Some thoughts on secularity-without-secularism and non-philosophy more generally (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Rather than offering an overall perspective on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature in this post, I wanted to highlight several moments that I found particularly insightful to think and wrestle with.

1. The most viscerally powerful moment for me in the book was the image it offered for the possibility of what a generic secular might look like. Anthony recounts a dual act of solidarity that occurred between the Muslim Community and the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. The first was the act of solidarity by Egyptian Muslims who, in the wake of a suicide bombing against the Coptic community, encircled a Coptic Christian Church to provide the worshippers a human shield that would allow them to safely celebrate Christmas. The second image is likewise an encircling of protection. During the Tahir square occupations, a number of protestors carried out their religious duty and prayed during the calls for prayer, and in so doing, left themselves vulnerable to police harassment and brutality. This time it was the Coptic Christians who encircled the Muslims, constructing a human shield and allowing prayer to continue free of harassment and intimidation. Read the rest of this entry »

Forthcoming Book

Just a quick announcement that a book of mine — on Deleuze, in connection with many things, including Adorno, religion/secularism, and metaphilosophy/nonphilosophy — is coming out with Edinburgh UP in December. I’m happy to be able to post the cover at this point. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Ambiguity: Agrama’s Questioning Secularism

Rarely has a book excited me lately as much as Hussein Ali Agrama’s recent Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt  (University of Chicago Press, 2012) did. It helped me to clarify some of my own thinking regarding the “generic secular” in relation to his discussion of secularism, non-secularism, post-secularism and asecularism. The last of this series he seems to valorize as something that appeared to me to be something akin to a temporary autonomous zone. The book aims to investigate the nature of secular power through the use of social theory, philosophy, and anthropology (and I note that the ethnography of the book was exciting to read) and a focus on the realm of law as found in modern Egypt. Agrama writes, “That secular power increasingly enables state sovereign capacity is a key argument of this book. It points to the possibility that secular power brings together two things typically thought to be opposed: a growing space of normative critique and contestation, and the increasing assertion of state sovereignty within social life (31).” Read the rest of this entry »

Loving your enemies

In my discussions about religion with secular liberals, a certain dynamic has become disturbingly familiar. Again and again, they will listen patiently to me talk about a liberation, feminist, or even just plain liberal theological perspective and then authoritatively declare, “That will never catch on.” A reading of the Bible that goes against long-standing tradition? “Too much of a stretch” — and, for some of them, even potentially dishonest.

What is so frustrating about this is that there are actual communities of actual human beings who live out the doctrines I’m talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

Some Philosophical Fragments on the Struggles in Tunisia and Egypt

Like many of our readers I’ve watched the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt unfold with a mixture of hopeful expectation and anxious trepidation. It has been a long time since something called a revolution has actually been one. Still, I am one of those on the Left who celebrate every act of resistance, regardless of its subsequent failure, because they serve to remind all of us that the state we are in is always contingent. That there are fissures and cracks dotting the seemingly monolithic entity that is Empire. And so with the same expectation I have watched and tried to understand. I don’t think that I do completely understand, as I’m sure most of us feel, but I felt the need to write down some thoughts on the matter especially since the other big theology blogs yet again remain silent in the face of massive political and social unrest. Preferring instead to continue their usual self-flagellation about their chosen career path or posting links to lectures by yet another conservative theologian espousing a sophisticated form of apologetics. Read the rest of this entry »

Adrian Johnston talk: “On Deep History and the Brain”

Adrian Johnston gave a talk at the University of Guelph last Friday and I thought the audio might be of interest to some here. The talk is entitled “On Deep History and the Brain” and in it Adrian draws upon Daniel Smail’s book “On Deep History and the Brain”  to critique a certain side of Lacan that denies any inquiry into that which lies beyond the epistemic limitations of our symbolic structures (e.g. Lacan’s ontology of ‘parle-être’, “In the beginning was the Word,” “The Word is the murder of the Thing,” etc.). Adrian links this impetus to bracket the pre-linguistic to a Judeo-Christian “short chronology/sacred history.” In its place, Adrian endorses a “deep history” as the necessary condition for a secularized materialism. I’ll let the audio explain what exactly this entails.

The Q&A might also be of interest to some, as Adrian talks a bit about his interest in revitalizing Hegel’s philosophy of nature, his preference for the Zizekian approach of adopting the form of Christianity in order to displace its basis rather than smuggling Judeo-Christian content into an atheistic outlook, and shares some objections he has to certain tenets of Speculative Realism.

The abstract is here (pdf), the talk here, and the Q&A here.

Kant and biblical studies: On deactivation

This week, my philosophy of religion course is reading Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, whose preface anticipates his arguments in Conflict of the Faculties in favor of viewing the “philosopy faculty” (something like the “college of arts and sciences”) as superior to the other faculties (basically professional schools). In specific, he claims that although the philosophical theory of “pure religion” seems narrower than historical religions, it nonetheless has the right to judge and assess them insofar as it is higher and more universal than them. Kant does wind up claiming that Christianity is uniquely in line with the ideal “religion of reason,” but that claim of Christian superiority is undercut insofar as it is Kant qua philosopher who is entitled to make that judgment.

It seems to me that this move on the part of Kant can shed some light on the place of biblical studies in the university. Biblical studies did historically make claims for Christian superiority just as Kant does, and postcolonial critics have pointed out the ways that critical biblical studies wound up underwriting imperialism, etc. Such things don’t happen as much anymore (at least not openly — for that we need to look to theologians like Milbank), but biblical studies does still claim the authority of the Bible and arguably does so in the interests of the liberal state. It does this by claiming biblical authority only to deactivate it.

Broadly speaking, biblical studies sets itself up as a new magisterium regulating the use of the Bible. And ultimately, it turns out that all possible uses of the Bible in contemporary life are somehow wrong, as indeed all previous historical attempts to use the Bible have been.

Read the rest of this entry »

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