Political Theology Today A Forum for inter-disciplinary and inter-religious dialogue among clergy, scholars, students, and activists

Gender & Ontology

This is the first time that I’m posting to the Political Theology blog, and I’m risking a re-post, no less! But I thought readers of this blog might be interested in some of the conversation that’s unfolding at An und für sich this week. Brandy Daniels has been posting some reflections on gender in the theological academy, and Anthony Paul Smith has posted something on ontology. I’m bringing these two things together, you might say, in a brief reflection on gender & ontology. I’m asking, in essence:

…whether the “trouble with ontology” isn’t, in some sense, also gender-based? Of course, I realize that there are all kinds of deconstructive allergies to ontology, and Heideggerian bans on ontotheology. But isn’t part of what’s driving these critiques also a reaction against the hegemonic, universalist ontology of the divine that’s been bolstering and spiritualizing partriachal forms of power and authority? (Read more of the post here…)

What I don’t take the time to mention, in the post at AUFS, is just how much this engendering of ontology has to do with political ontology, and thus political theology. But I think the connections are probably obvious to many readers, already. Carl Schmitt’s dictum that all political concepts are secularized theological concepts seems to have become something of an academic tautology. While this has the side-effect of making theology newly (if strangely) relevant, the ontological contours of Schmitt’s own political theology don’t sit well in most contemporary stomachs (with good reason). Jeff Robbins and Clayton Crockett have both worked to contextualize political theology within democratic theory, to see if this doesn’t shift the nature or impact of theo-power. I think this work exposes the contingency and craft-ability of the ontology that undergirds political theology. I also think Vincent Lloyd’s new edited volume exposes the contingency and craft-ability of political theology’s ontological commitments by bringing it into conversation with race. I think, when we look at the recent history of feminist thought–and the ways in which it’s made fruitful use of less orthodox ontologies (such as a Whiteheadian process thought)–we have yet another testimony to the contingency of the ontological commitments that bolster political theologies. It may (or may not!) be true that secularized theological concepts shape or “create”–in strange ways–our political subjectivities and institutions. But if ontology is relational–as I believe it is–we also have the ability to shape these concepts, in return.

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