Postsecular History (Book)

Postsecular History: Political Theology and the Politics of Time explores how contemporary approaches to the meaning of time and history follow patterns that are simultaneously political and theological. Even after the postsecular critiques of Christianity, religion, and secularity, many influential ways of dividing time and history continue to be formed by providential narratives that mediate between experience and expectation in movements from promise to fulfilment. In response to persistent theological influences within ostensibly secular ways of understanding time and history, Postsecular History revisits and revises the concept of periodization by tracing powerful efforts to divide time into past, present, and future, and by critiquing historical partitions between the Reformation and Enlightenment. Developing a postsecular critique of theopolitical periodization in six chapters, Postsecular History questions how relations of possession, novelty, freedom, and instrumentality implied in the prefix ‘post’ are reproduced in postsecular discourses and the field of political theology.

Interviews, Reviews, and Book Launch Symposium

The following interviews and review provide a helpful introduction to the themes of the book, and the book launch symposium below features more detailed engagements and a response where I clarify the aims of the book:

Histories of the PostsecularAnabaptist Historians (November 2021).

Can we get past the past?Department for the Study of Religion Communications, University of Toronto (April 2022).

Postsecular History,” New Books Network (July 2022).

Review of Postsecular History, by Paul Doerksen. Mennonite Quarterly Review 96 (October 2022): 608-610. (PDF)

The book launch symposium, hosted by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre on March 2, 2022, is available here, and the following edited responses are forthcoming in Political Theology (2023):

Travis Kroeker (McMaster University), “Postsecular History or Figural Messianism?”

Pamela Klassen (University of Toronto), “Time Immemorial, Here and Now.”

Jennifer Otto (University of Lethbridge), “Postsecular Entanglement.”

Maxwell Kennel (University of Toronto), “Beyond the Postsecular?”

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Political Theology and the Politics of Time

Chapter 3. Postsecular History and the Seventeenth Century Dutch Collegiants

Chapter 4. Fanaticism, Anachronism, and Melville’s Intervals

Chapter 5. Periodization and Providence between Nietzsche and Augustine

Chapter 6. The Regulation of the Subject by the Technology of Time

Chapter 7. Dorothee Sölle’s Postsecular Political Theology of Waiting

Chapter 8. Conclusion

Reviews

“This book is an interesting, engaging, and wide-ranging argument that displays considerable depth. … I conclude with the assessment that Kennel’s work is important to Christian political theology. He offers insightful engagements … and brings to view what goes on in seemingly innocent activities and habit of mind, such as periodization. … This book serves as a solid contribution to political theology at this early stage of Kennel’s career; I look forward to hearing more from his distinctive voice soon.”
– Paul Doerksen (Mennonite Quarterly Review 96, October 2022)

Postsecular History Symposium Highlights

“Anyone who reads Postsecular History: Political Theology and the Politics of Time will know that Maxwell Kennel is an exciting scholar to think with! I’m grateful to have been able to spend five years with him at McMaster University. The intellectual liveliness, curiosity, careful close reading, and collegial affection that he brought was a delight, and this book puts all of these gifts on display.”
– Travis Kroeker, Professor, Religious Studies, McMaster University

“Reading Maxwell Kennel’s Postsecular History: Political Theology and the Politics of Time was a fascinating journey across time and texts. From Augustine’s Confessions to Melville’s Moby Dick, and with stops along the way to consider how historians of the ‘Radical Reformation’ have attended to (or ignored) the Dutch Collegiant groups and why Dorothée Sölle espoused a willingness to wait, Kennel makes an argument about the politics of periodization anchored by the concept of the ‘postsecular.'”
– Pamela Klassen, FRSC. Professor, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto / Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University

“The modern contention that the secular defines something that is neutral and universally accessible has proven to be untenable. And yet I concur with Kennel that it is no more possible for the ‘postsecular’ to supersede the secular than it was for the secular to supersede Europe’s Christian past. Just as the concept of the secular has never been free of entanglements with ideas and practices inherited from Christianity (or the Judaism which Christianity itself never fully superseded), every possible future will continue to bear inheritances from secularism, whether they be for good or for ill.”
– Jennifer Otto, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge

Praise for Postsecular History

We moderns are accustomed to thinking in terms of linear time, often progressing from “pre-” to “post-,” but the political significance of this gesture is rarely acknowledged. In this wide-ranging book, Maxwell Kennel explores the theological sources of this understanding of time and underlines its limitations. Whereas many theopolitical periodizations promise novelty and control, Kennel takes up a posture of patient anticipation oriented by a future that remains mysterious.
– David Newheiser, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University.

Postsecular History offers invaluable insights into an issue that is crucial not only for political theology, but for redefining temporal periodization in the contemporary world. Kennel’s work focuses on western theopolitical concepts of time and history and fundamentally critiques the aspiration to value-neutrality within certain secular and postsecular concepts.
– Elettra Stimilli, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, Sapienza University of Rome.

Postsecular History is a deeply researched scholarly work addressing an important topic: the meaning of history and experience of time, analyzed under the perspective of its theological signature. The book challenges theopolitical periodizations of history by questioning the periodizing gesture of the “post-secular.” Kennel undertakes this task by analyzing historians of the Radical Reformation, the politics of periodization in Nietzsche and Augustine, and the emancipatory potential of neglected groups such as the Collegiants and Anabaptists.
– Montserrat Herrero, Professor of Political Philosophy, Universidad de Navarra.