AUFS’s published critiques of Radical Orthodoxy: A beginner’s guide

It has come to my attention that we here at AUFS are famous as critics of Radical Orthodoxy, but at the same time, many people believe we have no substantive critique. It is true that many of our posts here are occasional and underdeveloped in nature (i.e., are blog posts), so that one might come away with the idea that we are solely occupied with scoring cheap points. Yet there is a whole world outside the blogosphere, where we have actually published various books and essays! It is in that extra-blogical world that one can find our substantive critiques of Radical Orthodoxy. In specific, here are a couple places one might look:

  • Anthony and Daniel Whistler’s editor’s introduction to After the Postsecular and the Postmodern includes several passages critical of Radical Orthodoxy
  • My essay (PDF link) “‘That They Might Have Ontology’: Radical Orthodoxy and the New Debate,” originally presented at a very well-attended AAR session and subsequently published in Political Theology, includes extensive critiques of the movement occasioned by the edited volume Theology and the Political

If the critiques found in these pieces seem to you to be inadequate and unconvincing, that’s fair enough — yet one must concede that they exist. If the volume of writing we’ve produced specifically on Radical Orthodoxy seems remarkably small, that might be because we don’t define our entire lives and academic careers in opposition to Radical Orthodoxy — we’ve considered the movement’s claims, found them to be wanting, and for the most part moved on. When a particular incident comes up that warrants some further discussion (normally a new blog post by Milbank), we might comment on it here in a style suitable for a blog, with our previous critiques always in the background.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I am 100% confident that from now on, no one will make broad generalizations about the cogency and validity of our critique of Radical Orthodoxy without doing us the basic courtesy of actually learning what our critique is.

(Or else this will have no effect whatsoever and people will continue to spew unfounded bullshit about us behind our backs on Facebook — whichever.)

18 thoughts on “AUFS’s published critiques of Radical Orthodoxy: A beginner’s guide

  1. I generalize that your arguments are beside the point because I have not read them! I will now gloat with the sublimity of superiority.

  2. One might also check out the footnotes to Politics of Redemption, which itself represents something of the positive equivalent to the critique from my article — i.e., I try to demonstrate that the alternative I’m gesturing toward in the article is substantive and convincing.

    (Anthony, I was trying not to overwhelm them with references — I know they’re all really, really busy and that’s probably the main reason they were generalizing based off of brief blog posts.)

  3. And in addition to my discussion (at parts of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2) in _On Diaspora_, I have an essay posing Spinozist / Deleuzian immanence against Analogy in the very same issue as Adam’s essay mentioned in the post.

  4. For us wider readers, what is this about? Was there a social media spat? And exactly what is it to critique radical orthodoxy and why would one? Or shall I be shoveled-off into a pdf?

  5. People have been repeatedly talking shit about us behind our backs.

    From Zizek and Theology:

    Among the very first theologians to respond to Žižek’s work were members of the Radical Orthodoxy movement. This school of theology originated in the United Kingdom and is named after the edited volume that first brought together many of its leading lights. The movement takes its primary impetus from the work of John Milbank, who combines a strong commitment to Augustine and Aquinas with a harsh criticism of modern and postmodern thought. As a result of the critical arm of their approach, Radical Orthodox theologians tend to be much more concerned to keep up with the latest developments in European philosophy and political thought than those in other theological movements. Thus Graham Ward, one of the founders of Radical Orthodoxy, produced the first extended theological discussion of Žižek’s work in his Cities of God, which is a theological response to the city and to broader questions of contemporary social structures. In this work, Žižek’s Plague of Fantasies serves as a counterpoint to Ward’s analysis of the intertwined issues of pornography and cyberspace.

    More than any specific problem, however, Radical Orthodoxy is concerned with the issue of ontology, the underlying metaphysical framework of reality. They argue that in the modern period, virtually all philosophers have embraced what they call the ‘univocity of being’, following on the medieval theologian Duns Scotus’s claim that the word ‘being’ means the same thing (is univocal) when referring to God and creation. For Milbank and others, the key example of the ‘univocity of being’ is the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, and so, in recent years, Radical Orthodox theologians have shown a deep interest in Alain Badiou, for whom Deleuze was a major influence. As an alternative to the modern ontology, which they regard as ‘nihilistic’, Radical Orthodoxy proposes a return to the analogia entis or ‘analogy of being’. In contrast to Karl Barth’s famous claim that the analogia entis is ‘the invention of the Antichrist’, Radical Orthodoxy’s contention is that only the synthesis of Neo-Platonism and Christianity achieved by Augustine and further developed by Aquinas can allow for a genuinely meaningful worldview, one in which God is the fullness of being and all created beings participate analogically in that fullness to the extent that they are able.

  6. (In addition to answering Jason’s question, that last comment demonstrated that I showed myself capable of understanding and communicating the main positions of Radical Orthodoxy in an even-handed manner in, once again, my published work! What wonders are being revealed here!)

  7. It’s almost like I’ve worked really hard and been remarkably productive academically and people should acknowledge that before shooting off their mouths and dismissing me!

  8. Adam,

    Thank you for delivering a steaming pile of pdf; I appreciate your shoveling. While I spread those words over my intellectual crop, I will make the educated guess that there’s a lot of academic posturing afoot. Enjoy.

    Mind-Farmer J

  9. In private emails the RO crowd is accusing me of being a bully. I’m not sure what the definition of bullying is since these same people ostracized me, told new staff and students to avoid me (which these new staff and students told me when they didn’t avoid me), and other assorted nefariousness business that will perhaps come out as a Kindle single someday. But I’m guessing that I’m not a bully, just standing up for myself. So, at least they’re just dismissing you. But, I think this is enough for now. I have a lot of work to do.

  10. I would note, as well, that my construction of aesthetic theology in The Characteristic Theology of Herman Melville is a response to Hans urs van Baltahasar. I mention RO (specifically Milbank & Hart), but find their influences more interesting than they. Additionally, I have pitched several times a number of post-doctoral research projects that would require a more sustained dealing with RO, but have at every turn been turned down. I’m not inclined to do them for free.

  11. But, as TLP pointed out, you are the framers of the debate! Clearly, in the interests of objectivity, the quoted passaged from Zizek and Theology should be your last word on the subject.

  12. Thanks for putting these here for easy access. Interested in the ‘nihilism’ move. Have heard it bandied about (and played like a trump card) and then there is your mention of it in the two paragraph excerpt in the comments. I’m following your pointer to Creston Davis and Patrick Aaron Riches chapter for a look at a representative treatment of this move from RO. Meanwhile, Myles had posted “over there” an observation/question about unqualified use of “nihilism” in debates – again, overuse in a kind of trump card way. Another recommendation came to me then – of Conor Cunningham’s Geneology of Nihilism for capturing their accounting for this move. Was wondering if you would be willing to point me to something you have written or something you know about (response?) that would be useful to read alongside these RO accounts? P.S. My dabbling in Barth back in seminary days left me gravely suspiscious of the anologia entis; what I’m hoping to do is tool up on this and put some more substance to my reservations.

  13. To me, the use of “nihilism” seems almost tautological — as though anything outside a Neoplatonic ontology of analogical participation is by definition nihilistic.

    I don’t really have a direct answer to your questions, but one thing I’ve been meaning to look at is the volume of responses to RO edited by Ruether. I notice a resounding silence in response to it from the RO crowd and hangers-on, almost as though they prefer picking on a couple guys with a blog.

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