Saturday, September 1, 2007

The ‘return of the religious’ and the ‘turn to the political’

Panel Summary: by Anthony Paul Smith
The ‘return of the religious’ in recent European thought and the ‘turn to the political’ in recent philosophy of religion are two of the most significant trends of the past decade or so. This panel regards the co-implication of these movements as the site of significant creative thought today, and sees scope for further development beyond the dominant Lacanian framework of Badiou and Žižek. The panel proposes three dimensions for exploration.
(1) A ‘materialist’ turn: if the religious is co-implicated with the political, the political itself is conditioned by social, technological and economic developments, as well adapted to ecological conditions. The religious may be understood in the light of material conditions, rather than being modelled on the ideals of a Platonic philosophy.
(2) An ‘immanent’ turn: notions of sovereignty, authority and hierarchy in political theology, where the political and the religious have been co-implicated, may be set against notions of democracy and immanence that explore a different face of the co-implication.
(3) A ‘post-culturalist’ turn: an exploration of the metaphysics of the encounter between the political and the religious points beyond the dominant theoretical strategies of the twentieth century, oscillating between a focus on subjectivity and agency, cultural meaning and interpretation, or symbolic structures and signification. For the distinctive ‘energy’ of the political or ‘faith’ of the religious is not recuperable within humanism or culturalism, but itself calls subjectivities, cultures, and orders into being.
The panellists will explore the significance of these turns, often in relation to existing approaches to the political and the religious. Clayton Crockett’s piece gives conceptual form to the relationship between theology and philosophy with explicit reference to politics. Crockett develops a constructive notion of plasticity by way of Catherine Malabou’s work in The Future of Hegel and La plasticité au soir de l’écriture. Malabou’s notion of plasticity is taken from Hegel, and deployed in relation to the history of philosophy, particularly in reference to Derridean deconstruction. Plasticity as what comes after writing, or deconstruction, provides an image of thought with which to re-think philosophical theology, including its essential relation to important political issues. Plasticity implies that neither philosophy nor theology are fixed, but always dynamically implicated in and by social, technological and economic developments. Plastics can be commodities or the packaging of commodities, as well as explosives, and these three aspects of plasticity – malleability of external and internal form, the package or packaging of commodities in our contemporary world, and the danger of explosive violence – inform a political re-orientation of philosophical theology. Plastic product is literally a form of petroleum, which implies a political theology of oil, the fuel of the capitalist machine that underlies diverse ideological and religious conflicts.
Philip Goodchild’s presentation challenges the centrality of human agency in modern political thought. Drawing upon Carl Schmitt’s analysis of the political, it proposes that there is an overlooked element of ‘political energy’, supplementary to human decision and physical force, that determines any actual distribution of power. This element may be filled by religious or moral motivations, or also by money. Modern humanism can only survive so long as mastery over nature through science, technology and economics reproduces the mastery that a mind has over its representations. After the turn of the millennium such practical mastery is called into question. What is at stake here is the nature of political theory as such: when it is written to advise a democratic subject, it implicitly appeals to the illusion of subjective sovereignty. A political theology, by contrast, aims to describe or modify the authority or ‘political energy’ that makes decisions effective. Once political energy has been subsumed into the power of money, then an emancipatory politics can only proceed by a modification of the institution of money.
Jeffery W. Robbins piece explores new thinking in political theology that moves past authoritarian conceptions of sovereignty by relating it to contemporary democratic political theorists. As first thematized by Carl Schmitt in his classic work from 1922, political theology was principally concerned with the concept of sovereignty. By defining sovereignty in relation to the state of exception and by his equation of theology to politics, Schmitt shows his penchant for a traditional theology and an authoritarian form of politics wherein just as a transcendent and omnipotent God operates outside the bounds of natural law just, the sovereign is authorized to disregard every social norm and rule. Political theology so understood is fundamentally undemocratic. This foundational instantiation of political theology has come under critique, most prominently by Giorgio Agamben who demonstrates how the state of exception has become the contemporary working paradigm in so-called liberal democracies. In an effort to intervene into this contemporary political crisis others such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have sought to rethink the concept of sovereignty in the name of a more radical practice and form of democracy. What is still needed, which will be the subject of this paper, is a theological supplement to this conceptual revolution on the basis of democracy itself.
Anthony Paul Smith’s presentation differentiates an immanent, ecologically informed thinking of the political and the religious from the project of Radical Orthodoxy and the deconstructive theology of John Caputo. Though the two movements often consider themselves radically opposed both represent exciting developments by not only combining theology and philosophy, but by presenting political challenges to secular reason and fundamentalism respectively. One of the central notions of Radical Orthodoxy is a deference for hierarchy, leading it to aggressively assail immanent, non-hierarchical philosophers like Gilles Deleuze. In this way there is a tension between true catholicity and determination by hierarchical institutions. While in the deconstructive theology of Caputo hierarchy is seemingly rejected in favour of difference. But whereas Radical Orthodoxy appears to tend towards authoritarian political notions, the deconstructive theology tends towards a naïve liberalism that tolerates a more ethereal hierarchy. While emphasizing the value of these thinkers Smith turns to both the science of ecosystems and eco-politics in critical dialogue with the philosophy of Deleuze & Guattari and shows a non-hierarchical (i.e. non-determining) relationship which exists between the political and the religious. Posted by Anthony Paul Smith Filed in academia An und für sich “This is more a comment than a question…”

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