The devil went down to Australia

Michael Pacher, "The Devil and St. Jerome"

A few months ago, I asked Facebook whether anyone wanted me to come talk about the devil and neoliberalism, and Monique Rooney responded that she would like to bring me to her institution — Australian National University. That visit is now evolving into the first stage in a full-blown Australian tour in late July and early August, and there are hints that a side trip to New Zealand may even be possible. I’m already very excited about the ANU visit in itself, though, because it will be my first opportunity to present the entire research project of The Prince of This World in a series of lectures and discussions at a single institution. I will share the dates closer to the time, but for now I’d like to share the overall format.

First, I will be giving a lecture for a more strictly academic audience entitled “The Devil and Neoliberalism.” This corresponds roughly to the second half of the book and the conclusion. Here is the abstract:

The devil is one of the most enduring Christian theological symbols, a figure that has taken on a life of its own in the culture of secular modernity. In this talk, Adam Kotsko traces the origin of the devil back to his theological roots in the problem of evil. One of the greatest challenges to traditional monotheism has always been the existence of suffering and injustice — if God is all-good and all-powerful, why does he allow it? The devil emerged as a convenient scapegoat, a fallen angel who was created good by God and yet freely chose to rebel. This placed the devil at the root of a theological system that used the idea of free will as a way of deflecting blame away from God and toward his wayward creatures. Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben, Wendy Brown, and David Harvey, among others, Kotsko will argue that the neoliberal order implies the same logic — deploying notions of free choice as a way of blaming individuals for systemic failures.

Second, I will be leading a discussion group over my Crisis and Critique article (PDF) as well as some portions of Agamben’s Kingdom and the Glory. This amounts to a discussion of my methodology and also provides an opportunity to talk about some themes I hope to develop in the follow-up project on the Trinity.

Finally, I will be giving a lecture for a broader public audience called “The Origin of the Devil,” which overlaps with the first half of the book. Abstract:

The devil is normally viewed as a theological or mythological symbol, but in this lecture, Adam Kotsko will argue that the devil is equally a political symbol. And this is because the God of the Hebrew Bible is not only an object of worship, but a ruler — of Israel first of all, but also of the entire world. His first major opponent is not a rival deity, but a rival king, namely the evil Pharoah who refuses to let God’s people go. From that point forward, God’s most potent rivals are the earthly rulers who challenge his reign, from the kings who lead Israel astray to the emperors who conquer the Chosen People. This rivalry reaches a fever pitch in apocalyptic thought, which elevates God’s earthly opponent into a cosmic adversary who is eventually identified as Satan or the devil. Christianity inherits this politically-charged devil from Jewish thought, and the early church almost immediately sets to work attempting to depoliticize it by associating the devil with religious rivals or bodily temptations rather than political oppressors. This lecture traces this complex history, which continues to have strange and unexpected effects in our contemporary world.

After a week in Canberra at ANU, I will be moving on to the University of New South Wales, where Julian Murphet has invited me to give the “Devil and Neoliberalism” talk. My subsequent trajectory has yet to be determined.

4 thoughts on “The devil went down to Australia

  1. What dates? If you’re coming to my institution in the 6 months I’m abroad for fieldwork (late March – early September) I’m going to be more than a little unimpressed.

  2. We can host you at canterbury university here in christchurch- and i can probably get you a gig at both victoria university in wellington and at auckland university too

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