistance to sexual violence depends on the willingness and ability those who contribute to political theology as a discourse to discern and prioritize the kinds of questions that are deemed most urgent by sexual violence survivors themselves and those who have devoted their work to ethically addressing this harm.

Is Christian Political Theology too conservative to undermine sexual violence?

If we want to focus on stopping sexual violence we need to ask much more disruptive questions about the conserving influence within Christian political theologies that accompanies their radical critiques.