05 January 2010

Journal articles on political theology 2009

Some articles on political theology published in 2009 in academic journals of all conceivable disciplines:

David Theo Goldberg (University of California, Irvine), "A Political Theology of Race: Articulating Racial Southafricanization", Cultural Studies, 23 (4), July 2009: pp. 513-37.

Abstract: "Over the past three decades Stuart Hall has provided many of the key terms for (re)thinking the social, the cultural, and the political. Largely absent from his work has been consideration of religion and, given more recent theoretical developments, of the theologico-political. I pose a series of questions to Stuart Hall by considering an analysis of race as political theology, exemplified by a focus on the history of South African apartheid and its afterlife."

Mika Luoma-aho (University of Lapland), "Political Theology, Anthropomorphism, and Person-hood of the State: The Religion of IR", International Political Sociology, 3 (3), September 2009: pp. 293-309.

Abstract: "In this article I identify international relations as a form of religion. My identification takes two epistemological paths. The first one has been cleared by political theologians such as Carl Schmitt, who teach that 'secular' political ideas not only have a divine origin, but also structural identity with Christian theology. I will clear the second path with help from a cognitive theory of religion that identifies anthropomorphism as a defining criterion of religion. International relations is a religion, because it is a system of thought that takes the metaphorical image of the personified, embodied state more seriously than other, more idiosyncratic forms of anthropomorphism. What we have in academic IR is, thus, a theology that works to generalize and systematize this religious image into a disciplinary form."

Dimitris Vardoulakis (University of Western Sydney), "Stasis: Beyond Political Theology?", Cultural Critique, 73, fall 2009, pp. 125-47.

From the preview: "Political theology refers to the impossibility of both to completely separate and to completely conflate politics and religion. [...] It remains a point of contention, however, what the repercussions of the trespassing of theological concepts into the political are. [...] Despite the differences between these thinkers, there is one abiding characteristic. There is a constitutive disjunction between politics and the political, between law and justice. As a result, political theology forecloses meaning in politics – that is, no political party or representative can be thought to represent the political ideal. More emphatically, there is no end of history. I will explore here whether it is possible to understand the foreclosure of meaning not as the conclusion, but rather as the condition of the possibility of the political. Can the meaningless or the irrational function as the basis of the intertwining and imbrication of the secular and the sacred?"

Nur Masalha (St Mary's University College), "Reading the Bible with the Eyes of the Canaanites: Neo-Zionism, Political Theology and the Land Traditions of the Bible (1967 to Gaza 2009)", Holy Land Studies, 8 (1), May 2009: pp. 55-108.

Abstract: "In modern times, a whole range of colonial enterprises have used the Bible. The book of Joshua and other biblical texts evoking the exploits of ancient Israelites have been deployed in support of secular Zionism and settler colonisation in Palestine. The mega narratives of the Bible, however, appeared to mandate the ethnic cleansing and even genocide of the indigenous population of Canaan. This article argues that, with the rise of messianic Zionism since 1967, a Jewish theology of zealotocracy, based on the land traditions of the Bible, has emerged in Israel – a political theology that demanded the destruction of the so-called modern Canaanites; since 1967 fundamentalist rabbis have routinely compared the Palestinian people to the ancient Canaanites, Philistines and Amalekites, whose annihilation or expulsion by the ancient Israelites was predestined by a divine design. This article focuses on the politics of reading the Bible by neo-Zionists and examines the theology of the messianic current which embraces the paradigm of Jews as a divinely 'chosen people' and sees the indigenous Palestinians as no more than illegitimate squatters, and a threat to the process of messianic redemption; their human and civil rights are no match for the biblically ordained holy war of conquering and settling the 'Promised Land'."

Rutger Henneman (researcher and activist) and Alastair McIntosh (University of Strathclyde), "The Political Theology of Modern Scottish Land Reform", Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 3 (3), 2009: pp. 340-75.

Abstract: "This paper gathers evidence that modern Scottish land reform was influenced by applied liberation theology from both grassroot community activists and institutional churches. Scotland's land tenure was feudal to the late twentieth century. Plutocratic ownership impacted the economics and psychology of community wellbeing. The 1990s produced a land reform movement culminating in the new Scottish Parliament's Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. These created a conditional 'community right to buy' and affirmed freedom of 'right to roam'. Two percent of Scottish land is now in community ownership. Our research interviewed fifteen movers and shakers – both national theologians and local activists from the vanguard land trusts of Eigg, Assynt and Gigha. We conclude that spirituality and religion can be subtle drivers of community empowerment. By inspiring, informing and legitimising socio-political transformation, a 'Remnant' theology factored into Scottish legislation of international significance."

Erin Runions (Pomona College), "Detranscendentalizing Decisionism: Political Theology after Gayatri Spivak", Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 25 (2), fall 2009, pp. 67-85.

Abstract: "This essay uses the thought of Gayatri Spivak to reread one religious trope – the antichrist – commonly used in conservative political discourse to motivate a masculinist theopolitical decisionism. Runions draws a connection between Spivak's insistence on detranscendentalizing radical alterity – which is a deconstructive literary approach to religious narratives – and Spivak's larger concern with ethics. The project of detranscendentalizing is an important first step toward the impossible ethical encounter with the other; it thus charts a course for critiquing theopolitics and imagining new modes of political engagement, in ways that resist the usual conservative accusations of neutrality. To illustrate, the essay draws to the fore the ancient Near Eastern mythological filiations between Christ and antichrist; it reads the antichrist as a detranscendentalized figure that ironically disrupts the masculinist authority of decisions made in the name of Christ and makes room for the singular encounter with the political other."

Anthony O'Mahony (Heythrop College), "The Vatican and Europe: Political Theology and Ecclesiology in Papal Statements from Pius XII to Benedict XVI", International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, 9 (3), August 2009, pp. 177-94.

Abstract: "The article examines the origins and evolution of the Vatican's political theology and ecclesiology for Europe from Pius XII (especially after the Second World War) and including the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It seeks to examine the continuities of the 'Idea of Europe' in papal thought against a background of changing political context – the end of the Second World War, the Cold War, the fall of the communist state system, the emergence of a united but diverse Europe after 1989. The political structures of the continent now include within its geographic sweep Western and Eastern Christian churches which, divided by tradition and modern history, find their relationship a key marker in the contemporary religious identity of Europe. This reality is a significant framework for Vatican thinking on Europe especially for John Paul II and Benedict XVI."

Victoria Kahn (University of California at Berkeley), "Political Theology and Fiction in The King's Two Bodies", Representations, 106, spring 2009: pp. 77-101.

Abstract: "This essay argues that Ernst Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies is intended as a contribution to twentieth-century debates about political theology and that modern students of political theology can learn from Kantorowicz's association of political theology with legal fiction."

Jennifer R. Rust (Saint Louis University), "Political Theology and Shakespeare Studies", Literature Compass, 6 (1), January 2009: pp. 175-90.

Abstract: "The current focus on political theology in Shakespeare studies is largely devoted to tracing how Shakespeare's dramas illuminate the structural link between religious and political forms in both early modernity and modern liberal democracy. Critics concerned with addressing Shakespeare's engagement with political theology are also interested in how Shakespeare's portrayal of sovereign bodies in crisis constitute an early representation of 'biopolitics'. These critics draw on theorists ranging from Carl Schmitt to Giorgio Agamben to inform their analyses of the way Shakespeare dramatizes sovereignty in a 'state of emergency' in his histories and tragedies. Plays such as Richard II, Coriolanus, and Hamlet have drawn particular attention insofar as they vividly interrogate the nature of the sovereign exception and decision highlighted by theorists of political theology. While this line of criticism adds a new theoretical dimension to Shakespeare studies, it also offers the potential for remapping our understanding of the religious and political history of early modern England in its attention to the deforming pressure of religious schism on traditional structures of sovereignty."

Aaron Riches (University of Nottingham), "Political Theology and Pauline Law: Notes Toward a Sapiential Legality", Telos, 146, spring 2009, pp. 140-57.

Excerpt: "In 1979, on the thirty-ninth anniversary of the closing of the Franco-Spanish border at Port Bou and one day before the anniversary of the suicide of Walter Benjamin, Jacob Taubes and Carl Schmitt opened the Bible in the Sauerland. The two men sat down in Plettenburg to read St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapters 9-11. As if in memory of Benjamin, they spoke 'under a priestly seal': Schmitt, the most important state law theorist of the twentieth century, a Roman Catholic and sometime member of the Nazi Party; Taubes, a Jewish philosopher of a Messianic and oddly left-wing disposition ..."

Mike Grimshaw (University of Canterbury), "Responding not Believing: Political Theology and Post-Secular Society", Political Theology, 10 (3), fall 2009: pp. 537-57.

Abstract: "In the past decade social theorists and Continental philosophers have returned again to an engagement with Christianity and the legacy of Christian belief. This is framed in the context of a Europe seen in transition to a post-secular identity and, often implicitly, against what is seen as an encroaching Islamic presence within Europe. This move has often brought together Marxist, post-Marxist, and Catholic-legacy philosophers, together with philosophical Protestants in an attempt to recover what I term a political theology of response. Response, in opposition to belief, signals an alternative post-secular turn of attempted inclusion out of a perceived shared cultural legacy. This essay asks if, in such a cultural philosophical turn, the alternative post-secular turn of a political theology of response signals that belief remains within the private sphere as we seek to engage in a public conversation of non-believing 'response'?"

The same journal, "Political Theology", carried, on occasion of the 500th birthday of John Calvin, in issue 3 of its 10th volume (fall 2009) a symposium on "John Calvin and Political Theology":


Articles include: "Editorial: Remembering Geneva's Calvin" by Marilynne Robinson (University of Iowa); "John Calvin and the Jews: A Problem in Political Theology" by David C. Steinmetz (Duke Divinity School); "Calvin and Natural Rights" by David Little (Harvard Divinity School); "Calvin's Legacy for Public Theology" by Richard J. Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary); and "What Reformed Theology in a Calvinist Key Brings to Conversations about Justice" by Douglas F. Ottati (Davidson College).

Aristide Tessitore (Furman University), "Political Theology and the Theological-Political Problem", Perspectives on Political Science, 38 (1), winter 2009: pp. 5-12.

Abstract: "This essay offers a critical appreciation of Mark Lilla's Stillborn God. To his credit, Lilla understands the primacy and enduring appeal of political theology, as well as the danger of intellectual complacency about the underlying principles of modern politics. Lilla maintains that modern politics is a relatively recent and radically novel experiment that aims at nothing less than displacing a primordial and perennial way of constituting politics with reference to the divine. My essay compares Lilla's analysis of the fundamental antagonism between political theology and modern liberal politics to Strauss's analysis of the theological-political problem. In doing so, I bring to light both the strengths and limits of Lilla's attempt to clarify the relationship between politics, biblical religion, and philosophic rationalism."

Sandrine Baume (University of Lausanne), "On Political Theology: A Controversy Between Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt", History of European Ideas, 35 (3), September 2009: pp. 369-81.

Abstract: "This article pays special attention to the large number of references to political theology by Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt, particularly in the interwar period, and seeks to interpret these references in a new way. While Schmitt's analogies between God and state are to be expected considering his strong Catholic roots, such comparisons are much more surprising for a positivist like Hans Kelsen, who always tried to relieve state and law from transcendental elements. The article concludes that, far from being marginal in the doctrinal dispute between Schmitt and Kelsen, references to political theology express and summarize their major controversy about the relation between state and law, as well as about the sources of the state's unity. The heart of the disputatio between the two jurists concerned the ability of the political power to emancipate itself from the juridical order. The 'legal miracle' – in this context meaning the occasional autonomization of the state from law – was for Schmitt the manifestation of sovereign power. However, for Kelsen it represented the negation of the state's essence, whose actions must be determined only by the legal order."

Anna Schmidt (University of Munich), "The Problem of Carl Schmitt's Political Theology", Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, 36 (3), summer 2009: pp. 219-52.

No abstract available.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (University of Coimbra, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Warwick), "If God Were a Human Rights Activist: Human Rights and the Challenge of Political Theologies", Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal (LGD), 13, 2009 (1), March, refereed electronic journal, full text available online:


Abstract: "Citing the inability of conventional human rights thinking to address the 'strong' questions raised by our times, this article pursues a twofold objective: to identify the major challenges that the rise of political theologies at the beginning of the twentieth-first [sic] century posed to human rights; and second, to select within a broad landscape of theological analysis the types of reflections and practices that might contribute to expand and deepen the canon of human rights politics. In order to achieve this double goal the article uses complexity as its main analytical guideline making distinctions from which significant consequences were drawn: on one side, distinctions among different types of political theologies (pluralist versus revelationist, traditionalist versus progressive); and, on the other, between two contrasting discourses and practices of human rights politics (hegemonic versus counter-hegemonic). Depending on the circumstances, even conventional or hegemonic human rights struggles may be a progressive tool against social practices and norms derived from traditionalist and revelationist theologies. Pluralist and progressive theologies, in turn, may be a source of radical energy toward more ambitious, counter-hegemonic human rights struggles."

Please let me know if I missed any important articles.


  1. When should the new issue of PT be released?

  2. Well, that's nothing to do with me. It's six times a year now. Check back here: