Political theology in Rome

Your editor reports from Rome, Italy, where he attended the meeting of the executive committee of the International Research Network on Religion and Democracy (IRNRD). The meeting was preceded by lectures of Dr Michael Hölzl (Manchester, pictured below giving a brilliant lecture on the temptation of re-mythologising sovereignty), prof Graham Ward (Manchester), and Walter Van Herck (Antwerp). The meeting and lectures were kindly hosted by the LUISS Centre for Ethics and Global Politics and John Cabot University.


Let it be known that Rome is certainly one of the great cities of the world and both LUISS and JCU extraordinary academic institutions. The committee meeting was also a success: the IRNRD 2010 conference takes place in Rome under the title "Between Rawls and Religion". The following conference on "Politics and Evil" will meet at the University of Lapland in December 2011 -- i.e. we decided to move the Lapland meeting one year earlier than previously planned.

Thanks again Aakash and Tom for hosting us. Looking forward to working with you again soon.


Political theology à la Carl Schmitt

What does the political theology in the name of our project stand for? I will try to open the concept by using the ideas of Carl Schmitt.

As Schmitt states in his famous quote 'The central concepts of the modern state theory are all secularized theological concepts' (Politische Theologie, 1922). This is easier to understand if we know Schmitt's view how the controlling forces in the Western states have changed throughout their history. In the medieval worldview states were controlled by God and the Scriptures. Secular politics was a prerogative of the Catholic Church and the Pope who had a mandate straight from God. Now - after the phases of science, humanism and economics - we are living in a state where technology is the ruling element.

If we want to fully understand this analogy between political theory and theology we must study Schmitt's notion about the 'state of exception'. For Schmitt 'sovereign is the one who decides about the exception'. Exception is the miracle and the sovereign (state) is the God of the secularised time. Exceptions made by the sovereign can not be explained by the laws like the miracles made by God can not be explained by rational sense. Political theology tries to find the elements of transcendence which are often concealed in secular politics.

According to Schmitt 'the machine now runs by itself' - all transcendental elements have been stripped off the state. In the modern state the omnipotent God has been replaced by omnipotent lawgiver. Schmitt wants to restore the importance and weight that the concepts of political theory had in the 16th century. Schmitt is very critical towards liberalism and criticises the fragmentation of power. For him a strong state but also strong values were the only ways to face the challenges posed by the liberalising international system.

Even though Schmitt represented his ideas in the first half of 20th century and even thought some of his ideas can be seen as products of his time, are the theories of the political theology and the state of exception getting more attention especially in the context of war on terror.


The New Pietism Will Lead to The Same Old Results

The lutheran blog Cyberbrethen posts an interesting tidbit on pietism from a book published two decades ago: The New Pietism Will Lead to The Same Old Results:

‘We do not have to look very far to see that today there is a new spirit of pietism abroad, a pietism that sees the essence of Christianity in the small, informal group, rather than in the total community of faith at worship within a recognized and formal liturgical order. It is a pietism that measures its success by the number of people it touches, rather than by the truth of the message it proclaims. It is a pietism that is preoccupied with ‘simple hymns’ and informal structures of worship. It is a pietism that is impatient with the German Reformation of the sixteenth century, a pietism that asserts that we need new forms and less of the old. It is a new spirit of pietism that looks in many respects like the old pietism, the Pietism in the technical sense which we have considered here. (Bach and Pietism: Similarities Today, by Robin A. Leaver, Concordia Theological Quarterly, 55:1 (Jan. 1991), pp. 5-22.)

(Via Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog.)


New book on political theory/political theology

Dear Colleagues,
Hereby I inform you that the book From Political Theory to Political Theology: Religious Challenges and the Prospects of Democracy (Aakash Singh, Péter Losonczi eds.) has been published by Continuum Publishers:

During the last two decades we have witnessed what José Casanova has characterised as “religion going public”. This has not been a trend exclusive to traditionally religious nations. Rather, it has been visible in as diverse environments as that of the construction of the new Russian political identity or in the “post-9/11” political discourses of the USA.

Surprisingly, important religious manifestations also influenced the political discourses in Britain and, more recently, in France. Partly as a consequence of these phenomena an intensive debate is now evolving about the compatibility of the neutrality of liberal democracy in relation to religiously motivated opinions in public discourses, and the conditions under which such religiously driven contributions could viably “go public”.

This book offers a collection of essays on Religion and Democracy which critically discusses the most important questions that characterize these debates at the points of their intersection within political theory, political theology and the philosophy of religion, and considers both the challenges and the prospects of this new era which, following Habermas, one may call post-secular.

All the best, Péter

Headquarters goes to Oulu

Our project made a little seminar trip to Oulu.

Veli-Pekka Lehtola from the Giellagas Institute kindly hosted the seminar meeting. In the meeting our researchers presented their paper outlines and got feedback from other researchers but also from our supporting/visiting members Marja Tuominen, Samuli Onnela, Erva Niittyvuopio and Anni-Siiri Länsman.

Below Sanna presenting her research ideas. In the picture clockwise Veli-Pekka Lehtola, Marja Tuominen, Mika Luoma-aho, Anni-Siiri Länsman, Samuli Onnela, Sandra Wallenius-Korkalo, Sanna Valkonen, Erva Niittyvuopio and Aini Linjakumpu. Outside the pic Tapio Nykänen and yours truly.

We also made an expedition to the National Archives Service. The archive hosts Laestadiana collection which includes material (letters, pics, books) about Laestadianism and which can be one source for research material.

It was really nice to see all our researchers in one place but also get to know our 'supporters' who hopefully will follow us in the project.


Thinking about humanitarian responsibility


I am currently writing a paper/book chapter on humanitarian responsibility, commenting the UN's Millennium Declaration from a politico-theological perspective. There is lots to comment, but I am currently stuck to thinking and writing about the second article:

We recognize that, in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.

The leaders identify two kinds of responsibility here. On the one hand they are responsible to their national "constituency": this one is fairly straightforward. The other kind is trickier: a collective responsibility to uphold human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. How does such a responsibility come about? Is responsibility something we humans must accept as a premise, or rather something we have agreed upon and must now accept on that basis?

The way I look at this we have two options to conceive humanitarian responsibility. We can give human life a "true" meaning, i.e. that human life now is just as precious as it was, say, two thousand years ago. This is the ideal that all the declarations and human rights legislation reflect. If we do not like "true" meaning we have to accept that it is a relative thing: what it means to be human depends on convention, and its meaning can be different in different time and place. Two thousand years ago there were no human rights, so the people then were not human, or they had no rights, or both.

What it boils down to us this: either humanitarian responsibility has an ultimate basis or it does not have such a basis. If we accept true meaning we can do so only from a theistic worldview. If we reject it we must accept the fact that we are no more than what we make of ourselves: biological creatures, who came up with an idea of "humanity". As simple as that.


Hyvää pääsiäistä!

The whole Laestadian-ism team wishes everyone a peaceful and inspirational holiday period. We would also like to welcome in our team MSocSc Sandra Wallenius, who officially begins her postgraduate research in our project today.