Events

GIR Colloquium Series | Pastoral power and political spirituality: Foucault and political theology

22 March, 2018
1:00pm - 2:30pm

Abstract:

Although Michel Foucault never refers explicitly to the problematic of political theology, his genealogical analyses of the mechanisms of power in secular modernity reveal their religious origins and the way they emerge out of ecclesiastical institutions and practices. However, I will suggest that Foucault’s contribution to political theology in a sense turns the paradigm on its head and signals a radical departure from the Schmittian model.

Foucault does not seek to sanctify power and authority in modernity, but rather to disrupt their functioning and consistency by identifying their hidden origins, unmasking their contingency and indeterminacy, and bringing before our gaze historical alternatives. Furthermore, Foucault introduces to the debate around political theology something that was entirely missing from it – the idea of the subject. The notion of the ‘confessing subject’ – the individual who, from earliest Christian times, has been taught to confess his secrets and thus form a truth about himself – is central to Foucault’s concerns, as are the ethical strategies through which the subject might constitute himself in alternative ways that allow a greater degree of autonomy. And while in the past, religious institutions and practices, particularly the Christian pastorate, have sought to render the subject obedient and governable, at other times, including in modernity, religious ideas have been a source of disobedience, revolt and what Foucault calls ‘counter-conducts’. It is here that I will develop the idea of ‘political spirituality’, showing how this notion can operate as a radical counter-point to political theology.

 

About the speaker:

Saul Newman is Professor of Political Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London and currently a Visiting Professor at the Sydney Democracy Network. His research is in continental political thought and contemporary political theory. Mostly known for his research on postanarchism, he also works on questions of sovereignty, human rights, as well as on the thought of the nineteenth century German individualist anarchist, Max Stirner. His most recent work is on political theology and post-secular politics, and he has a new book forthcoming with Polity called Political Theology: a Critical Introduction.

Location: Merewether Room 498, Butlin Avenue, University of Sydney