04 December 2009

CONF: Renaissance Society of America annual meeting

56th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA), in Venice, Italy, 8-10 April 2010


A number of papers on political theology will be given at this conference.

Foremost, a panel on "Early Modern and Contemporary Political Theologies", organized by Travis R. DeCook (Carleton University) and chaired by Paul Anthony Stevens (University of Toronto), will take place on 8 April, 9.00-10.30 am (Università Ca Foscari – San Basilio – Aula 0E).

Abstracts of two papers in this panel: Travis R. DeCook, "Milton and the Post-Postmodern Turn to St. Paul": "Recently, the philosophers Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou have emphasized the significance of St. Paul's formulation of universalism for our purportedly 'post-political' era. This paper considers the problematic status of Judaism and Jewish identity within this scheme by taking up the function of the Pauline spirit/letter distinction in the writings of John Milton. Specifically, it considers the role played by the notion of Christianity's supersession of the Jewish past in Milton's political writings and the poems Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. These late poems offer a suggestive analogy with Badiou and Zizek, since they reflect on the defeat of Milton's revolutionary hopes. The function of Jewish identity in these texts complicates prevailing understandings of Christian supersession; this paper uncovers how such complications play an important role in Milton's post-Restoration politics, and moreover illuminate and challenge how Pauline universalism gets appropriated in today's political thought."

Jennifer Rebecca Rust (Saint Louis University), "Political Theologies of the Corpus Mysticum: Schmitt, Kantorowicz and de Lubac": "The fate of the corpus mysticum in the work of Carl Schmitt and Ernst Kantorowicz measures the distance between these two theorists' 'political theologies.' Schmitt marginalizes the traditional notion of the collective 'mystical body' of the Church in order to foreground the 'concrete' person of the decisive sovereign, while Kantorowicz implicitly corrects Schmitt by emphasizing the transference of the corpus mysticum from an ecclesiastical to a political context in the premodern period. I identify a third way between these two alternatives in a major source for Kantorowicz's analysis of the corpus mysticum, the twentieth-century Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac. Kantorowicz faithfully reproduces much of de Lubac's argument, but he also subtly misreads de Lubac's claims about the dynamic relationship between Eucharistic and ecclesiastical bodies in the early Church. I consider how the corpus mysticum opens a space for dialogue between contemporary theories of political theology and twentieth-century Catholic resourcement theology."

In the panel "Sessions in Honor of Colin Eisler II: Trecento and Quattrocento Devotional Images" (8 April, 11.00 am-12.30 pm, Fondazione Cini – Sala del Piccolo Teatro), Suzanna B. Simor (City University of New York, Queen's College) will be presenting a paper on "The Credo in Siena: Art, Civic Religion and Politics in Sienese Images of the Christian Creeds".

Abstract: "In the span of a mere four decades in the first half of the fifteenth century, Siena produced an unparalleled concentration of ambitious visualizations of the texts of the Christian creeds, realized in commissions for the most powerful patrons of the city-state. The leading communal and ecclesiastical institutions all featured Creed cycles in prominent locations, embedded in coherent and richly symbolic programs. This essay will explore the imagery of these Sienese Creed cycles within their shared tradition and with attention to factors that likely contributed to their individual interpretations. It will demonstrate that within the prescriptive confines of its Creed's content, each of the Sienese renditions was addressed directly to its audience, conceived and employed for specific purposes, and deployed iconography that supported each patron's particular agenda. Reflecting Siena's characteristic blending of religion and politics, the diverse Sienese Credos partake of the political theology of the commune."

In the panel "Politics and Religion: Jesuit and Princely Cooperation in Counter-Reformation Strategies", sponsored by the Society for Early Modern Catholic Studies (9 April, 4.00-5.30 pm, Università Ca Foscari – San Basilio – Aula 2B), Raffaella Santi (Università degli Studi di Urbino) will be presenting a paper on "The Function of Political Theology in Hobbes's Leviathan".

Abstract: "The English version of Leviathan, written by Thomas Hobbes in Paris during the English Civil War, appeared in London in 1651; while the somewhat revised Latin version was published in Amsterdam in 1668, as the third and final part of the collection of Hobbes's Opera philosophica, Quae latine scripsit, Omnia…(in 2 vols). The main change in both versions of Leviathan, with respect to his previous works on political philosophy – namely The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic and De cive – is the great importance attributed to religious and theological matters, and to political theology. For instance, Hobbes discusses the famous De summo pontifice by Cardinal Bellarmino, re-interpreting many biblical passages through his materialistic theology. Emphasizing the 'chiasmus' rhetorical structure of the four parts of Leviathan, I will argue that the Hobbesian analysis of the holy Scriptures is made in order to ensure a theoretical 'theological' foundation for sovereign power, that reinforces the 'scientific' foundation, based on human nature, carried out in the first two parts of Leviathan."

In the same panel, John H. Smith (University of California, Irvine) will be presenting a paper, "Bellarmine, Kings, and The Church": "As the chief apologist and theologian of the post-Trentine Counter-[R]eformation, the Jesuit cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) systematized the arguments against Protestantism in his monumental Disputations on Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics (1586-89, 1596, 1608). Central to his discussion are the debates over the extent of the church's political power as well as over the religious authority of temporal leaders. Bellarmine strove to find a middle ground, what Hughes Oliphant Old calls a 'baroque synthesis' between Aquinas and Machiavelli, between the ambitions of the popes and the claims of kings and princes across Europe. On the one hand, his writings were at one point placed on the papal index (by Sixtus V) and, on the other, he delivered a powerful response to James I of England against the oath of allegiance. This paper explores Bellarmine's politico-theological arguments, comparing them to the Protestant thinkers he took so seriously. They have continued relevance today for disputations concerning religious vs. secular political authority."

In the panel "Weimar, Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Erich Auerbach and the Quest for European Internationalism", sponsored by the Renaissance Studies Certificate Program at CUNY's Graduate Center (10 April, 2.00-3.30 pm, Biblioteca Marciana), Jane O. Newman (University of California, Irvine) will be presenting a paper on "Modernity, Habitus, Ethics: Worldliness in Auerbach's Dante and Boccaccio".

Abstract: "In his 1921 dissertation on the Renaissance novella, Auerbach maintains that 'this-worldliness' is the essence of the Romance tradition. While the exemplum and fabliau appear to offer anterior models, he claims that it was Dante and his focus in the Commedia on 'secular life' that were the origins of this most 'modern' of genres. My paper investigates the evolution of Auerbach's argument about the relation between Dante and Boccaccio between 1921 and 1946 in the context of the political-theological controversies in Germany during the early twentieth century. In the poetry of Auerbach's exceedingly Thomist Dante, the 'image of man' counterintuitively 'eclipses the image of God' and thus counters the 'spiritualizing' 'figural-Christian' logic associated with Protestant dialectical theology. And yet, it is not clear that the ensuing modern world of Boccaccio's Decameron is much better, ensnared as it is in a habitus of worldly desire with no 'constructive ethical force.'"

You can find further information on the conference, including registration, on the RSA's website.

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