Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review Gift of Difference

I've just finished the book review of The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation edited by Chris Huebner and Tripp York (foreword by John Milbank) that I was invited to do for the journal Political Theology. I'm really glad that Luke Bretherton asked me to review this book as my post-doctoral work is moving more and more in the direction of political theology and it'll be great to start getting my name associated with this discipline. I'm not sure when it'll be published, but I'll post as soon as I do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Springfield, Springfield!

It's a hell of a town, the schoolyard's up and the shopping mall's down!

I'm off to Springfield (Missouri) tomorrow where I'll be presenting at Drury University's "Subverting the Norm: The Emerging Church, Postmodernism and the Future of Christianity." Their website has an impressive-sounding blurb for me, so hopefully delegates won't be disappointed. I'll be speaking on, "An Emerging A/Theistic Fighting Collective? A Caputian Introduction to Zizek's Pneumatology." Now that it's (almost) edited down to 6,000 words, it's a little more theory-laden then I had anticipated, but I'll be introducing Zizek's pneumatology, his deployment of the term "Holy Spirit" as a community of truth-subjects, a "fighting collective," and staging a conversation between Zizek and Caputo on atheism and theism, metaphysics and materialism. But it will cover:
  • Zizek, Caputo, Badiou, Milbank, Lacan (argh!), Saint Paul, and a bit of Hegel and Kant - oh, and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and Augustine and Barth;
  • the big Other, the vanishing mediator, the formulae of sexuation, constitutive exception, and non-all;
  • contingency and necessity;
  • the truth-event, the truth-subject, and truth-procedure(s);
  • universalism;
  • hermeneutics, narrativity, metanarrativity and meta-metanarrativity;
  • determination, indeterminacy, and relative determinacy;
  • atheism, theism, and a/theism;
  • materialist materialism, theological materialism and true materialism;
  • call, cause and responsibility;
  • crucifixion and resurrection;
  • the death of God and the death of the death of God;
  • spectral materialism and spectral messianism; and
  • incarnation and carnality.

So far, the schedule is as follows:


9 am: Registration

10 am: "Beating God to Death: Radical Theology & the New Atheism," Roundtable conversation with Jeffrey Robbins, Christopher Rodkey and professors from Drury University's department of philosophy and religion

11 am: "An Emerging Radical Theology: On Politics and Ecclesiology," Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey

12 pm: Lunch (on your own)

1 pm: "The Emerging Church 101: An introduction for those new to the conversation," Gary Black

2 pm: "To Believe Is Human, to Doubt Divine: Introducing Zizek’s Christology," Peter Rollins

3 pm: "An Emerging A/Theistic Fighting Collective? A Caputian Introduction to Žižek’s Pneumatology," Katharine Moody

4 pm: "Just Us: The undeconstructible Christ community in the age that is passing away," Carl Raschke

7 pm: Keynote presentation I: "Radical Theology—or What’s the Emerging in Emergent?" John Caputo

8:15 pm: Keynote presentation II, Peter Rollins

9:15 – 10 pm: After Session Conversation with John Caputo, Peter Rollins, Carl Raschke, Katharine Moody, Jeffrey Robbins & Christopher Rodkey

10:30 pm: Revival! Transformance Art with Peter Rollins and VOID, a collective from Waco, Texas, at the Creamery Arts Center in Downtown Springfield


8 am: Coffee & Bagels

8:30 am: Keynote Presentation III, Karen Ward

10 am: Church practitioners workshop, Peter Rollins & John Caputo

11:30 am: Lunch, on your own unless you registered for the Saturday lunch option (see registration packet for local options)

1 pm: Keynote presentation IV, Karen Ward

2:15 – 3:15 pm & 3:30 – 4:30 pm: Breakout Sessions for Church Practitioners

2:15 – 3:15:
Emily Bowen: "Megachurch or Megasubversion? Transformative Ritual in the Emerging Church"
Chris Rodkey: "Satanism in the Suburbs: Ordination as Insubordination"
Julie Kennedy: "The Open Invitation: Tearing Down Labels at the Door"
Phil Snider: "Preaching After the Death of God: With A Little Help From Derrida & Caputo"

3:30 – 4:30:
Laura Fregin: "Art and Justice in Emergent Communities"
David Weiss: "Putting the ‘Queer’ back in Christianity: How extending a full welcome to LGBT persons reclaims the work of Jesus for today"
Lindsey Arnold: "Messiahs, Monsters & Others: The Search for Christ Figures in the TV Show Lost"
Travis Cooper: "Postmodernism, Pentecostalism & the Emergent Church: The Persistence of Azusa-Oriented Praxis"
Matt Gallion, Chris Rodkey & Phil Snider: "Why We're Not Emergent: By Three Guys Who Used to Be"

7 pm: [D]mergent meet-up, Venue TBA

Friday, October 01, 2010

Attending to the Other Round-Up: Part Two

Continuing with my round-up of the ISRLC conference "Attending to the Other: Critical Theory and Spiritual Practice," which I started here, I'm up to Saturday afternoon's Modern Theology panel, at which I presented my paper, "How to 'Eat' Well in Church: Saying 'Yes' to the Other and Becoming Nothing in Derrida, Paul and Emerging Christian Discourse." As I said here, I was hoping that all the papers in this session would overlap with my interest in the "ecclesial" performance of contemporary theo-philosophies, with Mark Godin's paper exploring liturgy and Michele le Doeuff and Ben Kautzer's connecting Louis-Marie Chauvet and Maurice Blondel to sacramentality and charity. Here are the abstracts (they're long):

Mark Godin, "Situated Liturgies: A Theology of Worship meets the Philosophy of Michele le Doeuff."

"Liturgical theology seeks to negotiate meaning and understanding via attentiveness to specific practices of devotion, where liturgy is the worship discourse of a faith community. This discourse both reveals and furthers relationships between participants and others (including God). The problem for liturgical theologians is that devotional practices are extremely diffuse, composed of a vast web of contents and contexts, knitted together around a notion of serving God. Because liturgies are concrete sets of words and actions tied to particular communities, many narratives and purposes inform worship, just as there are many faith communities. To address this plurality, Christian liturgical theologians often attempt to identify core principles which define Christian liturgy and are universally true for all who adhere to the faith. Unfortunately, such endeavours tend to obscure real differences, erase otherness, and ignore actual embodied practice in favour of an ideal. Some other strategy is needed to take account of diversity.

"In her book Hipparchia's Choice, Michele Le Doeuff ascribes to philosophy projects of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Presenting this locative concern in terms of where you are and where you want to go, Le Doeuff notes that philosophy cannot really be disinterested; in practice, the discipline is always situated, meaning that philosophers ask questions from, and marked by, particular places and their own relationship with others. A corollary of this situatedness is that knowledge is also incomplete. Le Doeuff argues for a philosophical practice which accepts this incompleteness by acknowledging the presence of oers who might have different opinions; she points towards a philosophy which is a collaborative effort, with a multiplicity of sources, influences, and practitioners asking similar questions from different vantage points. Indeed, Le Doeuff realises that a philosophical rigour that discounts speculation, whispers and mystery is not really rigorous at all. She maintains that it is better to venture a partially-formed word, learning what it means as you go, than to remain silent.

"In this paper, I will argue that liturgical theology could learn much from Le Doeuff's construal of philosophy. Instead of minimising the concretely local nature of liturgical practice by presenting it as a manifestation of some deeper, more universal meaning, liturgical theology could seek meaning precisely at the point of particularity, investigating the relationships illuminated and engendered along the trajectories of worship.

"The heart of this approach derives from the correspondence between the liturgical need for community and Le Doeuff's notion of collaborative philosophy. Just as this philosophy relies on attending to and making room for others, a liturgical theology relies on a complex constellation of relationships within which one values the presence and participation of others. Similarly, Le Doeuff's acceptance of the incompleteness of the philosophical endeavour can carry over to liturgical theology, generating a notion of the worshipping community as an open and creative collaboration, with possibilities for forging ties with those outside of its bounds. In return, liturgical theology can offer to philosophy an example of language and practice which speaks something vital from and within the unruliness of embodiment."

Ben Kautzer, "When Faith Gets a Body: Sacramentality and the Order of Charity."

"At the heart of prophetic witness in Scripture is a deep concern for the poor and the oppressed, the lowly dwellers huddled at the margins of our collective perception (i.e. Am. 5.21-27; Hos. 6.6; Isa. 1.10-17; Jer. 7.1-28; Mic. 6.6-8). This concern carries with it an unsettling critique of those who would audibly declare God’s praises and yet deny with their hands the plight of the needy. This resounding cry for justice does not point to some abstract or juridical moral edifice, but rather calls forth the people of God to an embodied life of charity and faithful worship of the One who is both "a refuge for the poor" (Isa. 25.4) and radically identified in Christ Jesus with "the very least of these" (Matt. 25.31-46).

"Such prophetic discourse fundamentally concerns the intersection of liturgy and ethics. Within this context, the ancient and complex practices traditionally named “works of mercy” (i.e. gifts of food and drink, prayer and compassion, shelter and hospitality) confound neat and divisible categorization. Irreducibly personal yet intrinsically communal, such deeds of loving-kindness represent the evental fusion of word and deed, an intensification of liturgical devotion, extending its purview into the mundane spaces of the everyday. These practices demands that like Israel, the church must "live its liturgy".

"Unfortunately, the church’s ministry of charity is currently being called into question from all sides as governments increasingly enjoin faith-based communities and charities to shed their religious particularity, enter the "public sphere," and tackle our more pervasive social problems. These invitations often require adherence to a wide array of ideological presuppositions regarding the nature of religion, the definition of charity, and the proper ends such actions are ultimately meant to serve. These subjugating cross-pressures impact the church's own self-understanding. For it seems that mundane acts like visiting the sick or offering hospitality to strangers are rarely perceived as constitutive of the church's liturgical—let alone political—life. Couched within the language of volunteerism, such expressions of benevolence tend to be seen as "valuable" yet clearly subsidiary.

"I contend that faithfully navigating these challenges involves recovering a theopolitical vision of Christian charity beyond the languid horizon of individualistic philanthropy or social welfarism. Specifically, this paper will seek to explore – through a critical engagement with Louis-Marie Chauvet’s sacramental theology of Christian identity, Maurice Blondel’s philosophical theory of action, and Thomas Aquinas’ virtue ethics – how the works of mercy constitute a liturgically-shaped politics of the everyday—a religious social ethic capable of resisting the bureaucratic institutionalization (and elimination) of human compassion. As Pope Benedict XVI has recently observed, works of charity constitute not merely what the church does, but what the church is; not its relevant usefulness, but its vulnerable faithfulness. Perhaps heeding afresh the prophetic imagination will help us struggle on in our vocation as a church – offered to God as a sacrifice of mercy – broken, consecrated, and distributed for the life of the world."

Since I've already posted the abstract for my contribution to this panel (here - although there ended up being much more Zizek in the final paper than I had envisioned when I wrote the abstract), I thought I'd just post some introductory sections today.

"Introduction: Truth as an Event"

An examination of the notion of "truth" within the discourse (published materials, online media, and interview transcripts) of the emerging church milieu - which can be characterised as a conversation that is interested, among other things, in the implications of philosophical theology for contemporary Christianity - reveals the influence of several "thinkers of the event." For Derrida, there is 'something demanding' about thinking about truth as an event that 'fall[s] on me, or visit[s] me,' that is done to me and makes me ("Composing Circumfession," p.23). As for Badiou, then, truth as an event is constitutive of the subject, since a 'wager,' a 'groundless decision' that an event even occured, constitutes the one who makes the decision as the truth-subject, after which a 'chance-driven course' is attempted, a truth-prodcedure, that is the working out of the consequences of 'fidelity' to the event (Infinite Thought, pp.46-47). Fidelity to the (Christ) event constitutes a community of truth-subjects, the truth-community - a community of believers which Zizek uses the language of the Holy Spirit to designate (The Fragile Absolute, p.127). Any theology of the event, such as Caputo's deconstructive a/theology (The Weakness of God) must, then, be translated into a community of the event.

In this paper, I interpret elements of emerging Christian discourse as an atempt to imagine and perform spiritual practices that form community in fidelity to this notion of truth as an event. I first introduce the philosophical engagements with Saint Paul that frame the discussion, before raising the question of how this Pauline theo-philosophy of the event might be enacted by religious collectives. I then present emerging Christian spiritual practice in the writings of Pete Rollins, founder of ikon, Belfast, through the framework of saying "yes" to the other and becoming nothing. I end by probing whether these practices might constitute a radical religious sociality of the event.

Saint Paul and the Philosophers

In 1997, Badiou published Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (English translation 2003). From Zizek, came, in 2000, The Fragile Absolute and, three years later, The Puppet and The Dwarf. In 2005, Caputo co-convened "St. Paul among the Philosophers," at which both Badiou and Zizek were keynote speakers (published in 2009). And in 2006, Theodore Jennings published Reading Derrida / Thinking Paul: On Justice. These philosophical engagements with Saint Paul seek to demonstrate his import for the critique of ideology, society and culture, for questions of justice, and for critical theory more generally. But can this work on Paul not also be used to change the Church? My exploration of this possibility begins with Derrida on hospitality and "eating well"...

Dot, dot, dot...

This piece acts as a kind of bridge, since it comes post-PhD thesis and pre-postdoctoral research and uses previous research to start to formulate new questions, questions which build on the more theo-philosophical emphasis of my doctoral thesis to move in a more socio-political direction. It builds on the discursive approach I took in my thesis to incorporate more ethnographic approaches that will seek to determine the extent to which the radical sociality that I see as implicit in emerging Christian discourse is successfully enacted by concrete collectives. We'll have to wait and see if I manage to secure some research funding to carry out this work!

Several conference delegates during the Q&A after my paper asked about the social realities of this discourse on hospitality. One person noted that the language of hospitality is often used by men, whereas the work of hospitality is often done by women. Another delegate (Natalie Wigg, whom I mentioned in an early post on the conference and has been to ikon events in Belfast) noted that ikon can often be incredibly inhospitable. This concern has also been raised by a commenter on this blog, in reaction to my abstract for this conference, who noted what he called a "gulf" between "idealistic theory" and "the more prosaic on the ground reality." This concern about the relationship between theory and practice, however, is precisely what I hope to explore further. I just need the money!