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POLITICAL THEOLOGY: Vol. 80, No. 1 (Spring 2013)

Richard J. Bernstein, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

During the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in the tangled relations of politics, religion, and theology. Is the famous thesis of Carl Schmitt—"all significant concepts of the modern theory of state are modern theological concepts"—true? In this issue, distinguished thinkers from a variety of disciplines vigorously debate these issues.

Ira Katznelson writes in appreciation of the life and work of Aristide Zolberg.

"Political theology" has a narrower and broader meaning. In its narrower sense it concerns the specific questions that were so dramatically raised by Carl Schmitt about theology, the state, and politics. But in its broader meaning it refers to the complex issues that have arisen throughout the world about the meaning, significance, and boundaries (or lack of boundaries) among politics, religion, and theology. The papers included in this volume deal with political theology in both its narrower and broader senses. Several of these papers were presented at a Hannah Arendt/Reiner Schürmann Symposium held at the New School for Social Research in November 2011. They have been supplemented by articles of other thinkers who are deeply concerned with questions of political theology. Collectively they show the vitality, diversity, and significance of current debates.

The last two decades have seen the number of debates about the continued social and political role of religion multiply and expand across the humanities and social sciences. In political theory, discussions have often more or less narrowly gravitated toward Carl Schmitt's understanding of "political theology" and the connection to the larger contemporary landscape of inquiries remains often only suggestive. To counteract the danger of a Schmittian myopia, this article first examines Carl Schmitt's intervention and contextualizes his approach within the larger discussions at the time of his writing and the variegated critical engagements with his understanding of "political theology." To contextualize the current interest in theological-political issues, the second part of this essay sketches out a systematic map of the recent discussions, which fall roughly into three areas: (1) critiques of secularism; (2) recuperations of theology for political practice; and (3) examinations of the theological dimensions for a critique of the contemporary capitalist political economy.

I challenge the "presupposition strain" in political theology—the thesis that politics needs religion, that politics presupposes religion, and that we cannot make sense of politics without an appeal to transcendent theological concepts. I do this by critically examining Simon Critchley's claim that politics is not practicable with religion. Critchley shares a common framework with Carl Schmitt; it is this framework of political theology that needs to be exposed, questioned, and criticized.

In my response to Bernstein, I explain more fully what I mean by a faith of the faithless. My conception of faith is neither a traditional theism nor an evangelical atheism, but the fidelity to an infinite demand. I show that a careful reading of Rousseau exhibits a series of décalages (Althusser's term)—dislocations or displacements—that are relevant for confronting contemporary political aporiae around the relations between association, law and religion. I explain what I mean by the role of fictions in politics and the possibility of a supreme fiction. Along the way, I also discuss the question of love, which is not just some utilitarian mutual exchange of favors, but something much more radical with considerable political consequences.

The author uses an example of the Salafists to discuss the urgency in treating the role of religion in the politics of today, and therefore a good reason to revisit the authority of God.

After reviewing the contemporary politics of espousing political theology as a mode of thinking, this essay is a meditation on the assertion by Cornelius Castoriadis that "every religion is idolatry." Idolatry here is configured beyond the conventional understanding of the idol as a concrete object of worship which works within the logic of representation. In monotheism, even the unrepresentable—or, perhaps, especially the unrepresentable—is an idol, an object of worship that is otherwise silenced by a language that claims to worship a non-object. In this sense, the prohibition of images in monotheism (Bildverbot) is a highly sophisticated mode of idolatry.

This article investigates the relationship of the thought of Claude Lefort to the concept of the theological-political. It employs Hans Blumenberg's criteria of secularization to position Lefort's philosophy with respect to Karl Lowith and Carl Schmitt.

Why should we engage in the secularization and disenchantment of political concepts, the preservation or the re-establishment of their secular and rational character? This paper will first argue, using the example of Carl Schmitt, that positive reliance on political theology not only can have a profoundly authoritarian meaning, but is helpful in disguising and misrepresenting that meaning. Second, I will try to show, that taking this topos seriously does not commit a thinker to a political theological posture. As demonstrated by Claude Lefort, political theology can be thematized in order to go beyond it. Lefort is important for my paper, because his concept of democracy as the empty space of power clearly draws the line of distinction with not only totalitarianism as he stressed, but with all modern forms of dictatorship. Finally, I will argue, that without uttering the word, a political conception can be deeply theological with similar consequences as self-admitted versions. At a time when one can no longer openly argue for dictatorship as Schmitt still could in the 1920s, disguising the authoritarian disguise itself—namely, political theology—can preserve its meaning and function. I will try to develop this point through a critique of populist politics in the version introduced by Ernesto Laclau, who explicitly advocates not only the construction of "the people" in an entirely voluntaristic manner, but filling the empty space of power by leadership incarnating a subject that does not exist.

Over the last twenty years, the classical theory of secularization has suffered a series of near fatal humiliations. It was Max Weber who deserves greatest credit for the orthodox thesis, according to which modernization brought an inevitable differentiation of value spheres, a thoroughgoing rationalization of procedure, and the consequent disenchantment of the world. The classical theory presupposed that the comprehensive metaphysical and normative authority of religion could not long survive once it stood exposed to the disarticulating processes of rationalization: charisma would yield to bureaucratic routine and, without the requisite authorization for normative consensus, the social whole would shatter into a mosaic of incommensurable parts.

This discusses the "need to know" in public policy now that it has been confronted with the resurgence of so-called global religion. More specifically, it details recent controversies concerning "the religious fact" in education in the secular state and analyzes the conceptual difficulties in differentiation between "cult" and "culture." The essay concludes with some very tentative observations concerning the desirability of a religious "canon"—to begin within and for "Europe"—suggesting that, if we adopt or, rather, stipulate a plausible definition of that historical and somewhat technical term (i.e., "canon") and, indeed, apply it wisely, then nothing less—and nothing more—may be needed to avoid the old and new cultural "clashes" that so many have feared are invited by the so-called "post-secular challenge." To do so requires revisiting and reconsidering the cultural idioms and cultic practices for which this term—"canon"—once stood, not least since many of its original assumptions seem no longer valid or useful, if ever they were.

Today it has become nearly commonplace to understand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a new, positive "basic law" for global civil society. Yet this Kelsen- inspired, positivist understanding of the UDHR covers over both the theologico-political and the bio-political presuppositions of the doctrine of "basic rights" voiced through the UDHR. In order to bring to light these dimensions of universal human rights, this paper offers an interpretation of Jacques Maritain's understanding of human rights, both prior to and after the UDHR. The article shows that Maritain understood universal human rights as part and parcel of a new "democratic" Christian political theology centered on the critique of Schmitt's conception of sovereignty. Additionally, Maritain attempted to ground the universality of human rights on a theory of human nature which is strikingly biopolitical in character and closely related to emerging neoliberal critiques of sovereignty.

The German-speaking Jewry's encounter with modernity has long served as a paradigm both in Jewish historiography and in socio-cultural research about modernity at large. In this essay, I examine this "dialectic of modernity" in the writings of Rabbi Leopold Lucas and Moritz Goldstein. Although less well-known than many other towering figures from the same background, such as Scholem, Arendt, Benjamin and members of the Frankfurt School, in their writings one nonetheless finds significant themes and insights for our times. Particularly, Moritz Goldstein's depiction of the psychology of the "eternal half-other" resonates today with the experience of Europe's post-colonial "others," as they try to develop forms of identity beyond assimilation into, and mimicry of, the dominant culture.

The events that hastily came to be called "The Arab Spring" have done much to reopen the question of what it means for a Muslim society to be ruled legitimately and to force Islamist parties to account for their visions of sovereignty and authority in the public sphere. This paper provides a historical and conceptual background to certain modern attempts to harmonize ideals of divine and popular sovereignty. I pay special attention to the pre-2011 doctrines of Tunisian Islamist leader, Rashid al-Ghannushi, particularly his attempt to reconcile visions of divine and popular sovereignty through the doctrine of a universal covenant of vicegerency (istikhlaf). I contrast this doctrine of a "caliphate of man" with other modern attempts to institutionalize divine sovereignty (Saudi Arabia and Iran), while suggesting a set of ambiguities this doctrine raises both for the idea of rule by divine law (shari'a) and for post-revolutionary expectations of democracy within a "civil state" (dawla madaniyya).


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