Materialist enchantments

I was recently asked to respond to Paul Cloke, Christopher Baker, Callum Sutherland and Andrew Williams’ really interesting new book, Geographies of Postsecularity: Re-Envisaging Politics, Subjectivity and Ethics as part of the launch event for the book. Here is the text of my response, which explores narratives of (dis-)enchantment and questions about social reproduction in relation to Christianity and political activism.

I wanted to pick up on theme of enchantment in the book because it’s where the authors engage my work, partly because I’m not sure that we’re actually talking about the same thing, and partly because I’ve been developing my thinking on what we’re actually talking about when we talk about disenchantment in ways that might be productive for ongoing conversations about the books’ arguments.

The idea of disenchantment emerges as a narrative which suggests that some sense of the world as spiritual is lost with the advent of modernity, that our connection to one another is damaged and that what we need, then, is a restoration of that sense of magic and wonder. The book advocates re-enchantment as one of the characteristics of the ethics of postsecularity that the authors want to advocate for, and suggest that religion can help us restore ‘a sense of mystery and wonder … a greater acknowledgement of the possibility of the sacred, and a dissatisfaction with neoliberalised secularity’.

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Syllabi by Marika Rose

I’ve been putting the syllabi I’ve created up on the blog for a while now but wanted to have a single place I could point people to: here, then, is that post, with links to all the different syllabi I’ve uploaded. If you’re interested in syllabi by the AUFS authors more broadly, you can check our posts tagged syllabi; if you’re interested in our more general reflections on teaching, you can take a look at our posts tagged teaching.

First year undergraduate syllabus (on Augustine, suffering and study skills): Great Christian Thinkers: Joining the Conversation
First year undergraduate syllabus: Introduction to Political Philosophy
First year undergraduate syllabus (on Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, John Calvin, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Gustavo Gutiérrez): Great Christian Thinkers 2 
Second year undergraduate syllabus: The Making of Modern Christianity: Medieval Europe
Second year undergraduate syllabus: Hegel, Marx and Dialectical Thought
Second and third year undergraduate syllabus: Christianity, Race and Colonialism
Second and third year undergraduate syllabus: Gender, Sexuality and the Bible
MA syllabus: Dazzling Darkness: Mysticism and Philosophy

Joining the Conversation syllabus

For the past couple of years I’ve been teaching a first year introductory module called “Joining the Conversation”. The module exists to introduce students to key themes and concepts in Christian theology (hopefully in a way that engages both our philosophy and our theology students), to a key Christian thinker – St Augustine – and to a key set of study skills relating to reading texts, critically engaging with them, and writing essays. The module is organised around the theme of suffering, and the question of whether suffering is “What Matters Most”. Here’s the module descriptor I use:

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Neoliberalism’s Demons Book Event: We are going to make them give us what we want

“To educate man to be actional, preserving in all his relations his respect for the basic values that constitute a human world, is the prime task of him, who, having taken thought, prepares to act.” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

One of the central puzzles of Christian theology is the question of how evil entered the world. Why, in a world perfectly designed by a wise and benevolent God for the total satisfaction of its creatures, would anyone choose to reject the love of God – the highest of all the goods? At some point this question, first a problem for readers of the Genesis account of the fall of Adam and Eve, is pushed back before the creation of humankind to the creation of the angels. Sin, evil and suffering entered the world not when Eve ate the apple, but when the devil rebelled against God. Adam and Eve fell because Eve was tempted by the devil. But all this does is to intensify the problem of evil’s genesis. Eve was a woman, and an embodied human; for early Christians, longing to be freed from captivity to the flesh, it was not so difficult to imagine the lure of god-like knowledge. The devil, though, had no body to contend with; had nothing to tempt him except nothingness itself. Why would an almost-divinely perfect being choose to reject eternal bliss? Following Augustine, the standard answer came to be that the fall of the angels was almost instantaneous, taking place ‘the first instant after their creation’ (what, after all, could change in heaven so significantly as to prompt this change of heart?), because of an angelic refusal to submit to God’s authority, resulting in the permanent distortion of the now-demonic nature of the fallen angels. As Kotsko writes,

This conception of the fall of the devil is very difficult to understand. Everything that we associate with moral responsibility seems to be lacking. There is no moral obligation at play here other than sheer submission to God, a demand that seems to have no concrete content. There is no way to assess motivations or circumstances, because the decision to rebel was not only instantaneous but at the time it occurred was quite literally the only thing that had ever happened in God’s created world. It seems more like a random impulse than a morally relevant choice, much less a choice carrying such severe and inescapable consequences. (83)

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The Self-Emptying Subject Book Event – Becoming Unrecognizable

The appearance of a first book is a somewhat singular event, especially, perhaps, for those of us who carry a strong bibliophilic streak within them. Yet, even as one’s name appears among the other books on the bookshelves, the satisfaction, if felt at all, turns out to be less intense than was expected. The solidity and stability that should have come with one’s, so to speak, transformation into book form does not arrive. Whatever metabolic processes go into creating a book, they are not without remainders. I experienced the physical appearance of the book at first as a kind of non-event, receiving it with a perplexing non-reaction. After all, by the time the book emerges as a physical object, a separate and distinct being, one (one’s thoughts, investments, anxieties…) is already somewhere else. The book is a belated form. It always lags in relation to the self. The book’s appearance hides the fact that its questions, arguments, and readings, its psychic resistances and scars, its meanderings and deviations – many of them are five, six, or even seven years old. So, it appears, but I am elsewhere – thinking other thoughts, reading other texts, asking other questions, struggling with other problems. And yet the delay indexes that a kind of objectification has taken place: the book carries a name, but it is no longer identical to the self. It becomes a strange semi-autonomous object – with an air of purposelessness about it, bespeaking the truth of Lacan’s pun: it all seems closer to poubellication. Rather than fulfilment, it appears merely as a by-product of a thought process (that had to be groomed for publication and given form, to be sure). But now, one is elsewhere, thinking other thoughts, amidst other conversations.

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