In the academic setting of Religious Studies, developing curricular spaces in which to thematize the relationship of religion and politics is a highly effective way both to engage undergraduate students, and to tap into and develop the research interests of graduate students. Over the past several years, I have developed courses at both levels in this area.
The election of Matteo Renzi represents a low point in the fortunes of political Catholicism in democratic Italy, as engaged Catholics across the political spectrum have less influence over the national government than at probably any point since World War II. This decline in fortunes illustrates the weaknesses of mainstream Catholic political strategies in the post-Cold War era. A cross-country comparison of Italy and the U.S. can help illustrate how the struggles of political Catholicism in the early twenty-first century reflect certain weaknesses in the Catholic Church’s current understanding of its social mission.
This may seem an odd pairing – Secularism and Political Theology – but in a way that I can’t quite articulate, they still seem to go well together, beyond being two important recent topics that weren’t yet covered by the course offerings in my department.
When I was asked to contribute syllabi on political theology I thought it would be a great chance to look back and reflect on how my thinking and teaching on the topic have evolved. I think of a course I am currently teaching under this rubric, even though its title and official description eschew all reference to theology, and some of the very first courses I taught were expressly geared toward the topic of political theology.