On Diaspora Book Event: Concluding Thoughts On the Avoidance of Religion

I want, first of all, to thank all of those who have taken the time and effort to post on this book. Dan Whistler, Ry, Adam, Bruce, and Beatrice have all written really fascinating, intelligent responses, all of which I’m continuing to think about and learn from. This was very generous of them. And the comments, as well, have been provocative and helpful. I’m appreciative, very much so, that my book has received such attention.

In the “Broader Questions” post, one of the issues that came up was the relation of this book to theology, and I suppose I can begin by talking about why I want to resist any “theologization” of my argument. The book, as I see it, is not primarily theological. Let’s say instead that the book is about religion. Read the rest of this entry »

On Diaspora Book Event: Broader questions

Thanks to all our contributors and commenters, who have made this book event such a success so far. Dan is planning on posting a general response on Monday, and in the meantime, we thought, after having gone through each chapter in some detail, it might not be out of place to open up a broader conversation, as well as to provide space for questions that people didn’t get around to asking before.

In particular, this might be a good opportunity to talk about the project of the book as a whole and where it fits into the broader fields of religious studies, philosophy of religion, and theology. What new paths of research does it open up? How do you think your engagement with On Diaspora will affect your thinking and your future work? What questions do you think Dan will need to address as he moves forward?

(Meanwhile, don’t forget that the book remains available for purchase direct from the publisher, as well as from Amazon (US, UK) and Book Depository.)

On Diaspora Book Event: Chapter 5, “The Differentiality of Differentialities”

The first line of Barber’s introduction (as other commenters have already noted) cautions that the book is “not easily placed.” Indeed, parsing through the bibliography and table of contents of this boldly named book with a flesh-tone cover, I wasn’t immediately sure what to make of it. But, by the third chapter, I’d become somehow convinced that it was directly responding to the guttural concerns about religion that sucked me into the field in the first place. I once found it inspiring to be an uncounted (and unaccountable) nomad in the world of “identitarian” religious belonging. I had an intuition that uncharted space existed—that some religio-spiritual intellectual space existed that was open to play and invention, where people might crib from those dominant traditions when necessary, without feeling the need to be accountable to them by some form of blood pact. Years ago, I convinced myself that theology was a suitable place to do this. But, almost in spite of the speculative absurdity of its own history, theology remains a discipline that’s deeply bound to the stolid structures of academic Christianity. I’ve gotten a bit weary. Perhaps some of the spit and vinegar has seeped out of me. Barber’s project is a little breath of possibility, for the way that it both occupies and yet also deterriotorializes that theological infrastructure. The book may not be easily placed, but there’s something in its intrinsic logic that I find easy to affirm.

What does this fifth chapter do? It begins by drawing our attention explicitly to what will have already become painfully obvious to the sympathetic reader: we’re afflicted. Read the rest of this entry »

On Diaspora Book Event: Chapter 4, “Christianity, Religion, and the Secular”

In this chapter, Daniel Barber exposes the logic of what could be called “universalizing supersessionism,” a logic at work in the construction of Christianity in relation to Judaism and other “religions”, and then again at work in the construction of secularism in relation to religion. Barber describes the way the logic works this way:

In each case, what is at stake is the construction not only of a position of judgment, but also of a plane of reality in which such a position becomes normative. In other words, it a matter not only of asserting the dominance of a particular position—whether Christianity or secular—but of involving this position within a broader plane of reality, such that the dominance of this particular position is mediated by its full congruence with the plane itself. (100-101).

In a quotation from Gil Anidjar in which this logic is connected with the construction of “white” as the universal, supersessionist position in the category of race, Anidjar calls “white” the “unmarked race” (111). The reference to the “unmarked” position in the category of race offers us a way to understand in other terms the nature of the logic that Barber is describing. The logic of universalizing supersessionism is deeply embedded within the very structure of language itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t forget to purchase On Diaspora!

Dan Barber’s On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity is available for purchase direct from the publisher, as well as from Amazon (US, UK) and Book Depository — and wherever fine books are sold!

Even if you can’t get it in time to follow along with the book event, you should rest assured that the questions raised by this book will continue to shape conversations in theology — blog-based or otherwise — for a long time to come.

On Diaspora Book Event: Chapter 3 “The World in the Wake of Pauline Thought”

Out of all the chapters of Dan Barber’s excellent On Diaspora, this is the one I have found most personally challenging. Reading this chapter (which he passed along to me in manuscript form about a year ago) was decisive in weakening my deep desire to find a more or less purely “optimistic” reading of Paul. It’s all the more powerful for me in that arguably Barber’s primary point of reference here is also one of mine: namely, Taubes.

The argument of this chapter traces out the path by which a political stance can be so uncompromisingly radical that it effectively becomes conservative — and hence, even as its primary importance is genealogical, it can also serve as a cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry »

On Diaspora Book Event: Chapter 2 “Diaspora”

This is a guest post from Ry Siggelkow, a PhD student in Theology and Ethics and Princeton Theological Seminary. He blogs at Rain and the Rhinoceros. – APS

It is true, On Diaspora, as Dan Barber puts it in his introduction, is not “easily placed.” For those of us who have been in conversation with Dan over the past few years this is, of course, unsurprising. To say, in agreement with Dan, that this book is not “easily placed” is just another way of saying that this book is something of a success. That is to say, Dan has, I think, successfully executed a very difficult enterprise; not only does this work amount to a massive overhaul in the ways we think of Christianity, religion, and secularity, it really is an invitation to completely reconceptualize—in one fell swoop—the basic assumptions and methods of a number of theoretical discourses. Dan should be applauded, then, for his originality and creativity and for the remarkable sophistication with which he treats the matters at hand. Indeed, we might even say that, the book itself stands, as a provocative expression of the kind of diasporic account of existence that Dan seeks to develop throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

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