Traditionally, Western thought framed human life as evolving in a three-dimensional space: the economic, the political, and the philosophical. Nowadays, as in times past, this tradition sets its origins in classical Athens, a time when the happy and self-sufficient public life of politics and the solitary one of philosophy were nourishing on the surplus generated by the economy. The economy was confined to the private sphere of the household and excluded from the public sphere that was occupied by politics. The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault retells the history of the West following the less traversed economic side of the story by conducting a philological history that traces the meanings that were attached to the notion of oikonomia in Greek speaking antiquity. Doing so, the book offers a twist on the historical narrative of the present: it argues that the rise of the “economy of the mystery which from eternity has been hid in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9) in Greek-speaking Christianity of late antiquity plays a decisive role in this history. By reinserting this too-often ignored chapter, the book goes beyond closing a great gap in the histories of economic thought, philosophical inquiries, and political theory. As the research conducted in the book is of a genealogical nature, The Origins of Neoliberalism holds (and demonstrates) that recovering the mysteries of the economy in early Christianity is of great relevance for any critical engagement with neoliberalism, let alone overcoming it.
Posts Tagged ‘theology’
In seeking to make sense of modernity in the classical tradition of sociology as a field, the body of Robert Bellah’s work spans the social sciences and comparative cultural inquiry to embrace the global diversity and coherence of religion as the key to culture across civilizations and epochs within the framework of human evolution. Formally trained as a student of tribal cultures, East Asian civilization, and Islam, Bellah engages the West, and America in particular, as problematic cases that can only be understood in the broadest comparative perspective on human cultural development. This global perspective informs Bellah’s conceptions of religion and human evolution as they have deepened and grown over a half century.
I knew that my new book, Political Theology, would be controversial. It covers a lot of ground; it produces odd conjunctions; and its rhetoric can sound extreme. It pays little attention to academic conventions and often cuts against popular, political expectations. Some might think presumptuous its design and method of “rewriting” Schmitt’s classic. Many readers are startled to find that out of an engagement with Schmitt can come an exploration of freedom in its political, legal, and discursive dimensions. Others are surprised to find that a book about sovereignty and law—let alone a theological inquiry—puts the imagination at its center.
What we need is a bird’s eye view, and that requires taking theology seriously, and considering a longer view of the history of Western civilization than any sociological survey can provide. […] American Grace adopts a position of respectful skepticism toward theology. The authors dutifully reproduce the questionnaire of “measures of theological belief and religious commitment” included in their survey, but they express surprise that many Americans “have stable views on such seemingly arcane theological issues” as whether a person is saved by faith or by their own good deeds. (Calling this fundamental question “arcane” is a bit like expressing confusion at that obscure rule in baseball that allows a player to score a run by crossing home plate.)
To grasp the deep architecture of the political today, therefore, is to venture into the theological domains of Christology and especially atonement, that area of theology (particularly, Christian theology) that deals with the logic of (redemptive) death. But the journey cannot be simply phenomenological in the way Kahn carries it out. Or, put differently, it may need to be phenomenological, but in a way that Kahn himself has not considered. Atonement thinking, and the “death contract” that binds politics, must, from within a different phenomenology (and therefore from within a different approach to political theology), be redirected. There must be a new future of death and the political.
From Fortress Press, an interview with Mark Lewis Taylor, author of The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World (Fortress, 2011).
Confessions re-emerged into floodlit attention in the Romantic era of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when it was read as a Bildungsroman riding on the popularity of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1782) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther (1774) and Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795). In 1888 Harnack would compare Confessions to Goethe’s Faust. The coming-of-age tale and sins-of-my-youth story made Augustine a byword for libertine-rake glamorization. Such is the reputation of Confessions that James O’Donnell said he first took up the book as a boy with the expectation that it had salacious things in it (for which, he added, he is still futilely searching). The “great sinner” myth has no basis in fact.
A long-simmering conflict within U.S. evangelicalism came to the fore recently—a conflict which, as Martin Marty points out, may be more significant in the long run than the question of whether evangelicals support Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin for the presidency in 2012. Partly theological and partly generational, it pits Rob Bell, the 40-year-old founding minister of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (not to be confused with the equally prominent Mars Hill Church in Seattle), against the likes of John Piper, the 65-year-old theologian, pastor, and author, who has long stood in opposition to newer developments in evangelical theology sometimes called “the emergent church.” Now, the conflict erupted into the public. . . . Bell’s critics are taking advance materials for his forthcoming book, Love Wins, as suggesting a negative answer. According to Bell’s alleged universalist stance, everybody is “saved”; there is no punishment for non-Christians. Since then, various media—online and offline, Christian and secular—have been reverberating with the charge of heresy.
Matthew Engelke is right: religion is about mediation. Ironically so, because it is about the divine; but because the divine is never directly available, religion must instead be about how the divine is indirectly manifest. . . . Because religion is about mediation, it naturally refuses any duality of nature and culture. Reality, as the true nature of things, is sacred, but it must be mediated by particular human relations and practices. Culture, therefore, can be neither merely arbitrary nor totally opposed to nature, since it is what truly discloses the latter.
My sense is that the most important cross-fertilization between contemporary Pauline scholarship and trends, like the so-called anthropology of Christianity, that seek to appreciate salient aspects of the unfolding of global Christianity would not be through the new insights, via Paul, into the supposedly Promethean self of modernity, secularism, and its many post-prefixed after-runners. This seems to be the Paul celebrated by Badiou, Agamben, and Žižek—a Paul that, as Elizabeth Castelli notes, is decidedly not one that biblical scholars today emphasize.
The Economist reports on the a schism emerging in th Southern Baptist Convention.
Tradition dictated that one of Immanuel Kant’s responsibilities as professor of metaphysics at the University of Königsberg was to lead the faculty in a march to the college chapel before worship services and other religious functions. The figurative move from reason to revelation would be thereby embodied in a literal trek towards sacred space. But according to an old—perhaps apocryphal—legend, Kant would dutifully march to the church door in full academic regalia, stop just before entering, and quietly dismiss himself from the service, content to contemplate the moral law he had so forcefully argued lay within us all. We see this same attitude formalized philosophically in his little-read essay, “On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trails in Theodicy.”
What could Obama’s take on Iranian democracy, early-modern theodicy, and twentieth-century leftist thought have in common? Despite these wide variations in subject-matter, it seems to me that recent posts by Justin Reynolds, Alex Hernandez, and James Robertson nevertheless gesture towards a similar problematic. All three point to the profound tension which marks the relationship between human action in historical time, and the transcendent telos of the Christian salvation narrative. They point, in other words, to the thorny question of how much agency humans possess in the achievement of their own salvation.
“Theologians seldom write memoirs.” This, Stanley Hauerwas concedes in a follow up to his recent memoir: Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (2010). It is precisely this sentiment that makes the entire project intriguing. Stanley Hauerwas, named “America’s best theologian” by Time magazine shortly before the September 11 attacks in 2001, “has made himself a very fine career as an iconoclastic ethicist, condemning assimilationist Christianity, academic “respectability,” the military, ill treatment of the differently-abled, and any number of other contemporary issues where Christian mediocrity is laid bare.” With this description of the author taken to heart, Jack Downey, a doctoral candidate in Theology at Fordham University, reviews this memoir and looks to identify why and how he wrote it.
I begin this post by posing straightaway the questions that will guide my argument. In what way can atheism and antihumanism be posed and understood in intellectual history? In what sense do they constitute objects of study? How does one go about weaving and articulating for them an adequate intellectual-historical approach that may facilitate an understanding of texts, concepts, and systems of thought? I want to thank Martin Kavka, Sam Moyn, Judith Surkis, and Gil Anidjar for taking the time to read and address my book with the very encouraging care that each of them has taken. In what follows, I want to take into account a number of issues that they have raised, not so much to respond as to elaborate, in relation to their stances, some of the positions I have adopted in the book and in my introduction to this discussion. I thus frame this post as an attempt to tend first and foremost to methodological questions and critiques that have been raised directly or indirectly.
On July 13, 2010, Glenn Beck made liberation theology—and especially Black Theology—the subject of his televised program. The real subject of his complaint was twofold: liberation theology is “a perversion of God” that mistakes Marxism for the plain meaning of the Gospels, which, for Beck, are self-evidently about individual salvation, and liberation theology does away with the language of merit, convincing the down-and-out that they are victims deserving of a handout instead of hard work. The inconsistencies of this message, along with Beck’s misreading and simplification of the various complex traditions of Christian liberation theology have not gone unnoticed in rebuttals and reprisals.
In the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s new Religion and Ethics section, renowned American theologian Stanley Hauerwas asks, “Can greed be good?”—a question obviously prompted by the ongoing economic crisis. Hauerwas argues that greed is more than just an (individual) desire to be rich. Instead, it has to be understood in the context of wider economic relations. Greed can appear a virtue only in an economic system that is premised upon unlimited economic growth.
Two recent contributions from the United Kingdom shed some light on the elusive phenomenon knows as the “emerging church” or, alternatively, the “emergent church” movement.
Each contributor [to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age] delivers a reading of Taylor’s work, helping to evaluate its significance, critical flaws, and lingering questions. They are companion pieces, then, and work best with a knowledge of the book. Their strength as a whole lies in the seriousness with which they address Taylor’s grand narrative and the sprightliness with which they point puzzled readers to related topics and avenues. Does Taylor’s book deserve such scrupulous attention? I am inclined to weight this question from the opposite side. Some of the essays in Varieties are so thought-provoking that I feel grateful to Taylor for having occasioned them, even if his own book is rather more exasperating than, as some of his readers would have it, major or magisterial.
I wondered how long it would take DPDF participants to undo what I thought I had carefully assembled in my opening post on “Secularism, secularization, and why the difference matters.” Not very long at all, it seems. And so, I will try a response here to Justin Reynolds and Alex Hernandez, both of whom have questioned what I actually mean by saying that “secularization” is a conceptual improvement over “secularism.”
It’s hard to say how Hans Blumenberg would have responded to recent data troubling the secularization thesis other than to see in such revisionist accounts further confirmation of precisely this contingency in the future of the secular. Still, I can’t resist pointing out the irony implied by a confrontation between the Blumenbergian and the priests of secularization theory in light of our post-secular moment. For isn’t the problem of the classical secularization thesis—its failure to deliver, both empirically in frustrated sociological models, and ideologically in the killing fields of various nationalisms—that of an eschatology deferred?
In early June, the Claremont School of Theology announced that it would merge with its local Jewish and Muslim counterparts to form an inter-religious university this coming fall. Philip Clayton discusses the controversy this has aroused in conservative Christian communities.
Nathan Schneider profiles John Templeton and the Foundation he built, in The Nation.
In a 1956 text on ethics and literature, Emmanuel Levinas offered the following diagnosis of the philosophical trends of his time: “Contemporary thought holds the surprise for us of an atheism that is not humanist. The gods are dead or withdrawn from the world; concrete, even rational man does not contain the universe.” This atheism that is not humanist, the sense that certain strands of contemporary philosophy had abandoned secularism’s central ethical and political investment in humanism, poses the motivating question behind the book I am presenting for discussion here, An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. In twentieth-century French thought, particularly in the period from the end of World War I through the late 1950s, a new form of atheism, and with it, a new conception of man, emerged and crystallized. What historians and critics of French thought, literature, and intellectual culture have, since the 1960s, called “antihumanism,” I argue, can be best understood in terms of this development, which is at once theological, epistemological, and political.
The bulk of the debates on religion and science today focus on ethical issues regarding advances in medical science and technology, such as cloning and stem-cell research, while far less attention has been paid to the potentials of computing and artificial intelligence (though this very topic was the subject of early cyberneticist Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc.).
Oxford University Press, however, has just published Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality, by Robert Geraci, which attempts to articulate what the author calls a “cyber-theology.”
At Monthly Review Zine, Roland Boer asks “why Marxism and theology seem to be so close, why they argue so much, and what it means for both of them,” a set of questions he addresses in, not one, but four books (two of which are completed).
Mitchell Landsberg, of the Los Angeles Times, reports on a recent Claremont School of Theology conference about how new technologies will affect the future of religion.