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The Political Theology Syllabi Project: Inese Radzins

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I teach at the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.  My students are all graduate level, but span a range of degree programs—M.A., M.Div., and Ph.d.

My interest in teaching a course on Political Theology came from my research on Simone Weil.  I wanted to understand how the area of political theology could help me interpret Weil’s oeuvre, which often focuses on the intersection of politics and religion.  To that end I decided to teach a course in the Fall of 2011 that would explore the historic development of the concept “political theology.”  The course would consider how the western tradition has “thought” the intersection of politics/theology.

In organizing materials for the class, two issues grabbed my attention.  The first was that much of the literature on political theology centered on Carl Schmitt and his more recent interpreters.  I was curious why Schmitt was so prevalent and other figures, like Spinoza, so under-represented?  Was Schmitt’s focus on law and sovereignty the only way of thinking political theology?  What other resources might there be?  The second point that struck me was how few women or feminist writers approach this topic.  I am not sure why this is the case but I think that asking the question could pose some very interesting discussions.

The syllabus I constructed had three parts:  (1) Introduction to—and “definitions” of—political theology; (2) Historic texts and (3) Contemporary projects.  I used Michael Kirwan’s “Political Theology” as a kind of textbook to help students understand the historic development of the field.  Although I had a few reservations about the book, the students found it immensely helpful and listed it as a “favorite” in course evaluations.

In the first part of the course we read a number of what I would consider “foundational” thinkers in the field:  Arendt, Lloyd, Casanova, Asad, Davis and Laclau.  Although Arendt may not typically be taught in this area, I consider her writings on politics integral to understanding the topic.  Casanova and Asad were helpful in delimiting the notion of the secular and relations of sacred/secular.

The historical section of the syllabus included Taubes on Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Spinoza, Luther, Calvin (Weber on Protestantism), Schmitt and Weil.  The last and more contemporary section contained readings by Vincent Lloyd (who was able to join the class as a guest lecturer) and the edited volume The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (Mendieta and VanAntwerpen).  Most students were delighted by these contemporary approaches and would have liked to read more of them.  The students also appreciated Taubes’ take on Paul, perhaps because it offered a different reading from their “inherited” one (many of the students come from Christian traditions and some are preparing for ministries in the church).  From my perspective, the works that helped me with my research on Weil were Taubes, LeFort, Laclau, Spinoza and Lloyd.

I am hoping to teach the course again in the Spring of 2016 and have attached here a “revised” syllabus.  Since teaching that class in the Fall of 2011, a number of new materials have surfaced that I am considering using, including Race and Political Theology (ed. Vincent Lloyd), Political Theology for a Plural Age (ed. Michael Kessler), and Radical Political Theology (Clayton Crockett).

Inese Radzins is the Assistant Professor of Theology and Dorothea Harvey Professor of Swedenborgian Studies at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA. Her research interests lie in the intersection of theology and political theory, philosophy, and women’s/gender studies. She teaches courses in constructive, feminist, and political theology, Swedenborgian thought, and modern philosophy.

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