CFP: The Challenge of God: Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Heritage

Colby Dickinson of Loyola University Chicago reports the following:

I’m very happy to announce an interdisciplinary conference, ‘The Challenge of God: Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Heritage’, set to take place 14-16 April 2016 at Loyola University Chicago. Please see the attached flyer for more details.

Our conference is designed to explore and celebrate the mutual enrichment between the Catholic tradition and continental thought, and brings together some of the most important figures in this ongoing dialogue, including Julia Kristeva, Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Luc Nancy, Richard Kearney, John Caputo and Adriaan Peperzak.

For further information and updates about the conference, and the Call for Papers, please visit our page on facebook, and/or follow us via any of the other links included on the Call for Papers.

If you are so inclined, we would greatly appreciate your circulating the attached flyer to any and all interested parties. Thanks.

The gender dyad in the Qur’an

Repeatedly in the Qur’an, we read that God has created humanity male and female. This duality plays a directly theological role: in contrast to God, who is absolutely One and eternal, who has no partners or offspring, humanity is dual and reproductive. It seems that the gender dyad is so fundamental to the Qur’an’s teaching as to leave no room for either homosexuality or for more fluid definitions of gender (as in trans experience). Indeed, the latter possibility never seems to come up, while several tellings of the Sodom story not only make it much clearer than the Bible does that homosexuality is the big problem — but that such a practice was literally unthinkable before the Sodomites invented it.

I wonder, though, if there may still be room to maneuver within Qur’anic terms toward a more open attitude to non-binary gender experiences and expressions. I have a sense that the purely negative theological role of the gender dyad may be the opening — the point of such declarations is to clarify humanity’s radical difference from God, rather than to make normative claims about human character. Presumably if humanity was more polymorphous, its difference from God would be even more strongly highlighted.

Further, we can see evidence that God views variety (beyond duality) to be a positive benefit to humanity, as in 49:13, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” As with the gender dyad, the multiplicity of nations is not a curse or a failing (as in the Biblical narrative of Babel), but a positive opportunity for growth and communion. Could the same not be true of a more expansive view of gender experience and expression?

(Perhaps this is a stretch, and I am after all an outsider — but I am committed to the project of finding liberatory readings of scriptural traditions generally.)

Absolute Economics is Back

After a year on hiatus, as Indradeep Ghosh and I have gone through career and life transitions, we are once again actively posting up at Absolute Economics.  I’ve put up a couple of things over the weekend, some notes on The Merchant of Venice and a few more on the extraordinary Museo del Oro in San Jose, Costa Rica.  See you there.

Cameron’s Christianity

This week David Cameron ventured into the realm of political theology, boldly speaking up for ‘the values on which our nation was built’ – that is, ‘the values of Easter and the Christian religion – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility’. The Guardian were quick to object, with both an editorial in which we were informed that Christianity’s distinctive contribution to the world was, actually, ‘the extraordinary idea that people have worth in themselves, regardless of their usefulness to others, regardless even of their moral qualities’; and with a piece by Giles Fraser which argued that ‘Christianity, properly understood, is a religion of losers’, and that the real meaning of Easter is that ‘failure is redeemed’.

But however much we might dislike Cameron’s Christianity, we can’t simply reject it in the name of some more authentic form of Christianity, of ‘Christianity, properly understood’, of what Jesus really meant, if only we could learn to focus on the right verses, read in the right way. What Christianity really is is also what it actually means and does in the world today, what people who call themselves Christians think and do.

And In that sense, Cameron is absolutely right: Christianity is about respectability, hard work, ‘decency’; it is about white middle class values. The Protestant work ethic, the cleanliness that is next to godliness, the respectability politics of compulsory heterosexuality and all those ‘real and necessary’ values that have been weaponised so effectively by the West as it has pursued racist, genocidal, and colonialist policies around the world are precisely a Christian invention, whatever the elusive historical Jesus might have made of them.

Christianity is the things Cameron represents because that’s what it is for many, perhaps most, British people who call themselves Christians. 70% of British people call themselves Christians even though most of them never attend church services, because for many of us ‘Christian’ has come to mean ‘white British’. The language of the far right in Europe is increasingly moving away from that old appeal to securing a future for white children and towards the mainstream political discourse – eagerly endorsed by popes and archbishops alike – of defending Europe’s Christian heritage. Remember Anders Breivik? Whatever Christianity was, or should be, or could be; however multiple it is, however contested its terms, it is now also a metonym for white supremacist patriarchy. We need to confront that.

Two notes on calling oneself a Marxist

Foucault:

There is also a sort of game that I play with this. I often quote concepts, texts and phrases from Marx, but without feeling obliged to add the authenticating label of a footnote with a laudatory phrase to accompany the quotation. As long as one does that, one is regarded as someone who knows and reveres Marx, and will be suitably honoured in the so-called Marxist journals. But I quote Marx without saying so, without quotation marks, and because people are incapable of recognizing Marx’s texts I am thought to be someone who doesn’t quote Marx.

Derrida:

I hear people saying ‘You picked a good time to salute Marx!’ Or else: ‘It’s about time!’ ‘Why are you so late?’ I believe in the political virtue of the contretemps. And if a contretemps does not have the good luck, a more or less calculated luck, to come just in time, then the inopportuneness of a strategy (political or other) may still bear witness, precisely, to justice, bear witness, at least, to the justice which is demanded and about which we were saying a moment ago that it must be disadjusted, irreducible to exactness [justesse] and to law. But that is not the decisive motivation here and we need finally to break with the simplism of these slogans. What is certain is that I am not a Marxist, as someone said a long time ago, let us recall, in a witticism reported by Engels. Must we still cite Marx as an authority in order to say “I am not a Marxist”? What is the distinguishing trait of a Marxist statement? And who can still say “I am a Marxist”?

Possibilities of teaching in Islam

My course over the Qur’an is nearing its end, and I think it has been pretty successful. While my lack of proper expertise poses some problems, and while certain aspects of the readings could have been better selected and arranged, at the end of the day we will have worked through the entire Qur’an, addressed its primary themes, and gotten a handle on the major differences between the Meccan and Medinan periods.

The current plan is for me to offer a variation on the course again next year, at which point I anticipate that I will have a fairly confident grasp on the Qur’an (at least in English translation). My question is where to go from there. I could offer some version of the Intro to Islamic Thought course again, or perhaps something specifically on Sufism or on Islamicate readings of Aristotle. Those would be relatively easy to put together and would constitute a “near reach” for my existing knowledge.

But a bolder idea has occurred to me: a course on Islamic legal reasoning. On a practical level, this may be more immediately relevant to students’ understanding of political events than expertise in the text of the Qur’an itself.

My question is whether such a course would be logistically feasible in a semester. Are there convenient editions of primary texts of relevant hadith and legal debates that would be usable in an undergrad course? How would such a course be structured? Is it something that you just have to have Arabic to do responsibly? Keep in mind that this is an introductory course for undergrads who may have little to no previous background in Islam, not a course for grad students or budding specialists (hence why I would dare to attempt it).

What if the Iranians are people too?

I can’t claim to be an expert on the internal politics of Iran, but my meager efforts are surely better than the active anti-knowledge that is spreading around the Iran nuclear deal. I’ve ranted on Twitter a bit, and I thought I’d write down some longer-form thoughts here, in no particular order.

It was rational for Iran to seek a nuclear deterrent. The US had already toppled a democratically-elected Iranian government and replaced it with an autocrat. They were able to regain their independence, and since then they have been treated as a total pariah. Two neighboring countries were subsequently invaded by the US simultaneously, after the US had declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil.” They could also see that the US helped to overthrow the government of Libya after Libya had given up its nuclear ambitions and become a “good citizen” in the “international community.” It would be insane for a country in that position not to seek the ultimate weapons trump card to prevent an invasion, because an invasion is literally the worst thing that can happen to a country.

Iran is not going to commit national suicide to destroy Israel. Everyone knows Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The very fact that Iran was seeking a nuclear deterrent shows them to be rational actors, and so we have to conclude that they would also be rationally deterred by a nuclear deterrent.

Negotiating an end to the nuclear program was also rational. Creating a nuclear bomb takes a long time and is difficult to hide. It was becoming increasingly clear that Iran could not get across the nuclear finish line before their very efforts to deter a future invasion directly caused a present invasion. Hence, quite rationally, they sat down to negotiate with the most reasonable US president they were likely to get. It’s also in their interest to quite unambiguously comply with the agreement, because again, they are rational people who care about their country and don’t want to see it overrun and destroyed.

It is legitimate for a country to seek to influence events in its own region. People act as though Iranian influence in the Middle East is some nefarious and illegitimate agenda all rational people should oppose. In reality, Iran is in the Middle East. It is actually physically located there. It would be ridiculous for it not to seek to influence events that directly impinge upon it in physically contiguous countries. What’s more, Iran is a relatively rich and powerful country with a long history of taking a leadership role in what is, just to review, its own part of the world.

Colonialism is a terrible historical evil. We in the West are inclined to view the 20th Century as the story of overcoming the two great evils of Nazism and Communism, but everyone else would add a third item to that list: colonialism. Resentment toward colonialism is especially great in the Middle East given that the US continually meddles in their affairs, usually in hugely destructive ways, and given that the Middle East includes the most recently-established settler colony, which is itself backed up by the meddling imperial power. We’re always on the lookout for the next Hitler, but in the Middle East, they don’t have to be vigilant against one of the great 20th century evils because it is constantly ongoing. And the US is responsible for maintaining that situation!

“Anti-American rhetoric” is thus not some kind of randomly chosen prejudice, but an understandable response to the US’s ongoing actions. Anti-Semitism is obviously more unfortunate as a reaction, but we should understand its context in colonialism and not imagine that it’s “religious” which makes it magically determinative of all their actions in a way that defies reason (hence their supposed willingness to commit national suicide). In reality, the only leader in history who was willing to risk national suicide to kill all the Jews was a Western leader named Adolf Hitler, whose rise was enabled by the bungling and vindictiveness of other Western leaders in very specific historical circumstances that are absolutely nothing like anything that is even remotely happening in the Middle East right now, you fucking ignorant fucks.

So yeah.

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