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. Included here are graduate and undergraduate syllabi from 2007, and a graduate syllabus from 2014. The courses are “The Rhetoric of Political Theologies,” “Christianity and Politics,” and “Sovereigns, Subjects, Power, Truth,” respectively.
My own scholarly interest in political theology has always been focused on a certain reversibility between that discourse and the discourse of secularism. I have always been interested, so to speak, in the religious constitution of political discourses, communities, and subjects, as well as the secular political construction of religion in modernity. Due to my training as a political theorist, and my particular research interests, my political theology courses tend to be heavily weighted toward social and political theorists — much of the exercise being to tease out and consider the theological dimensions of their thought.
What stands out most clearly to me in looking at old and new syllabi is the sense in which the problematic of political theology — understood as a problematic in which “religion” and “politics” are necessarily and continuously inter-involved — has become deeply ingrained in my thinking. In these early courses I suppose that I was working through key debates, mapping possible positions, and clarifying my understanding of the issues at stake. In my current thinking, those questions have moved to the background —or better, become something of a foundation— and I can now simply take for granted the Nietzsche and Foucault, for example, are working profound changes within this theological-political framework. Rather than exploring possible positions in the literature, the exercise is now about following and letting great thinkers affect my own thinking, hopefully in creative ways.
Though this isn’t fully reflected in my teaching, my current research is drawing me outside of European and American traditions. I hope to have the chance to check in again in a few years to chart new directions in the theological political adventure that take me far beyond the Western theological and theoretical canons.
Matthew Scherer is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University and a research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. He is the author of Beyond Church and State: Democracy, Secularism, and Conversion (Cambridge UP, 2013).