Two Upcoming Talks

In the next two months, as I make my final revisions on the Postsecular History book manuscript, I will be giving two online talks on material from the project.

The first talk, in late February, will be part of an upper year methodology seminar in the Religious Studies program at the University of Lethbridge, taught by Dr. Jennifer Otto – whose project on the Radical Reformation looks fascinating. I’m looking forward to sharing about the methodological challenges I encountered in the book, and exploring some of the normative problems in Religious Studies and Political Theology.

The second talk, on March 8th at 4:00 PM, will be a contribution to a panel on posthumanism and spirituality, convened by the Posthumanism Research Institute at Brock University. My presentation will draw on the fifth chapter of my book – an earlier version of which is published here – to examine how the prefix ‘post’ that precedes both the postsecular and the posthuman is a way of periodizing time and history that owes some of its power to theological-political concepts.

January 2021: Works in Progress


For those of you who check this space or those who encounter it in the wild, I find it helpful to give an update on my research and writing every few months (for the benefit of myself as well as others). As 2021 begins I am looking back on the work that I was able to do in 2020 and forward to the final 6 months of my PHD. Because so much of my scholarly interest is in philosophies and theologies of time and history, I will divide this survey into past, present, and future – conscious, of course, that the present is a moving target, the past is a construction, and the future is unknowable!

Past

In early 2020 I gave a presentation at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre that summarized my research project on Mennonite Studies. Surveying philosophical, political, secular, and literary Mennonite works, my presentation knit together several of my articles under the banner of a “secular Mennonite social critique.” I’ve since revised the presentation and it will likely be published as a book chapter in a volume on Anabaptism and culture in 2021.

Three of the last in-person academic events I attended pre-covid-19 were (1) a research sharing session with the Niagara Anabaptist Colloquium hosted by Mike Driedger (where I shared a version of my encyclopedia entry on Mennonites and philosophy), (2) a public talk by Miriam Toews at McMaster (which I have since reported on in Hamilton Arts and Letters), and a consultation on peacebuilding at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (where I gave a response to Malinda Berry’s political theology, which will also appear in the aforementioned book chapter).

In December I was honored to be a co-recipient of the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre A. James Reimer Scholarship (see here for my statement of appreciation), and since then my Mennonite work has involved digitizing and editing some historical source documents from the tradition.



In October I published an online edition of a 1976 pamphlet called In Search of Peace that collects Metis, African American, Chicano, and Native American articulations of Mennonite pacifism. In a few days, my edition of an important but neglected Mennonite pamphlet will appear on the Anabaptist Historians site. The title is Let’s Talk About Extremism (1968), and its author Edgar Metzler – who kindly supported republication – provides a fascinating expression of what has since come to be called “pacifist epistemology.”



Toward the end of 2021 I also gave two online webinar/seminar talks: one for the CSSR that summarized my dissertation project, and one for a methodology course that reflected on the role of normativity in the interdisciplinary study of religion.

Present

Presently, I am revising the later chapters of my dissertation “Ontologies of Violence,” and revising my book manuscript Postsecular History. These two large projects have taken up most of my time and will be my focus during the first of half of 2021.

My dissertation on the place of violence in the works of Derrida, Mennonites, and Grace M. Jantzen focuses on the normative foundations of the term and the metanarrative orderings of origins, essences, and ends that underpin its use. In connected ways, my book project focuses on the powerful confluence of theological and political strategies of legitimation in periodizing gestures that divide time (past, present, future) and history (Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Postmodern), especially in ‘postsecular’ thought. I hope to defend my dissertation in the Spring, and I expect to submit my final manuscript for the book project in the next few months (for publication in the Palgrave Macmillan series “Radical Theologies and Philosophies“).

Future

The coming months will also bring several other projects to fruition, including an article on Plato, Adorno, and the dialectic, an essay called “Factory Time,” and an essay on the methodological resonances between Internal Family Systems therapy and the study of religion. I am slated to review Daniel Loick’s A Critique of Sovereignty and two anthologies of work in political theology, and I am also hoping to see another review of the manuscript by Robert Friedmann that I edited in 2017. As well, I am excited to write a popular review of this book on Mennonite engagements with aboriginal peoples.

I am currently editing and introducing a special issue of the journal Political Theology that will be published in March 2021. The issue includes historical, secular-literary, theological, and feminist expressions of Mennonite Political Theology – which I argue is, at its best, a broad and pluralistic discourse that far exceeds capture by traditional and institutionally bound Christian theologies. Once peer review is completed I will post the very exciting table of contents here!

Beyond that, I have some hope that 2021 will see the publication of a few more articles (one on technology and posthumanism, one on fanaticism and historiography, and one one violence and displacement), and perhaps news of a postdoctoral fellowship…

Religious Studies and Normativity


Guest lecture for the McMaster University, Department of Religious Studies methodology seminar “Issues in the Study of Religions,” taught by Dr. Dana Hollander. December 9, 2020.

Readings:

Atalia Omer, “Can a Critic be a Caretaker Too? Religion, Conflict, and Conflict Transformation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79.2 (June 2011).

Selections from Rainer Forst, Normativity and Power: Analyzing Social Orders of Justification. Trans. Ciaran Cronin (London: Oxford University Press, 2017).


The following text is my prepared material for the seminar and although it does not reflect the entire discussion, it does contain the major questions that I posed to the group.


I have selected Rainer Forst’s work on normativity to discuss in this seminar because I think that a key question for the discipline of Religious Studies is:

  • How should Religious Studies scholars understand the relationship between normative prescription (advocating for something, or arguing that something ought to be the case) and description (giving an account of what is the case)?
Continue reading “Religious Studies and Normativity”

August 2020 Work-in-progress

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The past six months and the course of the covid-19 pandemic have been a strain to say the least, but amidst the adjustment to working from home, the stress of family health crises, and ongoing political upheaval, I have found that writing continues to be therapeutic – even cathartic.

Concurrent with my dissertation, I am working on several other larger projects (which are not ready quite yet), and so below I’ll point to a few smaller pieces of writing that have recently been published or are coming out this Fall. Hopefully these links give those of you who encounter this site some idea about my current work.

So far this year I have published two online contributions that extend my work on Mennonites and philosophy. The first is an update to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) entry on “Philosophy” – the original of which was authored by J. Lawrence Burkholder in 1989 (see here for my review of his autobiography).

The second piece was recently published on the Anabaptist Historians blog, and it is called The Philosophical Legacy of Robert Friedmann.” The essay extends my biographical work on historian Robert Friedmann, whose manuscript on existentialism and ethics Design for Living I edited and published in 2017. The blog post gives a sense for the ambiguities of Friedmann’s ‘confessional’ identity and points to his deep connection with his Jewish background. 

My work on the complexities of Mennonite identity continues, and most recently my 2019 Literature & Theology essay “Violence and the Romance of Community” received the 2020 Julian Gwyn Prize in Baptist and Anabaptist History and Thought from the Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies.

Looking ahead with this part of my research in mind, I’m excited to say that this Fall’s special issue of Hamilton Arts and Letters will publish my account of Miriam Toews’ visit to McMaster earlier this year, titled “Secular Mennonites and the Violence of Pacifism: Miriam Toews at McMaster.” The issue is on Mennonites, literature, and art, and it is edited by Grace Kehler whose work on Toews is extensive

My broader work on Mennonite identity will be laid out more fully next year – if all goes well – when I expect to publish a long programmatic article that lays out my approach to Mennonite Studies and connects each of my Mennonite essays thus far. It is called “Secular Mennonite Social Critique: Pluralism, Interdisciplinarity, and Mennonite Studies,” and it is slated for publication in a volume called Liberation and Responsibility: Anabaptism and Cultural Engagement, edited by Lauren Friesen and Dennis Koehn. The collection will also feature an essay by Daniel Shank Cruz whose literary-critical work pushes existing boundaries of Mennonite identity in exciting new ways.

This Fall will see the publication of a few other articles including a study called “Plato, Adorno, and the Dialectic” which is forthcoming in the Macedonian journal Identities. The article compares dialectical thinking in Plato’s Republic and Adorno’s lectures, while following up on some of the ontological themes of my 2016 article, “Identity, Ontology, and the Two” (chiasmus, dialectic, intertwining).

A little closer to home, my opinion essay “Religious Studies and Internal Family Systems Therapy” will be coming out in the journal Implicit Religion sometime in the near future. The piece explores some methodological connections between Religious Studies, Political Theology, and an approach used by counselors and psychotherapists called “Internal Family Systems” in which the self’s multiplicity is affirmed rather than pathologized. I’m grateful to my partner Amy and her colleagues for their help as I try to understand major approaches in their field, while making (hopefully non-reductive) connections with my own area of study.

Beyond that, I have some reviews in various stages of great books like Daniel Shank Cruz’s Queering Mennonite Literature, David Newheiser’s Hope in a Secular Age, an edited collection called Recovering from the Anabaptist Vision, and a collection of essays by Jacob Taubes called Apokalypse und Politik.

Lastly, and most importantly, in October I will be fielding the argument of my dissertation at a webinar panel put on by the Canadian Society for Studies in Religion. The talk is titled, “Ontologies of Violence: Deconstruction, Pacifism, and Displacement.” See below for the poster:

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Update: March 2020

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It’s been a strange time since the COVID-19 epidemic began, and stranger still as philosophers have responded to it with varying degrees of thoughtfulness and clarity (better examples being this piece by Elettra Stimilli, and this piece by Robin Celikates).

Because it is so difficult to do anything helpful from home, except continue to work on my dissertation and other projects, I’ll include a brief update and log of my work below, for what it’s worth in these times (time having much to do with how isolation influences us, and time having much to do with the way that this pandemic will retroactively serve as a periodizing marker of a ‘before’ and an ‘after’).

Having the privilege to be able to carry on working form home, I have recently submitted an updated entry on “Philosophy” for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) – a survey that outsources some of the literature review for the second chapter of my dissertation project, and extends my work on Mennonites and philosophy in my 2017 “Mennonite Metaphysics?” article.

At the same time, my broader work on reconceptualizing the field of Mennonite Studies continues, and I have updated my recent TMTC paper on Mennonite Studies here for those who are interested.

Apart from these larger projects and a few book reviews in progress, before the outbreak I was able to attend and contribute to a few interesting events.


On February 21st I gave a brief overview of my encyclopedia entry, titled “Mennonites and Philosophy: A Brief History,” at the Niagara Anabaptist Colloquium. Organized by Michael Driedger, the symposium also included fascinating contributions from John D. Rempel (on his new book), David Neufeld (on his book project), Vic Thiessen (on his translation of some fascinating German Mennonite correspondence), and Jonathan Seiling (on his co-translation of Jakob Hutter‘s complete works, forthcoming from Plough Publishing).


On February 25th, Canadian novelist Miriam Toews visited McMaster and was interviewed by Grace Kehler and Travis Kroeker about her new novel Women Talking. As a self-described ‘secular Mennonite’ whose artistic works express a kind of antipatriarchal pacifism, Toews is a fascinating and helpful voice in the conversations on Mennonite identity and Mennonite writing, and I think her work is a potential source for further reflection within Mennonite Political Theology.


In early March I also had the opportunity to travel to the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, for a peacebuilding consultation where I responded to a working paper by Malinda Berry. Although Malinda’s political theology differs from the Mennonite Political Theology I am interested in developing, being invited to respond to her methodological approach was a great chance to reflect on the problem of dissociation in political theology, especially on the question of oikonomia and the relationship between abstract and personal ‘household economies.’ My response was titled “Political Theology and Dissociation” and I hope to work it into a future piece on Mennonite Political Theology.


Lastly, this term I audited two fascinating courses, one comparing Melville’s Moby Dick and Augustine’s City of God, taught by my supervisor Travis Kroeker, and another on Fanaticism, taught by Mike Driedger (see here for an interesting crossover).

Thanks to those who keep an eye on this space,

More to come!

January 2020 Update

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Shortly I’ll be giving a paper at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre that summarizes much of my research and sets forth a paradigm for my work in Mennonite Studies (see here for the presentation). The forum at TMTC allowed me to consolidate and summarize much of my work, and I’m grateful to Kyle Gingerich Hiebert for his efforts in showcasing Mennonite-related work around Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Hamilton.

As far as future events are concerned, I’m quite excited for the Mennonite/s Writing Conference in Goshen this coming October, especially since I have begun reading Daniel Shank Cruz’s book Queering Mennonite Literature. Cruz’s book does something unique with Mennonite identity that I’m very interested in following, and I am looking forward to Grace Kehler’s forthcoming review of it. 

I’ve also received exciting news about the book by Robert Friedmann that I edited in 2017. It has recently been reviewed in the Mennonite Quarterly Review by Justin Heinzekehr (whose excellent book The Absent Christ has also just come out [see my review here – 2020/04/11]). See here for a PDF of the review, courtesy of John Roth, and below for an excerpt:

“Editor Maxwell Kennel has provided us with a new window into Friedmann’s thought with the publication of Design for Living, a manuscript that originated as lecture notes from an undergraduate course taught in 1954. This book reflects Friedmann’s attempt to articulate a meaningful philosophy of life by translating the values of Anabaptism into a public, secular context. As such, Friedmann builds an argument for a life oriented toward values of regard, concern, service, and love without assuming a prior commitment on the part of his audience.”
– Mennonite Quarterly Review 93.3 (October 2019): 569-570.

With Friedmann in mind, as well as Heinzekehr’s recent revival of the question of metaphysics for Mennonites, I am also working on expanding the 1989 “Philosophy” entry in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. It has been exciting to look back further than I did in my 2017 article on the topic, and to discover philosophical writing by Dutch Mennonites like J.A. Oosterbaan (for example, his article “The World and its Wisdom” and his dissertation on Hegel).

I have also been thinking more about the relationship between Religious Studies as a discipline, and the sub-field of Political Theology – especially the normative tensions in both discourses. And so in the next few months I will be writing a review essay for Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses  that compares two recent anthologies in Political Theology (Wiley-Blackwell and T&T Clark) and considers how this conversation intersects with Religious Studies.