17 June 2009

Special issue: Theology and Democratic Futures

Corey D. B. Walker (Brown University) has guest edited a special issue of the journal Political Theology (vol. 10, no. 2, 2009) on the theme "Theology and Democratic Futures":


Walker's introductory essay is concerned with the "revival in scholarly attention to the question of theology across various formations in the North Atlantic academy" and a tendency that "seeks to challenge the binary and dichotomous logic that separates theological formations and non-theological formations while blurring the boundaries between the two in facilitating a critical thinking in which the theological is pressed into service for the elaboration of other radical and subversive non-theological discourses" as well as an opposite tendency "assisting in bulwarking the sui generis gloss of Christianity's theological claims and doctrines" "in contradistinction to other critical and secular theoretical discourses".

While Walker claims that "[t]o think theology is to think democracy, albeit with a more profound and humbling sense of contingency and without guarantees", other contributors to this special issue seem to view democracy more critically, for example within the discourse of "post-democracy" "as a political order of a privatized and privileged politics that is not responsive to the radical democratic aspirations or potentials of the majority", concluding that "[i]t is this post-democratic landscape that should properly coordinate and calibrate our theological imaginations". Authors in this line of thought engage the evangelical right in the US (Andrew C. Willis) as much as the Islamic Law debate in the UK (Vincent Lloyd).

(BTW: The paper by Lloyd was accepted for presentation at the Third Annual International Symposium of the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS) on "Anti-Liberalism and Political Theology" that took place in July 2008 at Sciences Po/The Institute for Political Studies in Paris, France.)

Bruce Ellis Benson argues that "radical democracy is not nearly radical enough and Christianity, when it has entered the 'public square,' has likewise not been nearly radical enough", while Paul Dafyyd Jones' "close reading and dialectical analysis of Schleiermacher and Barth and the projects of liberation theology enable him to project a broader 'theopolitical imagination' that links classical and liberationist theological perspectives in animating and empowering progressive political projects". Peter Goodwin Heltzel's essay interrogates "the theoretical and political dimensions of [Martin Luther King, Jr.'s] Christian inspired project of 'Beloved Community' and Antonio Negri's Spinoza inspired project of 'Multitude' in confronting the reduced horizon for democratic politics in our contemporary conjuncture".

Further articles concern "the case of [US death-row prisoner] Mumia Abu-Jamal" in the light of the works of Giorgio Agamben and Abdul R. JanMohammed and the "state of exception" (Mark Lewis Taylor), "Hannah Arendt's [polytheistic and thus plural] Political Theology of Democratic Life" (Jane Anna Gordon), and "phenomenology as a mode of thought that welcomes the depth and complexity of existence as an analogue for rethinking radically democratic futures" (Rocco Gangle, Jason Smick). As Walker writers: "It is the plural – whether polytheism or phenomenology – that posits the possibility of theology and democracy as open-ended forms whose futures may be less clear but more hopeful than a resurrection of past practices and forms of thought".

This special issue may help to highlight too "the state of democratic politics that so often transforms the exception into the rule, specifically in the case of the marginal and dispossessed" (Mark Taylor Lewis).

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