The Prince of This World is available for pre-order

Prince of This World cover

The Prince of This World has appeared on the SUP website and is available for pre-order. I think we can all agree that the cover design that the crack team of Stanford designers came up with is amazing. Here is the back cover description:

The most enduring challenge to traditional monotheism is the problem of evil, which attempts to reconcile three incompatible propositions: God is all-good, God is all-powerful, and evil happens. The Prince of This World traces the story of one of the most influential attempts to square this circle: the offloading of responsibility for evil onto one of God’s rebellious creatures. In this striking reexamination, the devil’s story is bitterly ironic, full of tragic reversals. He emerges as a theological symbol who helped oppressed communities cope with the trauma of unjust persecution, torture, and death at the hands of political authorities and eventually becomes a vehicle to justify oppression at the hands of Christian rulers. And he evolves alongside the biblical God, who at first presents himself as the liberator of the oppressed but ends up a cruel ruler who delights in the infliction of suffering on his friends and enemies alike. In other words, this is the story of how God becomes the devil—a devil who remains with us in our ostensibly secular age.

It also features great blurbs from Laurel Schneider and Catherine Keller, but I’m going to make you click through to see them (under reviews).

Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic: InterCcECT reading group

InterCcECT will host a series of reading groups this summer, and the first focuses on the beginning of Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic (Prefaces and Sections 1-18). Join us Friday, 6 May, 2:30pm at the south loop’s Little Branch Cafe, 1251 S Prairie Ave (Roosevelt “L”). Drop a note to interccect at gmail if you need the readings (we are using the Hackett Classics Edition/ Translation). As always, contact us to propose events, and follow us on Facebook for frequent links.

Talk in Knoxville tomorrow on the Devil and Neoliberalism

Tomorrow I will be giving a talk at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville entitled “The Devil and Neoliberalism: A Discussion of Free Will.” Details here.

From medieval to modern in political theology

One of the preoccupations of political theology is the relationship between medieval Christianity and secular modernity.

The first question to ask is whether they are continuous with each other. For some theorists, there is no continuity — the entry into modernity is a qualitative break. Modernity is just its own thing and shouldn’t be judged in terms of the Christian heritage that preceded it. As far as I understand, Blumenberg is probably the most prominent advocate of this view.

If we decide that medieval Christianity and secular modernity are continuous in a serious way, the question then becomes whether modernity is a good thing. If we answer yes, then we have two options for how to view Christianity. The first is to say that Christianity was bad and we’re glad modernity has overcome it. To the extent that modernity retains Christian elements, they need to be purged to the extent possible. This tendency is arguably the hegemonic one in the field today. The second is to say that since modernity is good, the Christianity that in some sense led to it must have been good as well. Here we might think of Hegel or the “heroic era” of Liberal Protestantism (Harnack, Ritschl, etc.).

If we answer that no, modernity is not a good thing, then we similarly have two choices. The first is to claim that Christianity was good and it was a bad idea to deviate from it. We could associate this view with Radical Orthodoxy and arguably with Schmitt. The second is to claim that Christianity was also bad, and hence it was only natural that it would lead to something as bad as modernity. This is the position of Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, as well as Nietzsche, Foucault, and probably Heidegger and Agamben, too.

Any guesses as to which tendency best describes my work?

Inaugural Issue of Continental Thought and Theory is now out

The inaugural issue of the new journal Continental Thought and Theory, edited by Mike Grimshaw and Cindy Zeiher, is now available, featuring reflections on intellectual freedom from a range of thinkers, including Altizer, Steven Shakespeare, Monique Rooney, and even me.

Liberals gonna liberal

The amount of tone-policing and other forms of meta-discourse surrounding the Democratic primary is overwhelming. Everyone feels patronized, insulted, inundated with negative information about their candidate and apologetics for the opponent. Every day brings us a new meditation on “electability” or abstract “qualifications.” Every primary prompts ad hoc moralizing about whether the rules are fair — though neither side has a pre-existing theory of what fairness would look like, other than them winning.

I can see this kind of maneuvering in a race between fundamentally similar candidates, but they are really asking for different things — either a continuation of Clintonian centrist “neoliberalism with a human face” or an attempt to return to something like FDR’s postwar settlement. Even this genuine, substantive disagreement gets shunted into the meta level. The young people love socialism, so that’s the future of the party, or else socialism is “unrealistic” and we should just try for slight tweaks to the status quo. In other words, even a major ideological difference is primarily grist for the electability mill. And my God, I am so sick of hearing about those secret Wall Street speeches — again, a procedural argument where there should be a substantive reckoning with the public record, which provides ample evidence on all the relevant issues.

They say liberals won’t take their own side in an argument, but it’s worse than that: they won’t even directly have an argument. It’s all proceduralism, all the way down.

Curriculum brainstorm: Ancient and Medieval survey

Next year, I’m going to be teaching Shimer’s senior capstone, which is purportedly an overview of the broad Western tradition (ancient and medieval in the fall, modern in the spring) with an emphasis on the concept of “history.” That narrative is becoming less and less compelling to most students, and the through-line of the focus on history tends to get a little lost amid a very crowded reading list (my list will seem crowded, but it’s nothing compared to the existing version!). So I’m going to have a chance to make some changes, to lighten the load somewhat and to incorporate more contemporary perspectives.

I don’t know how much flexibility I’ll actually have, but my mind has started to churn about what I would do with the concept if I had a totally free hand. Accepting the “ancient and medieval” frame for the fall, and taking into account that we have a 13-week semester and that the capstone class meets four times per week (and we generally do 20-30 pages of reading most days), this is what I’ve come up with so far. (Note that most of these books will be read in selections.)
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