A Synthetic Manifesto: A Review of Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism

Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins are no strangers to readers of this blog. Both are well established figures within the fields of theology, philosophy and the liminal space between them that sometimes goes by the name secular theology and sometimes Continental philosophy of religion. Both are graduates of the Department of Religion at Syracuse University and Crockett now teaches as an associate professor of Religion at the University of Central Arkansas while Robbins is a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College. While their friendship has long been know, expressed in the academic realm through their co-editorship of the Insurrections series with ColumbiaUP, Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism is their first co-written book. The book, published in the new Radical Theologies series published by Palgrave Macmillan, is quite consciously written as a kind of manifesto for the practice and future of radical theology. Now, what this means is dependent of course on the figures who develop it, but by radical theology it is clear that people thinking with religious material outside of a confessional duty as well as those who are more explicitly confessional but still attempting to radicalize their confessional thought beyond any capture by that tradition’s authorities. That is, radical theology cuts a wide-swath and it may be the only form of theology that is truly “big tent” in terms of its actions and not just as a propaganda move. However much such a movement might benefit from a manifesto, the disparate directions and materials with which various radical theologians engage with makes creating such a manifesto difficult and risks sedimenting their works and cutting off these radical theologians from the true, creative source of their power. At times it feels that Crockett and Robbins risk such sedimentation. However, what ultimately saves them from this temptation is their very synthetic approach. This is a book constructed not in the name of Crockett and Robbins, but through a multiplicity of names that are brought together in varying ways and with various levels of success under the standard “The New Materialism”. Read the rest of this entry »

AAR/SBL 2012: Please Boycott Hyatt

Workers at Hyatt Hotels have asked patrons to boycott their workplaces. In conjunction with a group of religious scholars supportive of labor rights, they have addressed a special plea to participants in AAR/SBL to boycott the Hyatt McCormick Place and Hyatt Regency in conjunction with the conference. They’re asking attendees not to stay at, eat, or attend panels or interviews at those two hotels.

A petition you can sign at the link above will be delivered to the AAR and SBL Boards of Directors in advance of the conference. A strong, early show of support from scholars affiliated with the organizations will allow them to pull conference events from Hyatt early, and prevent them from forcing attendees to choose between attending events and respecting picket lines.

In Chicago, Hyatt has refused to adopt the contract that other major hotels abide by. Nationally, the boycott against Hyatt is based around their use of exploitative subcontracting arrangements, poor working conditions for housekeepers (and lobbying to prevent regulatory improvements), and other reasons explained here.

I have worked alongside the UNITE HERE union in many capacities, as an organizer in my first post-college job, as an ally when I was in local government, and as a member in my college dining hall. In the labor movement at large they are passionate advocates, tactical innovators, and well known for empowering workers as leaders in the union structure and as a “countervailing force” within their own workplaces. I have complained in other venues about dumb boycotts, but this is a principled and effective use of the tactic. (It’s notable, and common to boycotts led by this union, that they are called by workers in the hotels, who go into it knowing that reduced business means short-term sacrifice of their hours and tips in exchange for long-term strength.)

It’s by comment-section felicity that I ended up connected to this community, and I’m grateful to have the soapbox to connect something personally important to me to you. Please sign the pledge and help persuade AAR/SBL to move its conference business out of Hyatt.

Spiritual warfare and citizenship

I just finished reading Kevin Lewis O’Neill’s excellent ethnographic study City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala, which I will be using in my Global Christianity course. His overall argument is that Guatemalan Neo-Pentecostals understand their religious practices to be the way they exercise their citizenship, the way they can take responsibility for the future of their country. They pray, fast, speak in tongues, undertake “spiritual warfare” (including drawing literal maps of where demonic powers are strongest and the paths they travel) — all the while downplaying more straightforward paths of action. For instance, one of O’Neill’s informants tells him that he should be praying more to get rid of all the bars in his area, and when O’Neill suggests that he could also talk to the bar owner, the guy tells him that’s just a waste of time. The whole outlook is radically individualistic: if they can change their own hearts and induce others to change theirs, they will eventually add up to a better nation.

I’m not convinced that these people have chosen the most effective route to help their country — though Guatemala is in such bad shape I’ll admit that I don’t know what would be effective — and I suspect that at least some of my students will be skeptical as well. Partway through the book, though, I had an epiphany. My own practice of citizenship consists, aside from voting every couple years, of reading a lot of stuff so that I can stay informed, then forming opinions about public policy and arguing with people on the internet about it. Like the Guatemalan strategy, this approach is premised on individualism: if the debates have a point, it is to change people’s opinions, one by one, so that they will then vote the right way.

When I look at things that way, I wonder if maybe prayer and fasting is the way to go.

You Heard It Here First

From an IM conversation earlier today:

A: if, hypothetically, abortion was outlawed across the board what would be the next big thing for Christian activism?
B: Making poverty illegal

This seems about right, doesn’t it?


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