Toward a New Cosmological Fourfold and the Apocalyptic Grounding of Early Christian Theology–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

This is a guest post by Joel Kuhlin, doctoral student at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University.

The present response attempts to think with, rather than about, certain key-aspects of Thomas Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology, from the perspective of a philologist. From a philological appreciation of Apocalyptic Political Theology, instead of a purely philosophical one, I would like to argue that resources are found to renew historical investigations into the ways in which early Christianity formulates a political theology. Here, apocalypticism plays a main role. Ernst Käsemann, for instance, famously states that the “apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology” (The Beginnings of Christian Theology, 1962), effectively making a discussion on an early Christian theology on the political impossible without reference to apocalypticism. However, as we shall see, it remains to be demonstrated whether apocalyptic thought was able to maintain a centrality for the emerging religion, regardless of how important this concept is for the founding of the political theological discourses found in the New Testament archive. Lynch’s work highlights with clarity the ways in which a movement such as Christianity of late antiquity not only came to accept “the World” in its theology, but most importantly through the Holy Roman Empire defined itself in terms of actually defending the World.

Toward a New Concept of a Fourfold World

A primary resource the concept of apocalyptic political theology offers a historical study of early Christianity and New Testament archive is the cosmological fourfold. Lynch’s analysis of the insufficiency of Carl Schmitt’s view on the making of a “world” looks to antagonistic divisions of nature-capital-race-gender.  I would argue that Lynch’s introduction to this new theological “fourfold” cosmology ought to be considered an important supplement to Irenaeus of Lyon’s fourfold gospel. Continue reading “Toward a New Cosmological Fourfold and the Apocalyptic Grounding of Early Christian Theology–Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

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 Between Philosophy and Theology (With Bonus Agamben Content) — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event

One of the things that most interests me about Tommy Lynch’s remarkable book is his unique approach to political theology. As I often complain, practitioners in this field seldom clearly define their methodology, such that “political theology” can be taken to embrace both politically-engaged theology and the often, but not exclusively, genealogical studies of the interface between political and theological concepts in a particular historical era or tradition. With all due respect to politically-engaged theology—or, as we might more efficiently call it, theology—I view the more genealogical version as normative for the discipline and believe it is confusing and counterproductive to lump such studies together with more confessional or constructive theological work that wears its political commitments on its sleeve. I was relieved to find that Lynch shares my more “narrow” vision of what political theology is, at one point defining the field as follows:

political theology is a methodology focused on the relationship between political and theological concepts. It seeks to understand the political history and significance of theological ideas, the theological history and significance of political ideas and to use theological ideas to explore the nature of the political. (7)

In my work, I narrow the definition even further to specify that the root of the relationship between theological and political categories is their shared confrontation with the problem of legitimacy, but Lynch’s definition here would include my understanding of what I am trying to do in my political-theological investigations.

More puzzling to me is a second definition of political theology, which appears to have more direct bearing on Lynch’s understanding of his own project here: “Political theology, in the narrow sense, is a method of philosophical thinking that uses theological concepts to critique the world” (35). We can say that this is a further specification of his initial, broad definition, akin to my more narrow focus on legitimacy. But it is a specification that raises any number of important questions. What is philosophy as opposed to theology? Why should philosophy need to draw on theological concepts to carry out its work of critique? And why should we view such philosophical usage of theological concepts as constituting its own distinct field of inquiry? I want to tease out some of Lynch’s implicit answers to these questions by putting his work into dialogue with the contemporary philosopher who has arguably spent the most time and effort using theological concepts to critique the world: Giorgio Agamben.

Continue reading “Apocalyptic Between Philosophy and Theology (With Bonus Agamben Content) — Apocalyptic Political Theology Book Event”

You must change your life

Pondering Bonhoeffer’s idea that there is a form of moral stupidity that requires more than persuasion — it requires conversion. You have to become a fundamentally different kind of person who lives a different kind of life.

I’m not a moral exemplar by any means. Ultimately, the only morally significant decision I made, coming from a conservative evangelical background, was to get the hell out of Dodge. However else I have evolved since then, it absolutely required being away from those people. To the extent that I actually manage not to be a prickly white male asshole about the concerns of other groups, it came from the choice to spend a significant chunk of my life at Chicago Theological Seminary, a genuinely diverse and progressive place.

One big problem with standard liberalism is that it is implicitly asking people to change their lives and break with their families and communities, and it offers them absolutely NOTHING, no way to imagine a different life or community — other than just “being right.”

Imagining if I had stayed in the evangelical orbit. Maybe I would have had formally “correct” opinions in some ways, but they would have been couched in the terms of that community and mostly represent my own personal pride and arrogance rather than any real alternative option. And I’m sure that, with the thin gruel on offer there, I would have been more vulnerable to online conspiracy thinking, etc. — again, out of intellectual pride and a desire to define myself over against my surroundings. That’s what happens when you don’t offer genuine education.

Sometimes I regret my decision to go to Podunk Christian College, but maybe marinating in that corrupt environment, learning that it really was “that bad,” was ultimately more productive for me. I don’t think I would have thrived in the elitist, competitive ethos of some schools. The evangelicals would have felt more like “home” — I could picture myself retreating, convincing myself that I was making the better and more counter-cultural choice, etc. It’s hard to think of all the ways my life could have basically been lost.

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): 

 

Academic Publishing: An Odyssey

Over three years ago, I was invited to write a review of a handful of recent books by Giorgio Agamben. Since the books represented material from throughout his career, I used the opportunity to reflect on his intellectual development. After an unexpected round of editorial review, the text of my contribution was finalized and ready to go. That will have been approximately three years ago this fall.

Around the same time, I completed a translation of Agamben’s Creation and Anarchy, a reflection on the artwork that thematically overlapped with his first book, The Man Without Content. I hadn’t read the earlier book for a long time, so I decided to pick it up just to compare. It turned out to be very, very different, which piqued my interest in returning to Agamben’s earlier work. Gradually, this investigation evolved into an attempt to reread Agamben’s entire body of work in as close to chronological order as possible.

It became clear that this was my chance to make my definitive statement on Agamben’s work. As I finished my own read-through, I reviewed the relevant secondary literature. I began planning a book proposal and applied for (and received) institutional funding to travel to Italy to interview the man himself about his intellectual development. I gave papers on the topic in multiple venues. Then I wrote the book, got through the review process, and most recently, completed copyedits, proofs, and the index.

The book is coming out in September. I recently got an email that my book review has been scheduled for publication — in September. So in the time this journal has been sitting on a review that it solicited from me, I will have conducted a research program, obtained travel funding, then drafted and published a book on the same topic as that review. This has to mean something, but I can’t figure out what it is.

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)”

Book Event Announcement: Thomas J. Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology: Hegel, Taubes, Malabou

For our next book event we will be reading and discussing Thomas J. Lynch’s Apocalyptic Political Theology: Hegel, Taubes, Malabou. We have gathered a number of AUFS regulars and new faces to examine with Thomas the themes explored in his book. The book has recently been published in paperback and we encourage you to get a copy from your local bookseller or online retailer and read along with us. The schedule and book description are below.

Monday, July 13th: Anthony Paul Smith (introductory post)
Wednesday, July 15th: Adam Kotsko
Friday, July 17th: Ole Jakob Løland
Monday, July 20th: Marika Rose
Wednesday, July 22nd: Joel Kuhlin
Friday, July 25th: Alana Vincent
Monday, July 27th: Ulrich Schmiedel
Wednesday, July 19th: Response from Thomas J. Lynch

Hegel’s philosophy of religion contains an implicit political theology. When viewed in connection with his wider work on subjectivity, history and politics, this political theology is a resource for apocalyptic thinking. In a world of climate change, inequality, oppressive gender roles and racism, Hegel can be used to theorise the hope found in the end of that world.

Histories of apocalyptic thinking draw a line connecting the medieval prophet Joachim of Fiore and Marx. This line passes through Hegel, who transforms the relationship between philosophy and theology by philosophically employing theological concepts to critique the world. Jacob Taubes provides an example of this Hegelian political theology, weaving Christianity, Judaism and philosophy to develop an apocalypticism that is not invested in the world. Taubes awaits the end of the world knowing that apocalyptic destruction is also a form of creation. Catherine Malabou discusses this relationship between destruction and creation in terms of plasticity. Using plasticity to reformulate apocalypticism allows for a form of apocalyptic thinking that is immanent and materialist.

Together Hegel, Taubes and Malabou provide the resources for thinking about why the world should end. The resulting apocalyptic pessimism is not passive, but requires an active refusal of the world.