Reading the Qur’an: An update

This spring, I did a series of posts on my course “Reading the Qur’an,” in which we studied the full text of the Qur’an, roughly in chronological order of revelation, paired with biblical parallels, classical commentaries, and a contemporary feminist interpretation. (You can find those posts here.) As I was finishing my class, I was also completing work on an Arabic textbook oriented specifically toward reading knowledge of the Qu’ran (link) and shifting toward the study of the Qur’an in Arabic. This whole process was helped greatly by sitting in on my colleague Esra Tasdalen’s Intro to Arabic class last fall, where I learned the intricacies of the alphabet and pronunciation in a way I literally never could have achieved through self-directed study. I wish I would have been able to do more with the Arabic in my class, but I am only one man.

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Angels and Demons syllabus

Thanks to everyone who helped out with reading suggestions for this module. I’m currently somewhere between weeks 3 and 4 and so far it’s been really fun to teach. To recap, this course was designed as a medieval philosophy and theology module, in a department with a mixture of philosophy, theology and religious studies students. We didn’t have any existing modules that focused on the medieval period, so this is basically an attempt to cover some of the key bases of medieval philosophical theology but in a way that’s engaging for students who aren’t necessarily already invested in understanding what scholasticism is. I’ve tried to cover some of the key moments in medieval intellectual history: the arrival of Jewish and Islamic thought, the rise of scholasticism and then the emergence of nominalism and the beginnings of Enlightenment humanism and Renaissance science. I’m expecting to teach this course once every couple of years for the rest of my time at Winchester so it’s not too late to tell me about the brilliant book that I absolutely must read. Likewise, please feel free to borrow as much of this as you’d like, or drop me a line if you’d like to see any of my course materials.

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Fatherhood: or, being dead

One of the central functions of angels in films is to do the work of producing and reproducing the heteronormative family. I think this is to do with a mixture of the idea of the guardian angel and the increasing association of religion with the home, the private sphere, and social reproduction which follows on the emergence of capitalism and the seculaization of the west. Because angels work to make sure that people meet, fall in love, and have children, angel films often tell us a lot about contemporary anxieties around love, marriage, and the family. It’s also the case that a surprising number of angel films are remakes of earlier angel films; I’d guess partly because angel films are rarely pushing the boundaries of film, art, or culture. But that means we have a number of films where we can take a look at the way that the same story is told in two or even three different periods.

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How can you not hate the world? (even if it’s hard)–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

The thing I most feared during the process of completing this book was that no one would read it. That fear was followed closely by the worry that someone would read it. To have a group of people take the time (in a global pandemic no less) to engage, analyse and challenge my argument for an apocalyptic political theology has been incredibly thought provoking (at least for me!). There is something reassuring about readers both identifying what you are trying to do and pointing to the issues that haunted you as you submitted your manuscript. I am very grateful to everyone who has participated and to Anthony for organising the event.

There are a number of themes that run throughout the responses. First, there is the matter of defining the nature of political theology, its relation to philosophy and the question of secularism. Second, there is the challenge of thinking and living apocalyptically in an era where liberal political ideas remain dominant (even if that dominance is perhaps more visibly under threat than when I finished the book). Is it possible to disinvest from the world without lapsing into apathy on the one hand or a blanket endorsement of violence on the other? Finally, there is the question of whether or not it is actually possible to think apocalyptically. Can one avoid apathy without slipping back into liberalism (however bleak)? And is it possible to prevent apocalypticism from falling back into the comforts of messianism? Continue reading “How can you not hate the world? (even if it’s hard)–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

An Abolitionist Apocalypse–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.
bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

An abolition(ist) university would be kinda like an abolition(ist) prison or an abolitionist plantation
Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, ‘the university: last words’

We charge that the university-as-such is a criminal institution … We understand the university today as a key institution of an emerging form of global, racial capitalism, one that is a laboratory for new forms of oppression and exploitation, rather than an innocent institution for the common good.
undercommoning, Undercommoning Within, Against and Beyond the University-as-Such

There is a pleasure in hierarchy. We begin with an education in our hierarchies. We begin with childhood and childhood begins with education. To be exact, education begins our childhood. We are called by race, by gender, by class, and so on. Our education cultivates our desire in the direction of our hierarchies.

Education and freedom are the same call, the same calling. Education requires abolition. Abolition requires education. Freedom is the only education. One can only be called to freedom … Education is dangerous to slavery, to the system of white-over-black.
Anthony Farley, The Perfection of Slavery

Thomas Lynch’s book ends with a call for an immanent apocalypticism, a hope not in some positive future utopia but in the possibility of the end of the world: the end of nature, capital, gender and race. These death-dealing systems cannot be reformed, cannot be fixed by the demand that they be better versions of themselves; they can only be abolished.

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Learning to Live with Liberalism — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

This is a guest post from Ulrich Schmiedel, Lecturer in Theology, Politics, and Ethics, University of Edinburgh

Thomas Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology is an astute and acerbic critique of liberalism. No surprises here. Since Carl Schmitt combined the political with the theological, the Schmittian separation of political theology from liberalism (and liberalism from political theology) has determined much of the development of the field. ‘From Schmitt onwards’, Lynch points out, ‘political theology has accused the liberal narrative of denying the violence that marks’ it (11). Of course, this accusation is mutual – liberal theologians find political theologians violent and political theologians find liberal theologians violent – so there is lots of loathing to go around. What I find intriguing about Lynch’s political theology is that – if read, admittedly somewhat annoyingly, against the grain – Lynch both confirms and corrodes the Schmittian separation.

Lynch neither defines nor describes ‘liberalism’. Given that ‘liberalism’ is such a washed-out category by now, covering all sorts of lukewarm thinkers who appear to accommodate the status quo by opting for compromise over conflict, any attempt at defining and describing liberalism would be doomed from the get-go. The account of liberalism that runs through Lynch’s apocalyptic political theology shows that ‘liberalism’ is a label that is, somewhat strangely, slippery and sticky at the same time. (A bit like the unicorn poo my four-year old niece likes to play with.) For Lynch, both the defenders and the despisers of religion in politics can be liberals. He brings his ‘methodological political theology’ to bear on the worlds in which we live in order to show how these worlds manifest, manage or mask violence. Thus, Lynch’s methodological political theology tackles the ‘pervasive forms of injustice that persist in an era defined by at least nominal commitments to liberal ideas’ (13). Continue reading “Learning to Live with Liberalism — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

Toward a New Cosmological Fourfold and the Apocalyptic Grounding of Early Christian Theology–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

This is a guest post by Joel Kuhlin, doctoral student at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University.

The present response attempts to think with, rather than about, certain key-aspects of Thomas Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology, from the perspective of a philologist. From a philological appreciation of Apocalyptic Political Theology, instead of a purely philosophical one, I would like to argue that resources are found to renew historical investigations into the ways in which early Christianity formulates a political theology. Here, apocalypticism plays a main role. Ernst Käsemann, for instance, famously states that the “apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology” (The Beginnings of Christian Theology, 1962), effectively making a discussion on an early Christian theology on the political impossible without reference to apocalypticism. However, as we shall see, it remains to be demonstrated whether apocalyptic thought was able to maintain a centrality for the emerging religion, regardless of how important this concept is for the founding of the political theological discourses found in the New Testament archive. Lynch’s work highlights with clarity the ways in which a movement such as Christianity of late antiquity not only came to accept “the World” in its theology, but most importantly through the Holy Roman Empire defined itself in terms of actually defending the World.

Toward a New Concept of a Fourfold World

A primary resource the concept of apocalyptic political theology offers a historical study of early Christianity and New Testament archive is the cosmological fourfold. Lynch’s analysis of the insufficiency of Carl Schmitt’s view on the making of a “world” looks to antagonistic divisions of nature-capital-race-gender.  I would argue that Lynch’s introduction to this new theological “fourfold” cosmology ought to be considered an important supplement to Irenaeus of Lyon’s fourfold gospel. Continue reading “Toward a New Cosmological Fourfold and the Apocalyptic Grounding of Early Christian Theology–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

On Getting Up and Going to Work– Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

This is a guest post by Alana M. Vincent, Associate Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion, and Imagination, University of Chester.

On 18 June 2015, I woke up and went to work.

On 3 November 2016, I woke up and went to work.

On 28 October 2018, I woke up and went to work.

On 2 June 2020—the morning I started writing this, the morning after an American President of dubious legitimacy threatened to deploy the United States military against my family and friends—I woke up, and I went to work.

This isn’t complacency, exactly. I have spent the past four years struggling, with varying degrees of success, to cope with the fact that, while I’m waking up and going to work, the world is ending all around me. It’s not that I don’t see it happening. And it’s not one of those obnoxious neoliberal hero narratives where I think that waking up and going to work is the one thing that I can do to keep the world from ending because my work is that important. It’s really just that I don’t know what else to do. Continue reading “On Getting Up and Going to Work– Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

To Live “As Though… Not”: Taubes and Imagining Life in a Truly Apocalyptic Mode — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

This is a guest post by Ole Jakob Løland of the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo

Thomas Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology is an ambitious and admirable effort of thinking apocalyptically through three different philosophers in light of the existing contemporary world in which we find ourselves. It contains some really capturing, nearly poetic, passages that might give rise to new forms of theologies:

Plastic apocalypticism is not a discourse of articulated hopes, though. Rather, it is the hope in the possibility of being able to one day hope. It is the conviction that the end is enough to hope in without having to also articulate the beginning that will follow. (130)

In one sense the book can be thought of as an exegesis of Taubes’ exegesis of the ὡς μὴ passage of 1 Cor 7:29 as “nihilistic” (The Political Theology of Paul). This enigmatic and unheard-of labelling of the meaning of Paul’s admonition to the Christ-believing Corinthians to live “as though… not” can be said to be creatively elaborated by Lynch’s intriguing ways of imagining life in a truly apocalyptic mode. In a world that has entered the Anthropocene and where racism, gender oppression and capitalist exploitation prevail this author has in his own non-Pauline form rightly realized that “the appointed time has grown short“ or with Agamben is a time that has “contracted itself” (The Time That Remains). And he is recognizing that “the present form of this world is passing away” in a mode free of any cheap triumphalism. He is investing his intellectual energy in an “active pessimism” (4) in the name of the poor that refuse the triumphalist hopes of this world. Although constantly and explicitly dismissing the category of “transcendence”, the author seems to share what the liberation theologian Jon Sobrino has called “la esperanza transcendente de los pobres” (Liberación con Espíritu). He appears to subscribe to Taubes’ Schmittianism “from below” (86). Continue reading “To Live “As Though… Not”: Taubes and Imagining Life in a Truly Apocalyptic Mode — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

Apocalyptic Between Philosophy and Theology (With Bonus Agamben Content) — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

One of the things that most interests me about Tommy Lynch’s remarkable book is his unique approach to political theology. As I often complain, practitioners in this field seldom clearly define their methodology, such that “political theology” can be taken to embrace both politically-engaged theology and the often, but not exclusively, genealogical studies of the interface between political and theological concepts in a particular historical era or tradition. With all due respect to politically-engaged theology—or, as we might more efficiently call it, theology—I view the more genealogical version as normative for the discipline and believe it is confusing and counterproductive to lump such studies together with more confessional or constructive theological work that wears its political commitments on its sleeve. I was relieved to find that Lynch shares my more “narrow” vision of what political theology is, at one point defining the field as follows:

political theology is a methodology focused on the relationship between political and theological concepts. It seeks to understand the political history and significance of theological ideas, the theological history and significance of political ideas and to use theological ideas to explore the nature of the political. (7)

In my work, I narrow the definition even further to specify that the root of the relationship between theological and political categories is their shared confrontation with the problem of legitimacy, but Lynch’s definition here would include my understanding of what I am trying to do in my political-theological investigations.

More puzzling to me is a second definition of political theology, which appears to have more direct bearing on Lynch’s understanding of his own project here: “Political theology, in the narrow sense, is a method of philosophical thinking that uses theological concepts to critique the world” (35). We can say that this is a further specification of his initial, broad definition, akin to my more narrow focus on legitimacy. But it is a specification that raises any number of important questions. What is philosophy as opposed to theology? Why should philosophy need to draw on theological concepts to carry out its work of critique? And why should we view such philosophical usage of theological concepts as constituting its own distinct field of inquiry? I want to tease out some of Lynch’s implicit answers to these questions by putting his work into dialogue with the contemporary philosopher who has arguably spent the most time and effort using theological concepts to critique the world: Giorgio Agamben.

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