Carl Schmitt, Erik Peterson, Jacob Taubes, political theology

Donald Trump and the Beginnings for a Theological Response

Donald Trump’s vision for America is apparently a great future that demands the utmost loyalty. But do not worry, he says in his inaugural address; his singular vision of that future is assured. The sanctified union of the US––God’s people, Trump implies––is protected by the might of the US military and God. Now US Presidents have long conflated a vague, singular deity with the US. But as usual, Trump seems to have outdone his predecessors. The conflation of God with the US is a common deferral. It indirectly justifies those in power; they must look humble instead of arrogant. However, Trump is not worried about hubris; he embraces it rhetorically and ideologically. (1) His vision of utmost loyalty, sanctified unity, and ‘America first’ (2) protected, he emphasizes, by a military he commands and by God conflates a singular human figure and his authority with divinity and its power.

Clearly political theologians are in for a rough four years, not to mention the damage that such rhetoric will do in forming another generation with the lie of manifest destiny. What resources do we have to respond to this Trump’s conflation? I cannot recommend strongly enough Erik Peterson’s chapter “Monotheism as a Political Problem: A Contribution to the History of Political Theology in the Roman Empire” in his Theological Tractates.1 The chapter, from 1935, indirectly opposes Carl Schmitt, the Nazi jurist whose juridical work and political theology made way for Adolf Hitler’s authoritarian rise. The comparison I assume here is not Trump to Hitler, but Trump to Schmitt.2 And I believe that Peterson’s work will be essential to resisting the impulses of Schmitt in Trump. Since Peterson’s chapter is, well, a slog––a rewarding slog, but still a slog––here are relevant thematic points of the chapter.

Peterson argued that monotheism in general and Christian monotheism in particular were eventually made to directly justify the Roman emperor’s homogenizing hegemony, as typified in Constantine I’s claim and Eusebius’s support of it: “To the one king on earth corresponds the one God, the one King in Heaven and the one royal Nomos and Logos.”3 However, Peterson contended that there could be no correspondence between a Trinitarian theology and human monarchy, and so Peterson aimed to maintain the revolutionary character of Christianity that the empire had to subdue.4 Further against the correspondence, he added in all but name an eschatological reserve. That is, the eschatological unity and peace of Jesus relativizes any state’s claim to (over-)realize that eschatology.5

Peterson’s contention has been misread as a rejection of any political theology, as Schmitt did in his belated 1970 response, Political Theology II.6 But in point of fact, Peterson’s critical “arrow” rejects the Caesarian-Eusebian move in Schmitt’s Hobbesian-Nazi political theology.7 For Peterson’s development of his own political theology, one must look to his analytical work in 1932 and more constructive work from 1935-1937.

The two paragraphs above are taken from my essay on defining political theology. But since I have yet to submit the essay to a journal, I will leave much more for the (eventual) published version, like problems in Peterson’s work, the framework of his political theology, and how these issues are played out in later generations. I’ll also forgo delineating my constructive trinitarian account that goes against Schmitt and breaks from Peterson’s limits. For now, I simply want to call attention to an important resource for resisting some truly scary self-justifications of US empire and, quite possibly, authoritarianism.

  1. Erik Peterson, Theological Tractates, trans. Michael J. Hollerich (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), chp. 4.
  2. I doubt that Trump is aware of Schmitt, but the similarities can be striking. Also, some of the Trump’s white nationalist supporters straight up cite Schmitt. See Richard B. Spencer, “Political Theology.”
  3. Peterson, 94. Emphasis Peterson’s. See also ibid., 69, 88-92, 95-97, 102.
  4. Ibid., 86, 88, 102-105.
  5. Ibid., 89, 103-104.
  6. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of Any Political Theology, trans. Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Cambridge: Polity, 2011). See also not only Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, “Political Theology as Foundational Theology,” CTSA Proceedings 32 (1977): 166 and Jürgen Moltmann, “Political Theology,” Theology Today 28, no. 1 (1971): 13, but also Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward, introduction to Schmitt, Political Theology II, 9: “Peterson, political theology is theologically impossible for Christians” (emphasis theirs). While that quote may summarize Peterson’s single instance in “Monotheism as a Political Problem” where he explicitly engages Schmitt (Theological Tractates, 233-234 n. 168), Peterson is more careful in the body of the text (104-105).
  7. Jacob Taubes, To Carl Schmitt: Letters and Reflections, trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 28. See also ibid., 27-31; Peterson, 104-105, 179. For others who think that Schmitt misread Peterson, see Gyögry Geréby, “Political Theology versus Theological Politics: Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt,” New German Critique 35, no. 3 (2008): 26; Michael J. Hollerich, introduction to Peterson, Theological Tractates, xxv-xxvi.
death, funeral, grace, love, mutual recognition, september 11, war on terror

The Attack on September 11 and the Funeral of My Grandmother on September 11: Two Very Different Visions

Today is September 11. As usual, this date is the occasion for a lot of talk about the ‘terror attacks’ and the unending ‘war on terror.’ For many the frustration has mounted. ISIS has arisen as a threat to Iraq, but didn’t we just get out there? I’m not sure the tail is wagging the dog, but rather, we and the Iraqis are reaping what the US participated in sowing. Historically we are not so innocent. Saddam Hussein did indeed use mustard gas and nerve agents on the Kurds, slaughtering thousands and thousands, and horribly affecting many thousands more. However, that was in the 1980s when the US still supported Iraq as a barrier against Iran. Now we are stuck with a mess, at least partially of our own creation. We went into Iraq under pseudo-humanitarian, but largely fearful pretenses given by our leaders who knew quite well that they were lying, and would profit immensely from it. To make matters worse, much of the 31-44 longitude region above the equator is characterized by bloody, political conflict: Israelis-Palestinians; Syria’s civil war; Iraq’s…whatever it is (dissolving? conflict is too tame); Iraq-Turkey boundary dispute with the Kurds in-between; Afghanistan; and Ukraine-Crimea-Russia. So, apparently, now we are compelled to stay in Iraq, if just to clean up our mess so the justifications go. We have a problem. Now those justifying the ‘war on terror’ are comparing it to the length of the cold war. We are in trouble.

What answer do we have? My family and I buried my grandmother a year ago, to the day. Generally one might chalk up the date to a coincidence since she had died a few days before, but in point of fact, she was a person of excellent timing. She had her major stroke the Easter before. Well, actually, it was on the morning of Good Friday in her church’s sanctuary during a small service. While on my long drive down that same day, I worked out a theology of timing as beautiful (fitting-ness), good, and true. It was fitting and good––in a sort of iconographic imitatio way––to have a massively debilitating stroke not simply during a church service, but also just after lighting one of the candles as part of a Methodist take on the ancient tenebrae liturgy. I had something for truth; however, I forget what it was. It was probably something like a witness to the truth, but whatever I had for truth was eclipsed by the timing of her funeral. I do not know how else it would be possible to get so many people into church on an anniversary of September 11, much less not hear a word about it. For at least a few hours there was only grief; there was no sense of retribution that drove our national response to September 11. There was also a deep sense of remembering truth, both of who she was and Christianity’s hope for the resurrection of the dead because Jesus overcame the void. Funny how all of that is diametrically opposed to the ‘war on terror’: remembrance of US action before September 11 did not exist during our response; truth was sacrificed; and no one is even contemplating the hope of resurrection for all the dead, much less reconciliation. My grandmother’s funeral was an occasion of imagination and re-orientation.

But what good is imagination since it is so often negatively equated with ineffectual dreams? I did not mention my theology of timing to anyone, not from the pulpit or privately, for two reasons. First, it could appear as, although it would not have been, a politicizing of my grandmother’s death. I’m an ‘intellectual outsider’ to that small-town agricultural society; they have plenty of smart people but also suspicion. And who says I would be understandable? Never mind, that I’m not a Methodist or part of the church there, and I was leaving in a few days. One does not cause a potential stir like that without being part of the community. In truth, that may actually have made ineffectual my ‘imaginative work’ and the imaginative re-orientation of my grandmother’s funeral. Yet, there was something else that was practical and effective.

Second, I suggested a certain someone else should speak instead of me anyways. They had become part of the family, and because, in my own take on Scripture, there should be no separation between black and white in the church, particularly south of the Mason-Dixon line in what was historically a slave state. There was far more racial diversity at the burial than in the church, presumably affirming the very real persistent legacy of slavery, segregation, and the Klan; indeed, the Missouri town is still rather strictly divided, geographically along racial/socio-economic lines. Nevertheless, a black woman willingly, truthfully, front and center from the pulpit, and side-by-side with one of my cousins eulogized her once employer turned friend-family. My grandmother’s funeral not only paused the political narrative of the status quo, but also, in so doing, was a very real site for the proleptic, albeit partial, realization of the eschatological vision.

All this tells me two things. First, like Stanley Hauerwas notes, timing requires time, and sometimes lots of it. Conflict resolution is not quick, in part, because healing human inflicted wounds takes time. However, how does this address the fact that innocents are still bombed right now or unarmed black men shot by police? Second, like Gary Dorrien understands, there are instances of break-through when all lights are green, a kairotic moment. Yet, historically this has been the justification for seizing or colluding with coercive power. So how does one reconcile the two types of time? Both points about time I attribute to God receiving and responding to human development qua receptivity. The Spirit works unevenly––sometimes in what seems like long stretches of silence and at other times in rapid succession––because the Spirit works in-between what human stubbornness will allow at the time, the possibility of human transformation, and the fullness of transfiguring humanity for theosis.

So how does this apply today? The issue is stubbornness: the refusal to love qua openness towards the other, ekstasis, and mutual indwelling with the other; the refusal to recognize the other as giving themselves that calls for one to reciprocate with self-gift. The answer, I believe, is in Rowan Williams’s work. We have to get to a place of dialogue to mutually develop. Dialogue is built on mutual recognition, rather than some sort of ‘pure’ rationalism; and mutual recognition is predicated on the love’s openness and grace’s receptivity. So the question, upon which lies the balance of many human lives and the environment, is: how do we get to the corporate realization that we mutually constitute each other?

Funerals need to be more like my grandmother’s. I do not ascribe to the sovereignty of the void, as if it ultimately determines meaning; but we need to learn how to deal with loss in a way that stresses our mutual interrelatedness. The death of a person should recall the full history of the community, as well as be a site for steps towards dealing with the loss of them in relation to the life of the community. Unfortunately, funerals now are little more than sentimental, ineffectual bandaids. This is ridiculous. First, the truth is a pre-requisite to properly mourn someone and heal. Second, funerals are the most important, public place for how those most affected can deal with violence. Funerals need to be deeply sensitive while having a kind of public social inquest as a strong element, and ‘both sides’ (if there are ‘two’ sides) present in some manner and under a banner like the medieval “truce of God.” These wars will not end if we grieve separately. Gee, doesn’t that sound kind of similar to the “Truth and Reconciliation” vision?


The Future of Liberation Theology Conference

I am still unsure how to talk about my dissertation and work for publication on this blog, hence the continued silence. In more simple terms: I’m working, but not sure how to talk about it without shooting myself in the foot.

And speaking of work…

At Union, the USQR (the Union Seminary Quarterly Review) is holding a conference on February 24th, titled “The Future of Liberation Theology.” For their description, see below.

I’ll be presenting a paper there, titled “Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Establishing the Ground for Idolatry Critique in the Triune Gift Economy.”

If you’re in or around NYC, I’m sure they would like people to come. If not, the presentations––assuming they are up to par, of course––will be published in the USQR.

“The Future of Liberation Theology” Conference Details:
Goal of Conference:
The aim of this interdisciplinary graduate student conference is to imagine and explore the future of liberation theology and related liberationist discourses over the course of a one-day graduate conference at Union Theological Seminary, which has served as a location from which many liberationist projects have emerged over the past 40 years. This conference seeks to combine the voices of graduate students working in theology, ethics, scripture, philosophy, religious studies, homiletics as well as other disciplines with the voices of professional academics of multiple generations who contribute to liberationist discourses. In an effort to document this collaborative discussion, the Union Seminary Quarterly Review will publish student and professor presentations, as well as other documents from the conference.

Summary of Problematic:
Liberation theology and related discourses are frequently spoken of in the past tense. This is apparent despite the ongoing proliferation of liberationist projects within and outside the religious academy, and also the continued existence of the impetus for past liberation theologies—the material suffering of persons and nature under human social systems. How might the varied liberationist projects of the past inform contemporary efforts within and outside the academy to confront the various crises humans face today? How, if at all, has the context for engaging such crises changed since the advent of liberation theology? What is at the root of the shift away from liberation theology in the religious academy? In what ways might contemporary discourses on culture, society and the psyche inform contemporary liberationist projects? How do liberation theologies of the past and present inform religious scholarship as a whole? What is the future of liberation theology?

Evening Plenary Panel:
Professors Andrea Smith, Eboni Marshall, Ivan Petrella, Patrick Cheng, and more respond to and engage student presentations and community conversations of the day.

feminism, race

Dark Girls and Miss Representation

Dark Girls. I found out about this documentary right after we covered Traci West’s “Policy: The Bible and Public Reform” on Mary, the magnificat, and poor, single black mothers. I wish I had known about it before. It is on my list for videos next semester. You should really check it out:

Miss Representation. Another documentary, on women again, but more about image and marketing in general — although in my book, a bit less compelling than Dark Girls, but still, what Miss Representation covers is very important. Check it out:

political theology

Political Theologies Seminar

I’ve been rather silent here because I’ve been quite busy. This is partly because I don’t yet know how to talk about my dissertation publicly online — I’ve heard far too many horror stories about people getting ripped off; partly because I’ve been prepping for the class I’m teaching this fall; and partly because of a new project launching at Marquette:

We’ve got a Political Theologies Seminar that we’re starting up. Part of the seminar is to put up a helpful website with announcements on work we’ll be doing, bibliographies, etc. It is still a work in progress — some bibliographies are nearly nonexistent, but others are beginning to fill out — nevertheless, go check it out here:

pedagogy, vampires, zombies

Sub question…

A sub question of sorts to the previous post Vampires and Cracked:

To open my class this fall, I’m taken with the idea of shamelessly ripping off a page from Graham Ward, who apparently held a discussion in class about which is more theologically significant: vampires or zombies? I find this an enlightening question on many levels, have raised something like it myself in the past, and one that I think the undergrads my find accessible and interesting, or at least quirky rather than boring.

Of course this is an exercise in theopolitical imagination, which is the point. I can’t think of a grand question to begin on the first day and carry through the entire semester, so I have a main thesis that each discussion section interacts with, and the vampires vs. zombies discussion is no exception: Revelation is an important doctrine for religious belief, particularly for Christian faith, and the implications of revelation are important and far-reaching for Christian life today.

So if I’m going to ask about vampires, does this mean I need to watch the gawd awful Twilight series?

humor, vampires

Vampires and Cracked

For a rather long time I’ve found vampires and zombies to be quite interesting for theology: zombies are of course mindless hordes consuming life around them, and often set in shopping malls so as to expose capitalism’s logic; while vampires exude a combination of consumption and eroticism. Oddly, however, while zombies are still evil, brain-eating fiends, vampires are no longer the incarnation of evil lust but just sensuality.

There is already a book on this, The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero by Susannah Clements. But equally interesting, and more entertaining, the awesome “After Hours” series by took up the discussion back in May:

capitalism, method, value

A Thought on Importance, Nexus, and Political Theology

The idea of how we determine importance is a curious question. In a world where importance is determined by value/worth under the capitalist paradigm of de-valuing and re-valuing unrelated to the thing itself, the question of what is an important topic or question is a tricky endeavor, if not problematic. Indeed one should be wary of letting the capitalist logic over determines theological exploration — an idolatrous move in point of fact, partly because it rejects the worth of a thing so the human may play divinity and partly because worth is tied up with truth. Often this capitalist logic parades as the test of relevance. If something is not made obviously relevant under the status quo’s paradigm, it is not worth pursuing or maintaining: “Is this relevant?” is more or less shorthand for “This position of yours does not meet ‘my’ criteria of relevance that determines the importance of this position of yours, so why would you even consider this position?”

Now, this does not mean that relevance is to be simply dismissed if it is a notion concerned with how a theological position interacts with other positions. Interaction is of course important, but at this point the word that describes the issue better is “fittingness” and that places us in the realm of aesthetics rather than a narrow, mechanistic understanding of truth.

The difficulty for myself is that political theology seems to be the quest for relevance, much like social ethics has often been even at its best. But I argue that political theology is not. Political theology at its best, as I understand it, is about chasing the political import of the deep Christian beliefs (political here is more in the sense of polis, as opposed to political in the conventional sense). This is different than relevance in my understanding because the Christian belief and life is not reduced to the question “What is our politics?” as if ethics is the thick part of Christian life. Instead the question is: “Christian belief and life does what? And it engages other communities how?” For those worried, as an interesting test case, I believe this would allow orthopraxy in the way Gutiérrez has put it, rather than reject orthopraxy. Although I’m not sure it would reject orthodoxy in lieu of orthopraxy as some liberation theologians have. The point is here that the description of political theology is about belief, community, and action in such a way that does not instrumentalize belief or community for action in conventionally political stripe, while at the same time recognizing that there is a politics because the Christian life is a thick life grounded in belief, community, and action that interacts with other communities.

This then is a theology (and perhaps a method of sorts) obsessed with nexuses. ‘Nexus’ here is used rather plainly: the nexus is a confluence — like a major intersection of multiple streets or where multiple theological circles on a ven diagram overlap. I see the description of nexus thus: a more interesting and helpful theologian sits in a place where much — place and time, who they interact with, what discussions they’re engaged with, traditions they draw from, etc. — runs through him or her like streets or an intersection. In other words, they’re positioned well, and often this is outside of their control. While a ven diagram perhaps shows better how layering of topics that color and push each other when they’re seen together, like how creation, incarnation, the body of Christ, eschatology, and revelation are major themes for the resurgence in apocalyptic as a category in the last century. But the point here is the interplay at of multiple thoughts, topics, definitions, theologians, etc. at a particular spot in context, which of course often includes connections to other nexuses.

The place of nexus is admittedly privileged — it is the place where multiple layers come into contact and show how they work together, resonate with each other, maintain each other in tension, or fall apart from conflict. I do think this is an interestingly fruitful way of going about studying dynamics and positions. One could say that this is more or less descriptive, and that there isn’t much new to it. In one way this would be correct. After all, we come back to the same topics and questions over and over again — some we cannot get away from not matter how hard we try — and thereby see them as important. Nature and grace anyone? But these perennial questions are important not simply because they’re often dividing lines, but also because they’re nexuses — they’re points where much comes together. The same goes for complex space where things like a community’s constitution/identity/formative memories, boundaries set by communities, how communities interact, etc. where community identities live in conflict, tension, or harmony. There is a reason why religion and public schools is such an important discussion for political science in the US (freedom of religion; no governmental establishment of a church; the delicate, unformed nature of a child; etc. all intersect in the question of how to do public education).

In this focus on nexus, the point is that the truth is recognized and wrestled with not because we determined it so, but because if we take the Christian life to be true — particularly in the nexuses where God and humanity touch — then nexuses are instances of Christians pursuing faithful living.



Which Clash? What Civilizations? By Khaled Abou El Fadl at ABC

Philosophical Improvisations: A Conversation on Method” — an interview with Cynthia R. Nielsen of Per Caritatem

Michael Gibson just started up a blog: Over the Transom

The Freedom of a Christian” by Marilynne Robinson, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

The Christian Identity of Europe” by Louis Dupré, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

The Authority of Law in Recent Catholic Political Philosophy” by Mark C. Murphy, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

Report spreads blame for Catholic sex abuse” by David Gibson at the Religion News Service

And lastly about my home state, “The Silence: In the Remote Native Villages of Alaska, FRONTLINE examines a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story” by PBS

eschatology, Fun/Humor

Thank God Its Doomsday

In case you’re some how oblivious, too many people have gotten too much time in the media by proclaiming the rapture comes May 21… which is today. Ah, premil, pretrib dispensationalist theology, how I have not missed thee.

Anyways, you may also be unaware that the Simpsons did an episode where only Homer is raptured — season 16, episode 19 called “Thank God Its Doomsday.” I once did an eschatology paper on it back in undergrad. Fun times. Anyways, you should see it — it is so good on so many levels. Right now you can watch the whole episode here.

Here is a clip from the episode if you’re curious:

books, political theology

A Not-So-Theological Book List for Political Theology

Daniel asked about a book list of ethics and politics works of the not-so-theological variety for those in political theology. I take this to be a book list both about people who at least are not theologians and/or works that may not even consider the place of theology. It covers political theory, continental philosophy, and a few other subjects, but it certainly is not exhaustive — in fact it may really be a poor introduction to people and writings I think are important to know and work with or against. If you’ve got any books to add, please do.

Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince

Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan: With Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, and Man and Citizen: De Homine and De Cive

GWF Hegel (specifically these editions): Phenomenology of Spirit, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion One-Volume Edition, The Lectures of 1827, and Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government and Political Essays

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘The Social Contract’ and Other Later Political Writings

Karl Marx: just start with The Marx-Engels Reader (Second Edition) — it has Marx’s important essays on Hegel and Feuerbach, among other writings. Of course there is Capital starting with Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics)

Friedrich Nietzsche: Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Will to Power (Volumes I and II), and Beyond Good and Evil

John Rawls: A Theory of Justice: Original Edition, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: With “On My Religion”

Carl Schmitt: The Concept of the Political, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, Legality and Legitimacy, and of course Constitutional Theory

An edited volume by Chantal Mouffe on Carl Schmitt: The Challenge of Carl Schmitt

Walter Benjamin, aka anti-Schmitt: Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, an excellent commentary by Michael Löwy Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”, and of course, if you have the time and the interest, The Arcades Project

Michel Foucault: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, and The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language are all well known, and certainly worth reading, but I find more interesting and helpful his lectures at the College de France: Security, Territory, Population, The Birth of Biopolitics, The Government of Self and Others

Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, On Revolution, The Human Condition (2nd Edition), On Violence, and The Origins of Totalitarianism

Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, State of Exception, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, and his commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains

Alain Badiou: Being and Event, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, and Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

Slavoj Žižek: The Parallax View, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? with Milbank and Davis, and The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity

The publication of Harink’s Paul and Philosophers conference that I was at some years back: Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision: Critical Engagements with Agamben, Badiou, Zizek and Others

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and Simulation

Jacob Taubes: From Cult to Culture: Fragments Toward a Critique of Historical Reason, The Political Theology of Paul, and Occidental Eschatology

Sheldon Wolin: Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought

Gillian Rose: The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society and Hegel Contra Sociology

Chantal Mouffe: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics with Ernesto Laclau, The Democratic Paradox, On the Political, and The Return of the Political

David Harvey: A Brief History of Neoliberalism, The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism, and A Companion to Marx’s Capital

Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri:

books, political theology

A Short Book List on Political Theology

I just gave a paper at Calvin’s Religion and Politics Symposium. There I was asked about books on political theology by a political science phd student. I thought this list might do well on the internet too, so here is a short list that I believe would introduce well, but certainly not exhaust, political theology for someone in political science.

Important Introductions:
Editors William Cavanaugh and Peter Scott’s The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology

Michael Kirwan’s Political Theology: An Introduction

Gary Dorrien’s Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition and Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice

And here are more books for further reading if you’re interested:

Systematicians, Ethicists, and Political Theologians:
John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus

Stanley Hauerwas and Rom Cole’s Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations between a Radical Democrat and a Christian and Stanley Hauerwas’s Naming the Silences

William Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Delores S. Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness

Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology

Traci C. West’s Disruptive Christian Ethics

Jon Sobrino’s No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays

Graham Ward’s The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens and Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice

James Cone’s God of the Oppressed

Lee Griffith’s The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God

Editors Creston Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj Zizek’s Theology and the Political: The New Debate

Oscar Romero’s Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements

Joerg Rieger, Jun Mo Sung, and Nestor Miguez’s Beyond the Spirit of Empire

Charles Curran’s Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis

Biblical Studies:
Richard Bauckham’s The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically

J. G. McConville’s God and Earthly Power: An Old Testament Political Theology

Walter Brueggemann’s Journey to the Common Good

Theology, Philosophy, and the History of Thought:
Editors Cole and Smith’s The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory

Louis Dupré’s Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture

Michael Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity


A Short Book List on Theology and Economics

I’ve gotten into quite a few discussions in recent months on the economy. All too often I’m responding — or reacting — to some rather disparaging and/or uninformed dismissals of a robust theological economics. I’m sure some others here have as well. I find the tone quickly changes when I start dropping book names and interpretations. People get a bit less “I can spout whatever I want as if I’m a self-proclaimed authority.” After the attitude changes, the conversation generally takes a positive turn. Or it dies — but I can live with that. I’m not sure it would’ve been an interesting or helpful one anyways.

Here is a list of some of the books that have had a special place on my bookshelves for sometime now and I find myself returning to in the discussions:

1. A number of the short essays in Herbert McCabe’s God, Christ and Us.

2. Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money.

3. Steve Long’s Divine Economy: Theology and the Market.

4. Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace.

5. Rebecca Todd Peters’s In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization.

6. Douglas Meeks’s God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy.

7. Douglas Knight’s The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God.

You got any you love and often find helpful?

class, pedagogy, revelation

Book Decisions

Next Fall I’m teaching “Quests for God, Paths of Revelation” at Marquette.

This is the course description: The quest for God in human and specifically religious experiences with a focus on Christian belief in God. It is concerned with and will cover: grounds for belief; revelation; the nature of God’s relationship to the world including issues relevant to modern culture and science; the historical precedents and context for these issues; the dialogue with other religious and atheistic conceptions of ultimate reality; and implications of a community’s understanding of God for its way of life. This class deals with questions like: What is revelation? Who or what is revealed? What does Christian revelation mean? What are the implications of Christian revelation? Who accepts revelation and why? Who rejects revelation and why? What are differing revelations and how do they interact?

Major themes I will be covering:
1. From Above, From Within: The Discussion of Theories of Revelation. What is revelation? What does this say of reality?
2. Christian Aesthetics/Revelation: Divinity, Creation, and the Incarnation. Who or what is revealed? Who is on the receiving end of revelation? What does this mean?
3. Implications of Christian Belief: Political Theology. What are the implications of Christian revelation?
4. Ways of knowing: Science and Religion, Reason and Faith. What is science? What is reason? What is religion? What is faith? What is knowledge? Does science and religion have knowledge conflicts or located in different spheres?
5. Interacting Revelations: Interfaith Discussion with focus on Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (the Abrahamic faiths). What does each revelation say? How do the revelation and its believers interact? What of violence and terrorism?
6. To Be or Not to Be: Christianity and Atheism. Who accepts revelation and why? Who rejects it and why? What is Atheism saying/doing?

Now the question is, what books to use? The biggest hurdle is keeping the book list small and manageable for undergrads. I’m thinking of using Gunton’s A Brief Theology of Revelation and Dotolo’s The Christian Revelation: Word, Event, and Mystery for half of the course. And then there is the other half of the course — as indicated in the themes above — the politics of Christian revelation. I’m thinking Johnson’s Quests for the Living God here, along with a discussion of the recent condemnation of the book by the Bishops. So I think I’ve got my book list sorted out, and of course it will be supplemented with a few articles here and there, but I’m curious if anyone has a book that would work well and you absolutely love.

George Carlin

Our Motto Should Be: You Give Us a Color, We’ll Wipe It Out

I’m finally making my way through all of George Carlin’s standups. If you haven’t done so, you should. I’ve been aware of and admired his work for years, but with Netflix instant, I have finally sat down to go through much, if not all of his standup specials. I highly recommend doing so, although some will mind the language.

One reason I’m doing this with Carlin is because, between him and Richard Pryor, there is a wealth of genius. Another reason is because standup is specifically built on the pithy statement. Combine the two and you can get people to stop dead in their tracks and think. Of course citing a well-known comedian is always helpful.

I’m specifically working through Carlin for his insights on American culture and the State, with specific attention to homogenizing identity and complex social space (which are important topics in my dissertation). Here, unlike Carlin’s sometimes statements on religion, he rarely over states his case. In fact, I may even quote him for papers I’m presenting this spring, particularly this little genealogy from his What Am I Doing in New Jersey: