Theology and Continental Philosophy at the AAR

As some of you may know, Beatrice Marovich and I have been co-chairs of the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group at the American Academic of Religion, where we have tried to push our sessions beyond the conventional engagement with Christian themes. This year, we have sessions engaging mysticism, Islam, and witchcraft (and other subaltern practices), as well as a discussion of the relation between theology and religious studies. Details “below the fold” — we hope to see you there! We especially encourage you to attend the business meeting, where we will be discussing the direction of future programming. Last year’s was very well-attended and, strangely enough, kind of fun!

Mysticism Unit and Theology and Continental Philosophy Unit
Theme: Mystical Materialisms: Mysticism as Concrete & Critical Praxis
Thomas A. Carlson, University of California, Santa Barbara, Presiding
Sunday – 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-Mile High 4B (Lower Level)
All too often, the teachings of mystics are cast in terms of purely meditative practice. Yet these texts have more to offer than a set of tips for those who wish to pursue the contemplative life. An altered approach to mystical traditions reveals that they should yield just as many resources for the active life, as well. Our panel, then, aims to execute an alternative retrieval of mystical literature and its inheritors, with an eye to mobilizing these texts for the sake of engagement in the contemporary world. By positioning medieval mystics like Catherine of Siena and Angela of Foligno alongside modern theorists such as Karl Marx and Franz Rosenzweig, our goal is to bring the insights of mysticism to bear upon the real world of work, politics, and the concrete ethical applications of contemporary critical theory.
Sean Hannan, MacEwan University
Social Grace: Marx, Tauler, and Catherine of Siena on the Violence of Alienated Labour
Lucas Wright, University of California, Santa Barbara
Das Unfassbare und Symbole: On the Mutual Construction of Finitude and Infinitude in Christian Kabbalah, Franz Rosenzweig’s Der Stern der Erlösung and Contemporary Thought
W. Ezekiel Goggin, University of Chicago
Kenotic Misapprehension: Self-Emptying and Religious Imagination in Post-Hegelian Materialisms
Miriam Bilsker, University of Chicago
What Kind of Nothingness? Gershom Scholem’s Reading of Kafka as Contemporary Secular Kabbalist
Andrea Dara Cooper, University of North Carolina

Theology and Continental Philosophy Unit
Theme: Seek and Ye Shall Find: Crypto-Theology in Philosophy of Religion Today
Adam Kotsko, North Central College, Presiding
Sunday – 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-708 (Street Level)
The term “crypto-theology” has come to take on two general and mutually exclusive meanings in religious studies that tend to be mistakenly conflated. One usage is committed to excising covert “theological agendas” from the study of religion for the purpose of legitimizing religious studies as a “properly academic” discipline. In short, proponents of this view are interested in defending science from the taint of theology. The other usage is also interested in illuminating and interrogating the Christian inheritances of religious studies but for the purposes of decolonization. The papers on this panel show how these aims are incompatible since the decolonial critique clearly applies to the Western scientific tradition as well, which is, in fact, inextricably linked with Christian missions and imperial colonial projects and argue that the discipline rethink its relationship to the “theological” and the questions it raises.
Sean Capener, University of Toronto
The Christian Economy: On the Genealogy of Oikonomia and the Question of a Theological Remainder
Joel Harrison, Northwestern University
“Where Myth Means a True Story”: A Brief Genealogy of the Crypto-Theological
Timothy Snediker, University of California, Santa Barbara
The Crypto and the Undercommons: Toward a Democracy of Thought in Religious Studies
Kirsten Gerdes, Claremont Graduate University
Unveiling the Crypto-Theological in Social-Scientific Approaches to Religious Studies

Business Meeting:
Adam Kotsko, North Central College
Beatrice Marovich, Hanover College

Theology and Continental Philosophy Unit
Theme: Political Theology of the Wretched
Adam Kotsko, North Central College, Presiding
Sunday – 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-503 (Street Level)
This panel explores the possibilities for a political theology “from below,” a political theology that would not start from the exalted sovereignty of God, but from the vulnerable bodies of the wretched of the earth — specifically, the witch and the slave. Drawing on theorists from Simone Weil and Isabelle Stengers to Giorgio Agamben and Carl Schmitt, these papers interrogate the unthought foundation of the political-theological order of the West through the lens of the wretchedness that it at once excludes and presupposes.
Beatrice Marovich, Hanover College
In the Smoke of Burning Witches: On the Art of Immanent Attention
Marika Rose, University of Winchester
Anthony Paul Smith, La Salle University
Hexing the Discipline: Against the Reproduction of Continental Philosophy of Religion
Jay Martin, University of Notre Dame
The Uniformity of the Wretched: The Homogeneity of Bodies in the Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben
Stephen Keating, Chicago Theological Seminary
Benito Cereno: Carl Schmitt’s Apocalyptic Self-Image as a Slaver

Theology and Continental Philosophy Unit
Theme: Talal Asad and Continental Philosophy: The Problem of History
Marika Rose, University of Winchester, Presiding
Monday – 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hyatt Regency-Centennial F (Third Level)
This panel takes the 25th anniversary of Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion as an occasion to open a conversation between his work and continental philosophy. Asad himself is widely recognized to have been deeply influenced by Marx and Foucault, and his own reading practices range across the fields of history, anthropology, political theory, and philosophy—but whether for disciplinary reasons or otherwise, continental philosophers have not substantively engaged his work while anthropologists have rarely developed readings of his work with reference to continental philosophy. This panel begins to open that conversation, focalized around the question of history. Whether considering the symbolic order, pleasure, form of life, or translation, these papers demonstrate that Asad’s methodological antihistoricism can be put in serious, productive conversation with continental thought.
Rajbir Singh Judge, University of California, Davis
The Asadian Sublime: On History and Tradition
Unregistered Participant
The Pleasure Principle According to Talal Asad: Conscripts and Desire-Machines
Aaron Eldridge, University of California, Berkeley
The Vicissitudes of Liturgy: Agamben and Asad on the Spatialization of Time
Basit Iqbal, University of California, Berkeley
Hiatus of Translation (Anthropology’s Unavowable Community)
Anthony Paul Smith, La Salle University

Theology and Continental Philosophy Unit
Theme: Anand Taneja’s Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi (Stanford University Press, 2016)
Richard McGregor, Vanderbilt University, Presiding
Tuesday – 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Convention Center-503 (Street Level)
Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Delhi, the book explores an emergent religious community centered on the collection of medieval ruins known as Firoz Shah Kolta. Communal boundaries separating Hindus and Muslims disappear in this shared devotional space, and the historical traumas of modern India, are open to reframing and mediation. The politics of this community resist the violence of the divisive Indian post-colonial policies around religious identity. Additionally, the devotional practices that emerge at this site, recapture earlier paradigms in which religious experience was inflected and informed by surrounding ecological sensibilities. Women’s voices and presence take up new possibilities, framed within this novel shared religious space. Among other insights, the panel will discuss the book’s treatment of modern secularism, negotiations across communal boundaries, religion as, and in, the ‘natural’ environment, and debates over the notion of religious tradition formed in the wake of Talal Asad’s work.
Kathleen Foody, College of Charleston
Anna M. Gade, University of Wisconsin
A. Azfar Moin, University of Texas
SherAli Tareen, Franklin and Marshall College
Anand Taneja, Vanderbilt University

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