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 Political Theology Book Event: Introduction

I am happy to announce that we are beginning the book event on Thomas Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology: Hegel, Taubes, and Malabou (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). Recently published in paperback, you can buy the book at the usual places online, though if you are in the US you may want to try Bookshop.org and in the UK there is Hive.co.uk. Lynch begins his study with the gnomic phrase, “It seems like a good time to write a book about the end of the world (1).” Though these words were only published about a year ago, the acceleration of the end of the worlds, of the many individual worlds that comprise this world, makes it seem like this statement was made decades ago. Over the next couple of weeks we will post interventions that engage and explore aspects of the apocalyptic political theology developed by Lynch. It seems that some of us, even when everything is falling apart, are still drawn to think about all of this that is coming to an end, to the very idea of an end itself.

Thomas Lynch is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion and the Programme Director for the BA in Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Chichester, UK. In addition to his work on political theology, he has published on the relationship of the construction of the concept religion with the conception of race in European philosophy and politics, on Lacan and his influence on liberation thinking in philosophy and theology, and the contradictions in liberal political framing of religious communities. In Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology he makes a significant contribution to the field of political theology and the relationship between continental philosophy of religion and political theory by taking seriously the apocalyptic demand to end the world. After a short Introduction, Chapter 1 provides both a theory of the world and the methodology for the study. Lynch’s understanding of the world is dependent upon a bringing together of theorists like Frank B. Wilderson III with the reactionary political theology of Carl Schmitt. Lynch, who valorizes the work of those like Wilderson and rightly critiques Schmitt, deftly reads them together to argue that the world is structured by a set of divisions and antagonisms that is theologico-political at its heart. The cascading violence of these divisions is the very reason why those who are oppressed call for the end of the world. Any true liberation likes beyond the logic of this world, we are told. Methodologically, Lynch provides a helpful typology of various forms of political theology operative today, before telling us that in this study political theology is a way of philosophically engaging with ideas about the world.

What remains to be thought is an apocalyptic political theology, or a philosophical engagement with theological and political materials that takes seriously the call for the end of the world.  He does this by marshaling a significant body of literature in a succinct way by focusing them through concepts operating in Hegel’s “implicit political theology,” Taubes’s “spiritual disinvestment,” and Malabou’s concept of “plasticity” which is transformed into a “plastic apocalypticism.” The analysis and development of these concepts make up three of the main chapters of the book.

The philosophy of Hegel is the lynchpin that holds the three figure chapters together, but the book is not an investigation of Hegel as such. While Lynch impressively marshals a huge body of scholarship on Hegel, religion, philosophy, and apocalyptic thought, he is more concerned with treating Hegel as a material that emerges in response to a particular problem of a world that is intolerable and must be ended. The chapter on Taubes is important for being one of the few studies of Taubes’s work with an eye towards its cohesion as a whole. What emerges in part from Taubes’s own engagement with Hegel and apocalyptic political theology is a contradiction between affirming the end of the world as it is and some form of investment in a possible world. This contradiction is often the beginning of complicity with reproducing the world, and often a flight into transcendence, and yet Taubes condemns such complicity and such a flight to transcendence, to authotity. By turning to Malabou’s theory of plasticity Lynch is able to offer a way of understanding an apocalyptic that is “immanent, material, and desired for its own sake (141).” This crossed reading of Taubes and Malabou is original and is made possible by the isomorphism of Taubes definition of apocalyptic and Malabou’s definition of plastic as both “form destroying and creating.” This allows for an interesting consideration of the problematic between necessity and contingency that is central to any political thinking of radical change.

The book ends with a provocative conclusion that asks how we might live apocalyptically or negatively in a world that requires our investment in it for something like “a life.” While much work in political theology calls for the complicity decried by Taubes, Lynch manages to take seriously the true necessity that this world end with the trauma that comes form such a call, to say nothing of the reality of the end. Here, engaging mostly with the queer negativity of Lee Edelman and the hyperbolic demand for Black liberation that can only mean the end of the world found in Wilderson’s Afropessimist theory, Lynch sketches new lines of inquiry for political theology.

I hope you will join us in exploring and discussing these ideas.

Schedule (these will be updated with links to the posts as the event unfolds): 

 

A precarious balance: Constantine (2005)

Alongside a bigger project about angels, I’ve been working on an article about angels and film, and by ‘working on’ I mean I’ve been watching a lot of films with angels in, taking the Wikipedia page on “Films about angels” as my guide. The page title is a bit misleading, actually; it’s more properly a list of films with angels in, often in fairly marginal roles. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, for example, features angels only very briefly, in the form of pastel-clad flight attendants checking people’s tickets as they arrive in heaven (air travel being a frequent association with angels going at least as far back as  1941’s Here Comes Mr Jordan, in which grey-suited angels check people onto planes presumably transporting people to heaven). Anyway, point is I’ve watched a lot of angel films at this point, and thought it might be worth trying to jot down some thoughts about them here as I go, so consider this your welcome to a new occasional blog series from me about films with angels in.

Spoilers ahead

Continue reading “A precarious balance: Constantine (2005)”

New Article: “Not Persuasion, but Power: Against ‘Making the Case'”

The idea that college faculty and their allies have somehow failed to “make the case” for the value of their work is one of the hoariest clichés of higher ed commentary — our equivalent to the legendary “since the dawn of time”-style opening for undergraduate papers…. It is clear enough why academics would be drawn to a solution that draws on their particular skillsets of persuasion and argumentation, but the demand that we “make the case” is naïve and impotent.

Read the rest of my scathing indictment of the entire world here.

Help me plan a module on angels and demons in medieval theology

I’m due to teach a new course in September, which sets out to use angelology and demonology as a way into medieval theology and philosophy. We don’t currently have any modules that focus specifically on the medieval period, though my students read a little of Augustine on the fall of the angels in their first year, and we touch on a few medieval thinkers in some of the other modules I teach.

Here’s the catalogue summary for the module:

Belief in angels and demons has come to seem eccentric and disconnected from real life, in talking about these spiritual beings, medieval theologians explored many of the issues which were, to them, of central concern. By studying the work of medieval angelologists and demonologists, we can come to understand crucial debates about the nature of reality, matter and time; what it means to be human; and how society should be organised. This module will explore key questions of medieval philosophy and theology through an examination of debates about angels and demons.

I’ll be planning the course over the summer; currently my key points of reference are Adam’s The Prince of This World; David Keck’s Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages; Hoffman’s A Companion to Angels in Medieval Philosophy; Lenz and Iribarren’s Angels in Medieval Philosophical Inquiry; and Federici’s Caliban and the Witch. I think I’ll probably include Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchy because it’s so foundational for 13th century thinkers, and I’m tempted to edge into the early modern period and look at angels in John Dee. I think I’m going to try for a mix of primary and secondary texts, so any suggestions for good translations would be much appreciated, as would any other ideas or suggestions about key – and undergraduate friendly – readings, scholarship, etc.

Pandemocracy and the State of Exception

These reflections are not only the product of our current global crisis but also respond to the theoretical challenge of thinking otherwise about the nature of biopolitical governance, the challenge of discovering some resources within the biopolitical to support an insurgent form of life. Recently, Roberto Esposito in Two (2013) has made the attempt to discover in the globalization of sovereign debt the possibility of overcoming the sovereign splitting of the biopolitical decision, between “making live” and “letting die”: “The fact that all states, divided by a clear inequality of resources, are now indebted to an entity as elusive as global finance means that for the first time, perhaps, the world will experience a condition of shared suffering. It is as if splitting had become the general form of unity. We are joined by a debt that separates us even from ourselves, by suspending us from a model of development that produces loss. Since everyone is included in it, we are at the same time also all excluded. The point of arrival for economic-political theology is identity, with no remainders, between inside and outside, whole and part, One and Two.” (Two, 208) Esposito cautions us not to try to return to this condition of the “identity . . . between . . . One and Two” by resurrecting some new form of sovereignty. Instead, he suggests that we create what I am calling a “pandemocracy” out of our globalized condition of being unified by our experience of being split between our identity as owners and our identity as owers. He claims that what “flickers” in our commonality as Ow(n)ers is “the law of jubilee.” (209)

Esposito did not imagine the possibility that it would not be the collapse of the global finance markets that allowed the law of jubilee to flicker, but the global pandemic. Giorgio Agamben recently characterized the pandemic as inciting a sovereign autoimmune response that decides, as Foucault descbribes it, one population to make live and another to let die. But the pandemic does more than that. In the midst of this sovereign decision, those who are called upon to execute it demonstrate a sacrificial exorbitance that is the sign of those who renounce their ownership of secure life and livelihood in a demonstration of common owership. I am of course referring to the women and men who daily minister to the sick and dying. This is not unique to this pandemic. Thucydides speaks of such self-sacrificing care in his description of the plague that broke out in his besieged city of Athens.

In Athens and today, the common owership displayed by the health workers is understood to be grounded in a sacred bond, the Hippocratic Oath. Agamben has taught us about the intimate link between oaths and the sacred. I would suggest that Asclepius, god of healing, is the figuration of the other of the sovereign decision between making live and letting die. It is not surprising that Asclepius is himself put to death by Zeus and transformed into a constellation, Ophiuchus, the “snake holder.” The wisdom of the snake is self-regeneration, a.k.a resurrection. Besides the jubilee of our redemption from debt, resurrection is also what “flickers” on the horizon of our “shared suffering.” Marx, in his 1841 dissertation on Epicurus, said that the heavenly bodies (ta meteora) in the ancient world intimated the fulfillment of our species being as a single immortal life form, no longer divided between owners of bodies and owned bodies. Each constellation, Marx explained, was thought to be a god-species. Marx shows that Epicurus’s philosophy of atomism was the reflection of the dissolution of the social bond of ancient polis and the atomization of its citizens into abstract individualities. Epicurus, Marx argues, could not bear the contradiction between his dirempted self-consciousness and the intimation of the unified form of species life intimated by the constellations. He could not bear the flickering of another form of life for our human species being. He turned the constellations into long-lasting but mortal atomic configurations. Mortal gods. Marx later connected Epicurean atomism to Hobbesian materialism. The Hobbesian sovereign, the mortal god, has become the figure our constricted vision, our atomized selfhoods turning away from the flickering of another form of species being. I fear that Agamben himself may have blinded himself by staring at the sun’s sovereign glory. He seems to have lost sight of the constellations, and especially Asklepius, the snake holder.

Robert Yelle has recently published a wonderful book, Sovereignty and the Sacred (2019) that beautifully complements Esposito’s Two. Yelle also draws out attention to the law of jubilee. In a philologically rigorous and historically informed study of the intimate relationship between the myths and rituals associated with sovereign investiture and the sphere of the sacred in general, Yelle demonstrates the doubled and split nature of our political conjunctions, whether in ancient city-states, medieval kingdoms, or modern liberal states. His book traces political theology (Yelle prefers “spiritual economy”) not only to its Greek and Roman antecedents, but to the Indic precursors of both traditions in Sanskrit myth and ritual. Esposito’s and Yelle’s books are sober accounts of the violence that continually (re)founds our polities and invests sovereignty with the lightning flash of the sacred, the brilliance of the heavens carving a murderous path to the earth. But Yelle and Esposito have not allowed themselves to be blinded by Zeus’s glorious weapon, the lightning of sovereignty. Like the early Marx, they teach us that the heavens also intimate our common life of owership, the pandemocracy that is no less sacred than Hobbes’s mortal god who demands obedience as the price of our claim to live more than “short and brutish” lives. That bargain is revealed today to be a sham. We may, as Agamben has suggested, allow ourselves to be duped again by this mortal god’s offer of security. Or we may, as Esposito and Yelle suggest, find another god flickering in the darkness, the god who promulgates the law of jubilee and raises our hope that the snake’s wisdom has not been utterly forgotten.

Syllabus Help Request

I am teaching a newly designed course, Rhetoric & Dialogue in Religion & Theology (REL 300), which is part of a new sequence of courses running from our introductory course (100) to a new theories and methods course (200) and ends with our capstone (400). This is the course description:

This course builds on the knowledge and application of theories and methods developed in REL 200. It introduces students to the skills of rhetoric and dialogue in religion and theology through close examination and evaluation of the writing and public discourse of contemporary scholars. Students will work with their peers to develop their own rhetorical styles and apply them both to a form of written communication fitting their post-graduate plans and to an oral presentation for an appropriate public, whether in or beyond the department. This course is required for Religion and Theology majors and meets the Effective Expression requirement for majors.

When we attempt to understand religion or we attempt to think through our theology we are presented with real human life, with the pain and joys of everyday life and the scope of human history. Writing and engaging theory is about much more than a piece of paper at the end of four years or the class significations that paper brings. It is about the ideas that live and die on leaves of paper bound and carried throughout time. So, in this course we will join together to study and improve our theoretical and dialogical skills, but we will also consider how those skills fit within the broader scope of the lives we live together.

The course will begin with an intensive working together on our writing skills before moving on to reading an eclectic mix of different pieces of writing on a variety of topics in religion and theology from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives. The course will end with a series of workshops honing our own writing, developing a piece of writing for a popular audience and one for an academic audience. We will end with a student conference where you present your ideas in an academic presentation for members of the Department of Religion & Theology with a question and answer session to follow. 

As part of the course I had students surface their own interests for topics that our reading would cover, since content isn’t the point of the course. I’m now trying to find a number of academic essays and popular writing on a variety of topics and am struggling a bit with the popular writings. If any readers have suggestions for the topics I am very open to hearing them. I am really interested to hear about work that you’ve found works well in the classroom.

Topics

  • Biblical Studies and the Use and Abuse of Scriptures
  • Meaning of Muhammad as the seal of the prophets
  • Origins and History of Cults/New Religious Movements
  • Chinese Anti-Muslim laws and actions
  • Religious Authority
  • Science and Religion debates, especially regarding evolution
  • Music and Religion
  • Gender and Religion, especially with regard to Islam

Spring Syllabi Posted

I have updated my sample syllabi page to include my courses for the Spring Term:

This semester is a milestone for me. I have long hoped to teach in all three major areas of the Shimer Great Books curriculum (humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences), and I finally get to teach a natural sciences course with “What is Matter?” — a study of the history of chemistry through important primary sources and reenactments of key experiments (a version of which I took as a student as part of my training). Not only that, but I get to teach in all three areas simultaneously! It should be exciting and challenging.