04 December 2009

CONF: American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting

Annual Meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, 1-4 April 2010 (Thursday evening through Sunday noon)


Three seminars taking place at this conference may be of particular interest to those engaged in the study of political theology.

A seminar on "Rethinking Secularism" will be organized by Elizabeth S. Anker and Bernadette A. Meyler (both Cornell University):

Debates about secularism have increasingly provided a focal point for theorizing the legal and political institutions, practices, and beliefs that regulate collective existence, or the individual's inscription within the community. The many issues raised by the status of the secular assume different aspects with reference to the nation state, democratic systems of governance, religious cultures, and/or the cosmopolitan order more generally. This seminar will focus on the nexus between the legal and cultural dimensions of secularism and, in doing so, will explore the limits of discourses on the secular.

More concretely, questions may include: What relationships do indigenous epistemologies and worldviews have to secular humanism? Is nationalism better explained through the rubric of secularism or instead that of political theology? Are the conceptions of time and history that gird ostensibly secular political ideologies in fact informed by religious frameworks? How might one theorize post-secular ontologies or modalities of embodied and affective belonging otherwise discounted within liberal rationalism? Can reform occur through religions or religious dissent rather than by means of secularization and reasoned public deliberation? What role has the language of tolerance played in shaping the religious/secular divide? How do certain images, like that of the veil, become iconic representations of the conflict between religious and secular? Through what mechanisms do rhetoric, and even law, migrate from the religious to the secular and back again? Finally, what roles do literature and art perform in mapping the shifting terrain that demarcates the secular from the religious?

A seminar on "Theory and the Theological" will be organized by Peter Y. Paik (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee):

Theorists in recent years have looked to theology for conceptual models to address certain impasses inherent to postmodernity. Alain Badiou draws heavily from theological categories in setting forth his account of political commitment, while tropes drawn from mystical and heterodox sources are prominent in the writings of Giorgio Agamben when he evokes modes of being that go beyond the constraints of bare life. Theology plays a significant role in the theorization of radical politics in the work of Slavoj Žižek and Antonio Negri, while Judith Butler and Simon Critchley look to the work of Emmanuel Levinas to provide an ethical grounding for the political. Meanwhile, theologians such as Catherine Pickstock, John Milbank, and David Bentley Hart engage postmodernity from the standpoint of faith. Finally, these debates have been anticipated in the work of earlier thinkers such as Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Eric Voegelin, whose respective critiques of liberal modernity parallel and diverge in striking ways from the battle lines most familiar to the present.

The seminar will take up such questions as: What kinds of resources does theological reflection provide in imagining sociopolitical forms of life beyond the liberal capitalist status quo? How has the resurgence of religious belief and the politics of religious militancy affected literary and cultural production? Are theologically-informed critiques of neo-liberal capitalism more promising than those launched on secular grounds? Or are these critiques neutralized by liberal relativism, or by what Philip Rieff terms the "therapeutic ethos"?

A seminar on "Literature and Criticism after Secularism" will be organized by Thomas Dancer and Jack Dudley (both University of Wisconsin, Madison):

Much scholarship on modern and contemporary literature has taken it as an article of faith that writers either turned away from or actively rejected religion. While this "narrative of secularization", to use Pericles Lewis' terms, still holds sway in literary studies, the fields of critical theory, political science, and sociology have increasingly interrogated the categories "secular" and "religious", as in the work of Charles Taylor, Hent de Vries, William E. Connolly, Talal Asad, and Slavoj Žižek. Such work has generated the new category, "post-secular", which examines the anxieties and absences in secular imaginaries, philosophies, and politics. This work also challenges the "secular" as the unconscious norm of intellectual practice.

Our moment, then, sees criticism and intellectual discourse as facing a public sphere that can no longer be understood to privilege the values of secularism. Papers contributed to this seminar will engage this moment by exploring the long historical entanglement of secularism, religion, and the post-secular, while following recent developments that aim to recuperate or refashion "secularity" in a way more consistent with an open, pluralistic public space.

The ACLA's annual conferences have a unique structure in which most papers are grouped into 9-12 person seminars that meet two hours per day, for the three days of the conference, in order to foster discussion. Some 8-person seminars meet the first two days of the conference. The conference will also include plenary sessions, workshops, a business meeting, a banquet, and other events in downtown New Orleans and on the Tulane campus. Please check with the conference and/or seminar organizers whether people can participate in seminars who do not present a paper themselves. Contact: info@acla.org

You can find further information on the conference, including registration, on the ACLA's website. The schedule of events, including locations, should be up in early 2010.

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