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What Political Theology Could Be (Vincent Lloyd and David True)

The following is the regular editorial for the latest issue (Vol. 17, No. 6) of the print journal Political TheologyPolitical Theology Today is the online extension of the journal.

What is political theology? Chances are that political theology brings to mind, for you, one of three conversations.

The first is among critical theorists, working with the complicated legacy of Carl Schmitt and others, particularly as it has been revived in the past couple of decades by Continental philosophers and theorists. This is a conversation that is often quite detached from the Christian theological tradition.

The second conversation concerns theologically-informed politics, whether theoretical critiques of the secular nation-state or concrete reflections on specific public policy positions. This is the approach that originally launched the journal Political Theology. The editors felt the need for a journal in the tradition of the British Christian Socialist Movement capable of speaking out against the privatization of public life and neoliberalism more broadly. The journal sought to draw together voices as different as the late Max Stackhouse and John Milbank.

There is a third and more expansive sense of political theology, encompassing both of the first two. It names critical inquiry into the connections between religion and politics broadly understood, including ideas, practices, affects, and histories. As such, political theology in this third sense is an intellectual landscape welcoming to both critical scholars positioned as “outsiders” and participants in religious traditions exploring the relationships between the fabric of their own tradition and the political world.

This conversation welcomes scholars of Christianity but also beyond Christianity, religious studies scholars but also political theorists, literary critics, anthropologists, and those with other disciplinary homes. This expansive sense of political theology names the direction in which the journal is moving.

Political Theology‘s challenge is to create a space that can welcome the diverse voices in our field. We want to create a tent wide enough to embrace the specifically Christian theological conversation in political theology and the specifically critical-theoretic conversation, but also much more.

To do this, we emphasize inclusivity on many levels, in terms of religious traditions, disciplinary perspectives, and global diversity, but we also affirm the need for rigorous scholarship that is part of a shared, ongoing conversation. We envision the journal as both a site for conversation and a community, including editors, referees, contributors, and readers. Political Theology must reflect the values and desires of that community, but it also has an important role in consolidating that community and orienting that community toward the values that we embrace.

We readily acknowledge that talk about community leans on a problematic metaphor, but we think it is an important metaphor nonetheless. We understand political theology as speaking to an array of disciplines each with its own methods and assumptions, and sometimes at odds with each other.

Whether in Christian theology or in cultural theory, polemics often dominate. Community can be tense, and our critiques sometimes feel more like scores to settle. Whether interpreting a passage from Benjamin or juxtaposing Barth and Niebuhr, our arguments can be intense.

Of course, we celebrate scholarly debate, but these debates often feel more than simply scholarly. The professional can feel personal. It can thus be a struggle to maintain the best values of community. The journal reflects its field’s interest in justice and norms, both their critique and affirmation, in theory and in practice.

The journal’s community, then, like the field, is a motley crew, given to strong debate despite our academic robes and prayers for peace. The journal welcomes that debate but also struggles at times to hold the debating parties together. The reality is that this has less to do with passionate differences than with different interests.

The field’s diversity is daunting to anyone trying to follow the literature. Can we really speak of political theology as a unified field of study and this journal as a community, or is political theology a compilation of separate conversations?

Our approach is to see political theology as an emerging field of study that is global and interdisciplinary and thus plural and complex. Our task then is to create space for each of these communities and their internal debates but also to identify broader shared interests and to connect new conversation partners.

Given the journal’s origins in the UK and US and its reliance on the English language, this requires that the editors reach out to those beyond the cast of players who have dominated the field. What this means in terms of our board, referees, authors, and readers is not the work of an algorithm, but clearly it means a broadening in terms of geography, culture, discipline, religious traditions, and gender.

In the coming years, we look forward to experimenting with new ways of reaching our aspirations for the journal, and the field. In coming issues of Political Theology, you will find special issues on political theology in Asia and India, but also a special section on the political theology of literature.

We look forward to intentionally exploring the relevance of political theology in other regions, traditions, and disciplines that have not as yet been fully represented, such as Africa, Islam, and intellectual history. We have made a commitment to gender inclusivity in our selection of peer reviewers, whenever possible including a female reviewer.

Finally, we look forward to reviewing this mission and these commitments each year in an editorial like this one, assessing the state of the journal and the state of the field.

Vincent Lloyd and David True are editors of Political Theology.

One thought on “What Political Theology Could Be (Vincent Lloyd and David True)

  1. Thank you for the mention of intellectual history which situates political theology within larger cultural, political, and philosophical currents. I am currently working on an intellectual history of one political theological movement. Historians have much to offer to enrich the conversation here.

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