In the coming weeks, the Political Theology blog will be hosting a symposium on Political Theology and Islamic Studies, bringing together reflections from a number of leading scholars at the intersection of these fields. The editors are very grateful to our Contributing Editor, M. Owais Khan, and to Abbas Barzeger, for their long labors in putting together and editing this symposium. This first post introduces the questions to be discussed and the contributors who will be participating.
My post, “Two American Dreams and One Economic Reality,” looked at the debate about American values initiated by President Obama’s now famous quote: “You didn’t build that.” I argued that the radical individualism embodied by the Republican outrage against this phrase is consistent with neither Christian faith nor economic reality. I am proud of that essay. I think it provided a clear sense of why my Christian faith leads me to support the Democratic Party. But, some of my friends and colleagues pushed back against it pretty hard. They were concerned that my rhetoric of grace and gratitude, my vision of God’s economy, did not quite fit their experience of President Obama or the Democratic Party over the past four years. The disillusionment of these faithful Christians and good Americans is understandable, but my fear is that the fact that Barack Obama is not the Messiah may threaten his very limited but very real accomplishments in both international and domestic affairs….
I would like a vote in the decision to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Ideally, if I am honest, secretly, I would quite like to have the only vote. But that would be monarchy, and I don’t believe in that for all sorts of reasons, and nor do I believe in oligarchy, so what I would like to see is a democratic election. Perhaps something like they have in the Episcopal Church in the US, an open contest in which candidates put forward their ecclesial and spiritual credentials…
During the past two decades, political liberalism has been put on trial. Political theorists indebted to Sheldon Wolin (William Connolly, Romand Coles, Bonnie Honig) have, in various ways, exposed liberalism’s tendency to conceal or downplay significant dimensions of political struggle. These authors indict liberalism for its narrow understanding of public reason, an understanding that underestimates qualities, practices and interactions within our lifeworlds that tend to thwart liberalism’s drive toward consensus and agreement (here I am thinking of clashing visions of the good life, memory of injustice, or the emergence of new movements that challenge our very notion of publicity and reason). This trend within political theory resembles developments in religious studies and theology. Recent discussions between Stanley Hauerwas, Jeff Stout, and Cornel West revolve around liberalism’s tendency to depoliticize religious commitments by relegating them to the private sphere. For these authors, this inclination overlooks the deep connections between democratic struggle and religious practice within American history. These authors remind us that democracy and faith are bedfellows (and not necessarily strange ones).
Jonathan Kahn and Vincent Lloyd, in recent blog posts here, attempt to move these discussions further and potentially in new directions…
With the elections in Spain two weeks ago, the first modern government to explicitly model itself on the work of an academic political philosopher was voted out of office. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had become a devotee of the Princeton political philosopher Philip Pettit in 2000, when Zapatero was leader of the opposition searching for how to envision left-liberal politics distinct from the Clinton-Blair “third way.” As a Zapatero associate put it, “Philip Pettit provided us with the appropriate grammar to furnish our political intuitions, to express the kind of proposals and dreams we had in mind for Spain. Pettit’s republicanism has been our north star.” Does the political philosophy that Zapatero found so compelling, civic republicanism, leave a role for faith?
By Jonathon Kahn, Vassar College
Who are the fools among us who continue to have faith in democracy and in American democracy in particular? After a desultory three-year period of community organizing in the corner of Harlem that I call home, I find myself preoccupied with this question. My community was unable to bridge the gap between what came to be called the “old” and “new” Harlem. To be sure, there were moments that Bonnie Honig might call “democratic ruptures,” when my community tried to rework its own sense of “we-ness.” But these moments were fleeting. “Ordinary life,” as Honig says, “reasserts itself, with a bit of a vengeance.”[i] Democratic energies dissipate. Democratic energies fail.
And yet I find myself wanting to argue that democratic faith is possible and needed. Though I have no theistic beliefs of my own, I can find no way to move forward with democratic life except as a person of faith. What, then, do I mean by faith and why does democracy need it?
First, I want to take social practices and norms as foundational. They do not come from anywhere else, not from people or institutions or God. It is practices and norms all the way down, as it were. Second, I want to present practices and norms as always in conflict. Norms are derived from practices, but they always misrepresent practices; practices are pulled towards norms.