Posts Tagged ‘theology’
On March 7-8, 2014, Harvard University will be hosting an international conference entitled “Theorizing Religion in Modern Europe.”
I have always been puzzled by the fact that Charles Taylor starts his book A Secular Age with a long quote from Bede Griffith in order to describe a religious type of experience. It is the description of a scene experienced by the author as a school-boy: trees are blossoming, birds are singing, the author has the sensation that angels are present and that God is looking down on him. My question is: Why this quote? Why choose an image and a language of sunset, trees and birds in order to describe something for which the different languages of theology have worked out precise and elaborate codifications? I understand, of course, that in the context of the introduction to A Secular Age, Taylor uses this quote in order to make a soft claim to the human openness to experiences of transcendental nature. He uses the rest of the eight-hundred pages of the book to explore why it has become increasingly rare and difficult in our secular age to live these kinds of experiences, let alone to look for them in the context of an organized religious tradition. Most of us, he says, live our lives in an “immanent frame” and religious belief “has become one option among many.”
On March 6-8, 2014, the University of Bern will host an international conference entitled “Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Reflections on Charles Taylor’s Conception of the Secular.”
Well-known ethicist and scholar Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago recently passed away on August 11, 2013.
The Varieties of Understanding project at Fordham University in New York is a three-year, $3.85 million initiative that aims to fund groundbreaking work in psychology, philosophy, theology, and religious studies.
This short piece attempts to come at the current debate on law and religious freedom from two unusual angles. I end by looking at the strange and revealing positioning of “religion or belief” in current legislation in England and Wales. And I begin by putting a different spin on religious freedom by exploring the terrifying freedom of the concepts of religion and belief. We have never needed the rise of Al Qaeda, so-called Islamicism or a hardline religious right to terrify us with a resurgent specter of specifically religious (as opposed to purely “political”) “terror.” Instead of bearing down on us like some old specter of the Turk or Moor at Europe’s gates, the terror of religion emerges—or insurges (if “insurge” can be made into a verb)—from within the normative conceptualizations of religion in the so-called modern West.
The Boston University School of Theology is seeking a Research Fellow in Congregational Studies for a three-year period, beginning June 1, 2012.
An influential thinker in the areas of Christology, eschatology, and the problem of evil, Hick will likely best be remembered for his “pluralistic hypothesis.”
Today begins a discussion series at the collaborative theology blog An und für sich on Daniel Barber’s recent book, On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity. Daniel Whisper from the University of Liverpool makes the start in the AUFS series.
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.
“I would go with Pierre Hadot and say that the love of wisdom is a way of life; that is to say, it’s a set of practices that have to do with mustering the courage to think critically about ourselves, society, and the world; mustering the courage to empathize; the courage, I would say, to love; the courage to have compassion with others, especially the widow and the orphan, the fatherless and the motherless, poor and working peoples, gays and lesbians, and so forth—and the courage to hope. So, it is a way of life, a set of practices, no doubt, but, at the same time, I call it a kind of focus on the funk.”
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.
As National Research Director for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Charles Villa-Vicencio was intimately involved in the historic process that followed the collapse of apartheid and paved the way for a new social order. As a theologian, prior to the commission, he had spoken out against the apartheid regime, writing and editing numerous books that helped lead South African Christians out of complacency about their government’s policies. After the commission concluded, he founded the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, in Cape Town, and now advises peacebuilding efforts around the world. His most recent book is Walk with Us and Listen: Political Reconciliation in Africa (Georgetown University Press, 2009). We spoke at the offices of Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program, where Villa-Vicencio serves as a visiting scholar.
The Economist reports on the a schism emerging in th Southern Baptist Convention.
“Strangely enough,” Foucault mused, “man—the study of whom is supposed by the naïve to be the oldest investigation since Socrates—is probably no more than a kind of rift in the order of things.” He is “only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge” who “will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.”
Foucault’s flippant requiem for “man” reflects a midcentury antihumanism in European thought, which, in the wake of two World Wars in the heart of Europe, had become suspicious of the “anthropotheism” of humanism wherein “Man” replaced the God who had died. And it is this story that is told so brilliantly by Stefanos Geroulanos in An Atheism That Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. For these antihumanists, humanistic atheism had never really gotten over its theological tendencies; so the result of the death of God was the divinization of Man.
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).
This past November, a new think tank called ResPublica was launched in London, in the opulent surrounds of the Royal Horseguards Hotel. It’s not every day that a think tank appears, of course, but even so this one attracted an unusual amount of attention. The meeting room in which the launch took place was overflowing. David Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader, modernizer, and hopeful Prime Minister, provided the opening remarks, and introduced its director, Phillip Blond. In the lead-up to the launch, Blond got prime coverage on television, in the broadsheets, and throughout the blogosphere, building on what had actually been almost a year’s worth of buzz over his rise to the top. ResPublica’s signature approach is what Blond calls “Red Toryism,” which he outlined in the February 2009 issue of Prospect as “the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism,” and about which we’ll soon hear more.
Milbank is an Anglican theologian whose ideas, distinguished by a profound skepticism of secular reason, have given shape to Radical Orthodox theology and provided the underpinnings of the Red Tory and Blue Labour movements in British politics. His most recent book, The Monstrosity of Christ, is a collaboration with the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, edited by Creston Davis and published in 2009 by MIT Press. He is also a contributor to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, a series of critical engagements with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, recently published by Harvard University Press.
JM: …If you are going to be an atheist and nihilist, then be one. Only second-raters repeat secular nostrums in a pious guise. Such theology can never possibly make any difference, by definition. It’s a kind of sad, grey, seasonal echo of last year’s genuine black. All real Christian theology, by contrast, emerges from the Church, which alone mediates the presence of the God-Man, who is the presupposition of all Christian thinking.
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.
At The Philosophers’ Magazine, Carl Packman gives an overview of Slavoj Žižek’s controversial “materialist theology.”