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 »

What is Creaturely Theology?

First, just a “thanks” to aufs for hosting the livestream of our divinanimality conference at Drew this past weekend. While the event is still fresh, I also thought I might pose a couple of questions that began to gestate over the course of this four day conference. My ears are selectively attentive. So whatever I report will (naturally) be told a bit slant. But, nonetheless, I’m interested in broad questions, about how religious studies and theology might infect/intersect with the ever-expanding storehouse of scholarship in animal studies.

Of course there were theological questions, calling attention to the sticky relations between creatures, creators, creations. But I think one of the most fruitful conversations—one that kept coming up over the course of the weekend—was the ontological distinction between the “animal” and the “creaturely.” While the conference intended to foreground the challenges that animals and divinities pose to humanist orthodoxies, many pointed to the “creaturely” as a plane of engagement that seems to do something different. I’ve actually given a lot of thought to this question (and have a forthcoming piece about it, in the volume resulting from the “Metaphysics & Things” conference at the Claremont Graduate University last December). But it was interesting to hear this conversation broadening. Kate Rigby suggested that the creaturely is a more “democratic” conceptual space—inclusive of both humans and animals, as well as plants, monsters. Perhaps even machines. This space isn’t unlike that given to “actors” in Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, Alfred North Whitehead’s “actual entities” or even OOO’s objects. But, of course, the creaturely has a theological genealogy. Which makes it easier to explore this concept in the field of religious ideas. In spite of the generic, egalitarian potential of the creaturely, however, Read the rest of this entry »

Theorizing Political Practice (II): On Why the “Democracy to Come” Is Not the Perfection of Liberal Ideology, and May Be Its Cure

(Half way through writing this, I got my hands on Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding.  I was able to incorporate insights from pp.114-123 into this post, but beyond what I have been able to garner from those pages, I have very little sense of Critchley’s argument as such.  Any misrepresentations of his position are simply the result of my ignorance.  On the whole these are a series of reflections spawned by Žižek’s reflections on Critchley’s book.  Nonetheless, I want to be sure to acknowledge my debts.)

As I was saying, before being so oddly interrupted by such a pertinent event: since the form of Milbank’s position requires the content of Žižek’s, and vice versa, the encounter of one with the other signals the terminus of a dialectic.  Each is proven true only in tandem with the other, and that demonstration is likewise their negation.  This is nothing more than a point about the impotence of any revolutionary politics developed out of an Idealist metaphysics (including dialectical materialism), which seeks to achieve a concrete, material realization of an abstract universal (cf. Critchley, 119.)  The prior discussion of Milbank and Žižek is simply illustrative of this more fundamental point.  It is fair, I believe, to claim that the very appearance of these two thinkers signals the apotheosis of Idealist metaphysics inasmuch as each respectively is the concrete, material realization of its dual transcendental and materialist trajectories.    

I suggested at the end of the previous post that this fact signaled a return to Kant – though under erasure – inasmuch as the fundamental rejection of limit functions to constitute socialism as a regulative ideal.  Critchley is keen to note that the concept of “communism” is fundamentally tainted by the Idealist notion of species-being; and, I am here developing his impulse to suggest that, when viewed in light of the mutually assured destruction of the Milbankian and Žižekian positions, their invocations of “socialism” function as a regulative ideal inasmuch as the purpose of “socialism” or “proletarian dictatoriship,” as they invoke the terms, appears to be to ensure that thought itself always remains properly proportionate to itself in its self-representation (Critchley, 118.)  In doing so, the gesture rather ingeniously conceals, beneath that very thought of that proportion, the fact that the concrete actualization of the concept is impossible. 

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