“Doing” Political Theology Today: Promises and Pitfalls

April 25, 2019 / 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
3335 Dwinelle, UC Berkeley, CA

Ruth Marshall, Associate Professor, Study of Religion and Political Science, University of Toronto

The dramatic resurgence of religion across the globe has prompted a critical reappraisal of the relationship between the religious and the political. Under the rubric of “political theology,” these inquiries have brought to light a question, or a field of inquiry, that both the doctrine of secularism and liberal political theory have obscured: the persistence of the theological or the religious in the political. The political stakes go beyond the many phenomenal signs of the “return of religion” and the specific challenges they might present for governance or policies. Rather, they speak to the future contours of the political per se and the necessity of a critical engagement with the onto-theological roots of contemporary secular political forms and concepts. However, if “political theology,” however prone to misunderstanding such a formulation might prove to be, asks the question today of the disavowed theological roots of our politics, it most obviously, and perhaps unproblematically, pertains to the politics implicit in theologies. This is what I’ll focus on in my talk, in an attempt to connect some of these more philosophical inquiries with the political theological challenges to democratic forms of life implicit in the most successful form of Christianity across the globe today – the so-called Third wave of renewalist, charismatic, postdenominational or ‘networked’ evangelical Christianity.’ Since the 1980s at least, the Religious Right has played a significant role in achieving far reaching, identitarian and affective realignments of power, transforming institutions so that they facilitate, and sustain new forms of symbolic identification and new political subjects. I will consider the ways in which the most recent shift coming out of the Third Wave in the Trump era intersects with a new populist politics in America today. The surprising rise of a new vanguard on the Religious Right reveals a range of theo-political dangers.

Ruth Marshall received her DPhil in Politics from Oxford University, and joined both the Department for the Study of Religion and Political Science in 2008, after having spent 8 years living and researching in West Africa. She is the author of Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria (U. Chicago Press, 2009) and numerous scholarly articles on the study of the political implications of Pentecostalism and postcolonial politics in West Africa. Her research and teaching are interdisciplinary, drawing on critical theory, political science, political philosophy, study of religion, anthropology, African and postcolonial studies. In 2013-14 she was a Faculty Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute.

The Berkeley Public Theology Program invites innovative thinkers and public figures to Berkeley to reflect on the past, present, and future of theological inquiry. Such lectures spark scholarly conversations on campus and place Berkeley at the center of global conversations on religion and public life.