Two Upcoming Talks (2019/2020)

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On November 23rd 2019 I will be on a panel discussing the work of Adam Kotsko at the American Academy of Religion meetings in San Diego (along with An Yountae, Laurel C. Schneider, and Jared Rodriguez). Although my response is focused on the specific ways in which time and history are periodized in neoliberalism and Kotsko’s critique, my paper puts to use some ideas from the broader paradigm that I have been trying to develop in my work on ‘postsecular history.’ It’s very exciting to be presenting on the panel, and I’m looking forward to the conversation that will follow.

Toronto Mennonite Theological CentreAnd then in January I will be presenting some of my work at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. In the talk – tentatively titled “Secular Mennonite Social Critique” – I will be summing up some of my articles on secular, philosophical, political, and literary Mennonite scholarship, and fielding the core argument of my dissertation, “Ontology of Violence.”

Telos 188 (2019) Response

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The new issue of Telos has just come out, and I have an article in it called “Periodization and Providence” that compares the philosophical and theological narratives of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and Augustine’s Confessions. I have a few thoughts that I’d like to add to my article now that it is public and published and partly summarized by David Pan in the introduction to the volume.

Pan begins his introduction by pointing to the connection between global political order and theology, claiming that “it has become clear that religious conflicts drive political ones” (3). Being situated in the conversation on political theology, I think that statements like this one need more unpacking, because in a way, the claim rests on a clear and causal distinction between religion and politics. Now obviously Pan doesn’t think that these categories are simple or separable. His argument is that in order to understand the ‘political’ we need to understand the ‘theological,’ and he rightly points out that the postsecular turn names the persistence of certain theopolitical visions within and beyond secularization. I appreciate the way that Pan’s introductory comments point to the limits of political and military calculations as keys to understanding global order – for theological and religious powers are always also at play.

That the Fall 2019 issue is mostly composed of articles on Islam is heartening (although I still need to read them through). A few issues ago, Telos published a review of Michael Ley’s 2015 book Der Selbstmord des Abendlandes: Die Islamisierung Europas. The reviewer recounts Ley’s argument that “only an Islam without Sharia is compatible with human rights” (187), and sympathetically engages with Ley’s notion of the “Islamicization of Europe” while pointing to the author’s previous work on antisemitism. I found the review disturbing. At each turn it attempted to anticipate the reaction of the reader who would level charges of Islamophobia against the book, using Ley’s credentials and previous work to deflect anticipated attacks. The reviewer then writes that, “Ley also predicts that there will a rude awakening for gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and adherents of gender ideologies of all sorts: they will disappear from the landscape of an impending European caliphate. The political future of Europe will instead mirror the present-day realities of Lebanon, parts of the former Yugoslavia, the present states of the Middle East, and parts of Africa.” (189). The reviewer then summarizes Ley’s conclusion that “The solution can therefore only lie, according to Ley, in a return to the basics of European cultures: the national, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity and the European values of humanism and the Enlightenment.” (190).

The prediction that Islam will cause LGBTQ* people to disappear from Europe is Islamophobic – not least because it conveniently returns to a general representation of ‘Islam,’ and allows all the author’s previous distinctions between Sharia and moderate Islam to disappear. Whether this is an accurate summary of Ley’s book or not I am not sure, but the fact that a sympathetic review of a book like this appeared in Telos was concerning to me because I knew my article was also coming out in the Fall issue. This is why I was glad to see work on Islam in the most recent issue of the journal – especially work that makes and maintains the necessary fine distinctions between different kinds of Islam (just as there are different kinds of any other religion).

The idea that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Secularism are categories whose content can be evaluated wholesale is something that I hope most scholars of religion fundamentally question, not because any of those grouped under these categories should get a free pass for the use of violence, but because each term attempts to collect such a massive tradition that is so interiorly diverse that it cannot be subjected to evaluation in a singular way (much less prediction). This returns us to categories like ‘the religious’ and the ‘political’ – categories that the new issue of Telos concerns itself with – for these categories too are often blamed for problems by those who want to preserve one general category and denigrate another (as if to say, ‘religion is the problem, not politics!’ or the reverse). I think, in its own way, my article approaches some of these problems of representation.

Pan provides a summary of my article in the introduction after narrating the arc of the articles on Islam, and for the most part he presents my work accurately. I do attempt to provide an alternative model for thinking about history that takes the postsecular situation seriously, and I do think that Nietzsche and Augustine differ fundamentally in their treatment of the way that the past, present, and future are drawn together in the present moment (Zarathustra’s Augenblick and the tension of Augustine’s distentio animi). However, it’s not quite right when, concerning my reading of Nietzsche, Pan states that: “With the falling away of intentionality, there is no more basis for a trajectory and there is only repetition.” (6). Rather than focusing on intentionality or using it as a key term to delineate the difference between Zarathustra’s Augenblick and Augustine’s distentio animi, the article focuses on the theopolitical power of periodization, showing how Augustine’s pilgrimage and Zarathustra’s wandering both divide time and history into periods. Whereas Augustine’s peregrinatio is a kind of guided providential journey that is retroactively laden with meaning, Zarathustra’s lonely hike is a journey without a telos.

Both Zarathustra and the Augustine of the Confessions are messianic figures who present visions of lived time and make broader claims about history, doing so in literary, philosophical, and theological ways (while disturbing the boundaries between these categories in the process). My aim in the article is to show how both Augustine and Zarathustra divide up their time, periodizing their journeys using terms like ‘conversion’ and ‘metamorphosis’ respectively, and further periodizing history: Zarathustra’s time is like a gate between two paths in which the gate is the Augenblick that divides past and future, and Augustine’s time is a tension, intention, and distention in the soul that gathers the past and future into the present moment. Both figures mediate and periodize time in significant ways. Augustine’s time is teleological, and Zarathustra’s time is circular (He says, “All that is straight lies.”).

I hope that my article will also be read with this in mind. At the end of the article I praise Augustine and critique Zarathustra’s journey because the latter seems to fall prey to alienation (and I use this in the sense developed by Rahel Jaeggi), and not because Augustine is more intentional and teleological than Zarathustra (or Nietzsche for that matter). These distinctions are important, because the last thing I want to do is to set up a debate between Nietzsche and Augustine and have Augustine come out as the winner because he is more intentional and teleological. Instead, I think that Augustine’s providential pilgrimage is too coherent, and Zarathustra’s aimless wandering is not coherent enough – and here I am thinking specifically about the way that both periodize their autobiographical and cosmological narratives.

When I write about a postsecular history, I am trying to find a way between and beyond theopolitical periodizations that make either providential meaning or ateological meaninglessness compulsory. At the end of the article I do claim that “Zarathustra’s journey seems too incoherent and fragmented to lend anything constructive to the present postsecular situation.” But now I am not so sure. Although I think that Nietzsche does not give good resources for overcoming alienation, I do think that his critique of the straightforwardness of teleological time is a help to those who want to address the alienating aspects of modern, postmodern, and neoliberal life. I’m interested in finding ways to talk about providence that don’t fall into the simple distinction between the meaningfulness of all experiences and the meaninglessness of all experiences. I see Zarathustra and the Confessions as influential texts that have provided scaffolding for these questions, and which may still serve as guides for thinking about periodization and providence in the relationship between autobiographical and metaphysical time and history.

This article is also part of a larger project that attempts to articulate a postsecular history by making connections between political theology and the politics of time using periodization as a key term. My dissertation, on the other hand, is about violence. And so, I am attentive to the ways that violence can get covered over by historical, political, and religious abstractions. Reading Klaus Theweleit’s Männerphantasein has me thinking about the ways in which violence is explained away, avoided, and reduced, by interpreting violent acts using overdetermining categories or by making certain violences about something else (ex. ‘the violence of murder is really about an abstract or natural desire that men have for competition’). My current dissertation work attempts to address the problem of using abstract, linguistic, or natural categories to talk about violence – meaning that when I worry about Islamophobia I am worried about how representations of Islam that generalize and homogenize translate into very real cultural sentiments that have materially violent effects. In the swing to the right – analyzed by Francois Cusset, for example – representations of Islam are always being manipulated, especially in obscured movements from specific instances of violence to the broadest possible category called ‘Islam.’ My worry about the review in Telos is connected to my worry about the production and reproduction of enmity in political theology, as a result of the persistence of Carl Schmitt’s categories. The problem of misrepresentation – and here I mean the manipulation of representation such that some events or groups are made exemplary of large categories like ‘Islam’ or ‘Religion’ and others are ignored – is a constituent part of the desire to divide the world into friends and enemies, whether by demonization or scapegoating or desiring a ‘return’ to Enlightenment or Christian values, as if these values were not produced at the expense of so many. Perhaps an example will help.

In his recent book The Demons of Liberal Democracy, Adrian Pabst begins by dignifying the resentment of western liberal democracy (2), while at the same time proclaiming “the failure of dualistic thinking” (3). A few pages later he constructs a caricature of “hyper-liberals” who reject national identity, are self-righteous, and can’t be reasoned with, unlike “most people” (6). In the book’s central critiques of oligarchy, demagogy, anarchy, and tyranny, Pabst returns to this figure of the “hyper-liberal” in order to authenticate his claims. Complaining that traditional values have declined (33) and opposing both demagogic manipulation and conspiracy theories (73), Pabst accuses liberals of either reducing the world to the facts of instrumental reason or resorting to a hands-off ‘agree-to-disagree’ world of irreducible values (74). Advocating for a return to truth (99), Pabst eventually divides up the political world into ‘illiberal liberals’ and ‘anti-liberal insurgents’ (150) and plays into the dichotomous logic he condemns at the beginning of his book by feeding back into the polarization he condemns (ironically demonizing in an effort to cast out demons). My worry is that Pabst – who is a contributing editor to Telos – has made the production of enmity and resentment central to his work by using cheap representations of ‘liberals’ or ‘hyper-liberals’ to argue that his position marks the clear middle between the extremes of “doubling down on abstract liberal cosmopolitanism or a retreat to nationalism and even atavistic ethnocentrism” (87).

I’m as concerned about social fragmentation as anyone else, but I don’t think that the answer is returning to truth and tradition, much less the values of the Enlightenment. In some ways, the very figure of a return is a theopolitical periodization that puts to use the restitution of a supposedly better time in the past for the purposes of advancing a present order. This is the sort of problem I am trying to address with the notion of theopolitical periodization. The invocation of a ‘return’ to truth, values, or tradition, is a particular expression of power that rests on theological and political structures of legitimation. Whether by manipulating the relationship between part and whole to produce exemplary events and stable identities (as in Ley’s misrepresentation of Islam), or by manipulating the relationship between past and present by calling for a return to truth (as in Pabst’s argument), the configuration of part and whole often relies upon the construction of a representative enemy: the Muslim who wants to take over Europe, or the hyper-liberal who can’t be reasoned with. In both cases the implicit (and sometimes explicit) argument is that there is an enemy out there who cannot be reasoned with – a fanatic who isn’t reasonable like ‘us’ (here I am thinking of Cavanaugh’s Myth of Religious Violence and Toscano’s Fanaticism). But this doesn’t take seriously enough the real conflict in values faced by liberal democracies, nor does it treat each party involved as having real reasons for their values and actions amidst the profound conflict of normative orders in the globalized and globalizing world.

Overall, I’m pleased to see the article in print in Telos. I think the journal can be a place for thinking past some of the problems mentioned above. At the same time, I have serious reservations about some of the problems of representation that I see – specifically representations that demonize, scapegoat, and produce enemies by moving from the specific to the general. I hope that the argument of my article and some of the reflections can help to remedy some of these problems of representation, and I hope the article is helpful for those who are interested in the problems of postsecularity and its often implicit negotiations between Christianity, religion, and secularity.

 

 

 

August 2019 Update

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As Fall approaches I am anticipating the publication of two articles on philosophical, theological, and literary themes. The details of both are posted in the publications tab (with updated links to come soon), and although they are coming out at the same time they were written almost two years apart. The article in Telos is an edited version of the first term paper I wrote when I began my PHD studies in Fall 2016, and the Literature and Theology article was written last year in the lull between the end of my exams and the beginning of my dissertation. I hope that both will be interesting for those who encounter my work, and I’d be more than interested to hear comments and critiques on the material that they make public.

Looking forward to the Fall, I am continuing to work on my dissertation project, expanding and clarifying some of the initial ideas that I developed back in 2017 in my “Critique of Metaphysical Violence” and working with the distinctions between ontologies and epistemologies of violence and ontological and epistemic violence.

At the same time, I am developing a theoretical framework that uses the methodological orientation of political theology to think about the periodization of time and history. This November I’m excited to be on a panel at the AAR discussing Adam Kotsko’s work. My paper will be on the theopolitical periodization of time and history in neoliberalism and Kotsko’s critique in Neoliberalism’s Demons.

 

June 2019 Update

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Over the past few weeks, while I have been teaching a Spring course that introduces Religious Studies, I have also been confirming final details of a few forthcoming publications that might be interesting to those of you who come across this site.

In July the Mennonite Quarterly Review will publish my survey of Mennonite political theology and feminist critique, and the Journal of Mennonite Studies will publish my somewhat-constructive study of the sixteenth century Anabaptist idea of the ‘gospel of all creatures’ – a set of distinct and mystically inflected ideas that challenge contemporary distinctions between religion and secularity. I’ll post links to each of these articles when I can, but for those without institutional access or who would like to read them sooner, feel free to email me.

I’ve also recently reviewed a new book by Thomas Lynch called Apocalyptic Political Theology, published in an exciting new series at Bloomsbury called “Political Theologies.”

Thanks for checking out this space!

February 2019 Update

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As I work on my dissertation I’ve been updating this site to better reflect where my research and writing are going. The bio and description of my work are now a little sharper and the list of publications has been updated with some more recent details.

Under the ‘About’ section above I’ve also included a new description of the two major projects that I’m working on: the first being my dissertation on violence, and the second being a series of articles on political theology and the politics of time. In the former category I’ve been putting the finishing touches on an article on the Anabaptist notion of the ‘Gospel of All Creature’s for publication this year in the Journal of Mennonite Studies. And in the latter category, this Fall my study of Nietzsche and Augustine – written quite a while ago now – will come out with Telos. 

Beyond these two pieces of writing, I’m excited to be giving a paper at the Laurier conference on Religion and Public Life, and I’m looking forward to finishing up my review of an exciting new book by Robin Celikates called Critique as Social Practice (I’ll post a link here when it’s up).

Thanks for checking out this space!

August 2018 Update

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For those who keep an eye on this page, or if you’re curious about my academic work and end up here, I tend to post updates on my research and writing every few months. The past school year has been busy, and over the past few months I have finished up my exams and moved on to dissertation proposal development.

In 2017 my articles in Identities, Studies in Religion, and the Mennonite Quartlerly Review each made available a different aspect of my work. The Identities article was made up of material I wrote during my masters degree, and I think that the main contribution it makes is to read Clement Rosset and Alenka Zupancic together in a way that hasn’t been done before. Beyond that, the article in Studies in Religion distills my masters thesis, comparing the postsecular thought of Daniel Collucciello Barber with the combination of Spiritualism and Rationalism in the seventeenth century Dutch Collegiants. The article in the MQR articulates the ‘philosophical turn’ I notice in recent Anabaptist Mennonite theology, and serves as a kind of preparation for some of my dissertation work. My edition of Friedmann’s last manuscript, Design for Living, is an early example of the philosophical thread in Mennonite thought, and I’ll be posting links to reviews of it as they appear.

More recently, in late 2017 the Canadian journal Dialogue published a long exploratory article I wrote called “Critique of Metaphysical Violence” – an article that begins to develop some of the work on religion, epistemology, ontology, and violence that my dissertation project will address in much more detail. I expect that the article will appear in a print issue of the journal sometime this year.

This year and the next will see a few more pieces of my writing appear, and these have more to do with my ongoing interest in philosophies of time and history, following on my masters thesis work in some ways. Recently the journal rhizomes published an article of mine on technology and time, and shortly I will submit the final version of my study of Taubes’ Occidental Eschatology to Political Theology, and next year Telos will publish my comparison of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Augustine’s Confessions. These four articles (including the Studies in Religion piece) form a kind of unit, each giving a different account of what it means to think time and history after the postsecular turn.

Lastly, this Fall I will also be teaching a second year undergraduate course called “Violence and Religion” at McMaster in the religious studies department. I’ve posted the draft syllabus here with links to some of the readings in case prospective students come across this space and are curious about the material.

 

April 2018 Update

For those who watch this space, here’s an update on my research and writing over the past few months, and looking ahead to the summer.

My edition of Robert Friedmann’s book, Design for Living was released at the end of November 2017, and is now available for purchase online. At some point this coming Fall I may put together a symposium-launch for the book with the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre, with contributions from a few scholars who have engaged with Friedmann’s work.

I have been working with several affiliates of the TMTC, and its director Kyle Gingerich Hiebert, on the Mennonite Graduate Student Conference VIII – to be held from June 14-16 2018 in Toronto. My paper will be on moving “Beyond the Crisis and Fatigue of Mennonite Identity,” and it will involve some engagement with the critical-theological work of Hans-Jurgen Goertz. More importantly, the conference will serve as the informal launch of Lydia Neufeld Harder’s essay collection (CMU Press, 2018), and more details on her public lecture will be available soon.

I just returned yesterday evening from the DSR graduate conference at the University of Toronto on the Philosophy of Religion. My paper staged a dialogue between hermeneutic and phenomenological paradigms in the philosophy of religion, and more imaginative and entangled work in political theology, and I had some good engagement from some folks from ICS, and some good conversation on Agamben with Sean Capener. Kiegan Irish, in particular, gave a great paper on Foucault, and I notice that he has a post here on the Locke St. anarchism that Hamiltonians will be familiar with.

After my major comprehensive exams next week, this summer will consist of language study and dissertation prep, and further work on Grace Jantzen’s critical genealogy of violence in her trilogy, Death and the Displacement of Beauty.

This fall I am also excited to be a part of this conference at Brock University:

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Critique of Metaphysical Violence

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Critique of Metaphysical Violence,” Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review/Revue canadienne de philosophie (2017): 1-38. DOI: 10.1017/S0012217317000737 (pdf)

This study bridges secular philosophical perspectives and Christian theological perspectives by showing how the critique of metaphysical violence is common to certain representatives of both parties. By examining specifically metaphysical, and therefore epistemologically significant, ways of critiquing violence, this study seeks to show that, just as violence cuts across the sacred-secular divide and spans the distance between abstraction and action, so too does the critique of violence.

 

Update on Research and Writing

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Hello All,

The past few months have been busy, and so I feel that I should post an update on some things I’ve been doing for those who encounter this space and wonder what kind of work I do in my doctoral studies. I’ve posted links to a few new reviews on the writings tab, and I’ve tried to keep my profile up to date as well. My academia.edu site may slow down, given the way that they are monetizing what was previously a helpful open access forum.

The edition of Robert Friedmann’s Design for Living that I edited is in the final stages with Wipf and Stock, and I’m currently correcting page proofs (more information on the book can be found here).

The main page of this site also has posts that contain PDF’s of four articles that I have published in 2017: one on ontology, one on Mennonites and philosophy, one on postsecular epistemology and seventeenth century Dutch dissenters, and one on violence and metaphysics.

I just returned from two conferences: (1) the 18th Believer’s Church conference at Goshen College where I presented a paper on the Gospel of All Creatures and Mennonite attitudes toward the church and the world, and (2) the Mennonite Scholars and Friend’s Gathering at the AAR where I presented a paper on Taubes, supersessionism, and restitutionism.

In other exciting news, as of November 2017, the Zwickau Press initiative I have been working on slowly over the past few years has published its third title, Isaiah Ritzmann’s More Than Atonement.

Lastly, I should draw attention to some events at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. The first is the recent conversation there with Joan and Oliver O’Donovan on A. James Reimer’s Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology (a report on the conversation is here). The second is the release of Kyle Gingerich Hiebert’s The Architectonics of Hope – a book that I’m very excited to read closely. And the third note is that submissions are open for the eight biennial graduate student conference hosted by the TMTC. See here for the CFP.

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