Radical Theologies: Why Philosophers Can’t Leave Christianity Alone

I recently edited a special edition of Modern Believing looking at the relationship between philosophy and Christianity; it’s out now and you can read it here (hit me up if you want to read anything in there but don’t have institutional access). Alongside my editorial, the special edition includes the following articles:

Beverley Clack: ‘On Returning to the Church: Practicing Religion in a Neoliberal Age’
In 1999 I wrote an article ‘on leaving the church’ (Craske and Marsh 1999). In this article I revisit this theme having recently returned to church. I explore the themes that led to me leaving (the Christian contribution to the history of misogyny and the desire for liberation, coupled with the desire to have the freedom to think); themes which, paradoxically, are not dissimilar to the reasons behind my return. The paper engages with the reductionist functionalism of the dominant social and political paradigm of neoliberal consumerism, and engages with Michèle Le Doeuff’s claim that the framework provided by religion for life is attractive, precisely because it allows for uncertainty and a deep engagement with the realities of being human.

Vincent Lloyd: ‘Achille Mbembe as Black Theologian’
The Cameroon-born, South Africa-based Achille Mbembe is one of the preeminent theorists of race writing today. Leading the current wave of critical race scholarship that views anti-Blackness as a metaphysical rather than merely social problem, Mbembe’s work brings together the tools of psychoanalysis, critical theory, and postcolonial studies. In De la postcolonie: essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemparaine(2000),1 Mbembe focuses his critical lens on Africa as object of fantasy and resistance to fantasy; in his most recent work, Critique de la raison nègre (2013),2 Mbembe turns to the figure of the Black. While Mbembe himself offers provocative suggestions about the implications of his work for religious thought, his account of anti-Blackness as a metaphysical problem opens constructive avenues for re-thinking Black theology. When Blackness is defined by death, the critical practice Mbembe describes and commends may be understood as a form of resurrection, restoring death-bound-being to life. I argue that reading Mbembe as part of a conversation in Black theology can expand the Black theological imagination.

Katharine Sarah Moody: ‘The Death and Decay of God: Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity’
Radical theology has an intellectual heritage that can be traced to the idea of the death of God in western philosophy, and Christian theologemes remain of conceptual interest to a number of continental philosophers and philosophers of religion because this religion is, to quote Slavoj Žižek, ‘the religion of a God who dies’. I introduce readers to re-conceptions of the theologeme ‘God’ by John D. Caputo and Slavoj Žižek and illustrate how philosophical interest in Christianity is inspiring religious discourse and communal practices that aim performatively to enact the death and decay of God

Marika Rose: ‘The Christian Legacy is Incomplete: For and Against Žižek’
Slavoj Žižek’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Christian legacy as the only hope for the future of radical politics has, unsurprisingly, made him popular amongst many Christians and theologians in recent years. This article explores the underlying logic of Žižek’s celebration of the Christian legacy, arguing that his dual celebration of the Christian and European legacies not only reveals the entanglement of his argument with the white supremacist logic of Christian superiority but begins to expose the ways in which Žižek’s focus on Christian Europe is inconsistent with his own fundamental ontological claims.

Black Theology and the Dance of Death

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 12.39.10 PM
a still from Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” Featuring Kendrick Lamar

[I wrote this about two years ago thinking maybe it would be part of my comments on an AAR Panel. I’m quite glad I didn’t end up doing that (perhaps it would have been to hard to follow aurally?), but I stumbled across it again and thought I’d put it out into the atmosphere and see what other folks think. I don’t know how much of this I still vibe with, but I do feel *some* vibrations when I reread it. *kanye shrug*]

What are movements made of? Variations on positions in space and time? Expansions and contractions of the musculature resulting in shifts of the flesh? An orbital cycling in and around thought?

I like to think of movements as being made up of displacements. Displacements of thought, Displacements of the flesh, Displacements of the social. These displacements suggest something about the doubled nature of movement. For those of us concerned with how one builds movements, whatever we might mean by this turn of phrase, this doubled sense of movement can be used to connote some kind of accumulation of force and flesh that is dispersed in a multiplicity of forms, seeping out of seemingly static spaces. Yet, at the same time, this potentiality of movement is precisely how we came to be here.

In the movement of a ship, multiplied by the infinitude of capital’s promise. In the stealthy movements of escape and fugitivity, practiced movements that calculate(d) the cost of capture. In the hold where each expansion and contraction of the musculature was a risk. In the movements of black power and black feminism as a critical shift in thought, the derailing of a train of thought that was bound for some white promised land. We move and are moved. We have been so moved as to be here.

What is it that movement offers other than displacement as an outworking of white desire and capitalist markets, since these are the sense in which displacement is first thought? What moves, having been made, bring us to the clearing where the displaced gather to love the flesh? What relations of force, accumulation, dispersion, and attraction are we able to produce as a common movement?

The question of blackness and its displacement is the question of this possibility of relations. Some common kinlessness. For how else do we traverse and navigate the dangerous field of the world built on the expulsion of black flesh without some critical energy, some movement to get us there?

A turn to displacement to conceive of movement allows us to consider what conceptual ambivalence or agnosticism can begin to account for the accidents of movement that structure our ability to think God in modernity.

If blackness can be thought as movement, as already destabilized and destabilizing, perhaps the role of black theology today, rather than moving on from blackness through a seemingly necessary expansion that attaches things which blackness also already names (queer, gendered, crip—as though blackness is always a narrowness to be asterisked and avoided, a limit to “inclusion”), is to practice a movement of thought that takes up this black energy that is found in the accumulation of fleshly relations in a mode other than capitalist accumulation.

Because blackness is, as Fred Moten notes, both a state of being exhausted and an exhaustation of sovereign impositions of subjectivity and the propertied relations that structure such subjects, it is concerned with what Frank Wilderson calls a dance of death. Dancing even as the socially dead, dancing because one is socially dead. Rather than attempting to stop the dance, then, black theology ought to embrace this exhaustation which is the place where the critical turn occurs. After death, the turn, we keep dancing. Giving another go at moving our feet and our flesh. The turn—which is, maybe like this image, the rounding of a cornered existence with such speed and velocity that new openings emerge.

The White Christian’s Burden

This is the text of a talk I gave at Greenbelt Festival 2014. The theme of the Festival was “Travelling Light”; my talk was originally called “Travelling Heavy”, and I summarised it for the programme as follows:

Christianity doesn’t travel light. It is weighed down with history, much of it shameful. But if we don’t understand our past we can’t understand how it continues to form us, and we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. What would it mean for us to deal with the burdensome history of Christendom?

 

I want to start by telling you three stories, that may or may not be familiar to you.

The first story is about the 2014 Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, Russia.* Not long before the Winter Olympics took place, Vladimir Putin passed a law banning ‘non-traditional sexual propaganda to minors’, which is to say that there was a ban on anything that could be construed as pro-LGBT propaganda. It wasn’t very clear exactly what was being banned, or how thoroughly it was being banned; there was some ambiguity over whether wearing a rainbow lapel pin would count as propaganda to minors, and the Russian government said different things at different times about whether non-Russian citizens would be arrested for breaking the law. But there was a huge outcry in the UK and the US. Celebrities wrote op-eds. Stephen Fry wrote an open letter. Gay rights activists loudly argued that we should boycott Russian vodka, or even the Olympics as a whole. Lots of people I know, including lots of Christians, shared articles on Facebook and Twitter, and talked angrily about how terrible it was that Russia were doing such awful things to their LGBT population. Continue reading “The White Christian’s Burden”

On Marked and Unmarked Theologies

At times, I’m reminded of the problem people have with Black Theology being unapologetic about attaching Black to Theology. This is not an uncommon experience when one is developing black accounts of things (it is something we see often in the rejoinder “All Lives Matter!” ). “Why does it have to be a black theology,” the offended whine. Theology by itself names something universal that black disfigures with the problem of blackness–its particularity and historical contingency. In reality, we just need to recover better theology in general to confront the problem of whiteness in theology. Good theology is the antidote for bad theology (whether white theology or black theology). In response to this line of argument, I’ve been sketching some thoughts.

One cannot simply continue as though the name of theology, which has been white theology in practice, can simply be wrested back into a liberative mode without confronting and unsettling what is occluded by the appearance of universality given, without reserve, to this name (theology). The name Black theology thus marks theology (just as blackness marks existence) with the sign of excess or difference which cannot be assimilated into theology without theology becoming something different altogether–without theology experiencing an inoperativity or deconversion from its own whiteness. To simply announce theology by itself (whether it is true theology, or real theology, or better theology) as the answer to the problem of theology, is to leave theology unmarked as a problem for blackness (by which I mean existence) and untouched by the disfiguration blackness would effect upon theology. In my view, this marking or disfiguration of theology by blackness is precisely what keeps its speech theological. The repetition of arguments that claim to recover real theology are thus evasions of the problem an unmarked theology poses. Such evasion fails to take seriously both what theology names (our speech about God), what blackness names (a problem for the ontological whiteness that has made itself God), and the need to signal the radical incommensurability of the two yet, at the same time, their necessary confrontation.