Theological Genealogies of Modernity – recordings

Recordings are now online from the Theological Genealogies of Modernity conference. You can watch them on the conference’s YouTube channel.

Genealogies of modernity are broad narrative accounts of the rise and nature of our present cultural condition. Theology nearly always features, in some way or another, in narratives about the formation of modernity, even if its role is just being a discourse and set of practices that was gradually marginalized by the onset of a more secular age. This conference gathers together an international team of scholars to explore genealogies of modernity sympathetically and to evaluate them critically. The contributors will discuss a range of important figures and focused topics, and they will pay special attention to stories that are often, though perhaps unhelpfully, understood as decline narratives—accounts of modernity that do not associate it unambiguously with progress. So-called decline genealogies have significant influence within theology across several confessional traditions, but like any narrative with the massive scope of a genealogy of modernity, making a case for them is necessarily complex. How are “decline” narratives and other accounts constructed? If these stories seek to do something more than just to describe historical processes, how do subtly normative dimensions enter into them? How do genealogical narratives look from the perspective of constituencies that are often marginalized?

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Conference Papers

Christine Helmer, “Gen[der]ealogy: A Theological Account”

Jonathan Teubner, “Liberal Progress, Historical Decline: Adolf von Harnack and the Practice of Historical Theology in the United States”

Cyril O’Regan, “Heidegger’s Apocalyptic Philosophy and the Return of Marcionism”

Brad Gregory, “Is Global Ecological Disaster a Sufficient Criterion for a ‘Narrative of Decline?’ Capitalism, Liberalism, and the Anthropocene”

Joel Rasmussen, “A Vote of Thanks to Nietzsche: Christianity, Modernity, and Cultural Plurality”

John Milbank, “Theology, Philosophy and History”

Silvianne Aspray, “How Then Should We Write Genealogies? A Proposal”

Ragnar Misje Bergem, “The Spirit of Modernity and its Fate”

Peter Harrison, “Genealogy, Normativity, and Naturalism”

Darren Sarisky, “Recharacterizing ‘Decline’ Narratives”

Pui-Him Ip, “Spiritual Exegesis, Ressourcement, and Theological Genealogies”

Categorized as Events

Imagination in Religion: Perspectives from the Philosophy of Religion

Anthology on Lit Verlag edited by Espen Dahl, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Marius T. Mjaaland.

Religion would be impossible without imagination. Imagination provides content that otherwise escapes discourse and perception. Thus, it opens up a productive realm for creative involvement that keeps religion from sinking into trivialities or abstractions. The contributions in the present volume explore in various ways potentialities and problems linked to imagination’s role in the context of religion. The book challenges readers to think again and think differently about imagination in religion – which, in itself, involves the power of imagination. The book opens up fresh perspectives on the interactive dynamics between imagination and various faculties or dimensions of life. Imagination might be involved in thinking, perceiving, contemplation, and in practices. 

“Den guddommeligt skønne natur” Heideggers Hölderlintolkning og Løgstrups metafysik

Article by Svend Andersen in Dansk teologisk tidsskrift.

Abstract: The article offers a contribution to the understanding of K.E. Løgstrup’s metaphysics focusing on his reading of Friedrich Hölderlin’s poetry and Martin Heidegger’s interpretation thereof. Heideggerian ontology plays a crucial role in Løgstrup’s theology as a philosophical explication of the pre-understanding of Christian faith. At first, existential ontology was essential in this respect, but later Løgstrup realized the necessity of broadening the view to being in general, which equals the movement towards metaphysics. In this movement, Hölderlin as interpreted by Heidegger is pivotal, an important element being the “poetic openness” Løgstrup introduces in The Ethical Demand. In unpublished manuscripts, Løgstrup claims that poetic openness in Hölderlin has an ontological and metaphysical content, and his reading thereby anticipates central themes in his later metaphysics such as omnipresence, particularity, and the history-nature relation.

Religiös mångfald och oenighet

Article by Patrik Fridlund in Förnuft och religion : filosofiska undersökningar (Artos, 2021), edited by Mikael Stenmark, Karin Johannesson, Ulf Zackariasson.

Anthology abstract:

Människor har under alla tider funderat över livet, kärleken, lidandet, Gud, varifrån vi kommer och vad som kommer att hända när vi dör. Religionsfilosofins syfte är både att förstå och kritiskt och konstruktivt granska människors föreställningar om, svar på och förhållningssätt till dessa tillvarons grundläggande frågor. Vad menar exempelvis människor när de säger att Gud finns eller att naturen är allt som finns, att livet är meningsfullt eller att det är absurt, att vi har en fri vilja eller att våra handlingar är förutbestämda och att det finns en objektiv moral eller att gott och ont egentligen inte existerar? Och finns det några goda skäl att tro att verkligheten är så beskaffad? Denna bok ger en introduktion till det filosofiska utforskandet av de olika religiösa och sekulära livsåskådningar som vuxit fram ur brottningen med dessa människolivets stora frågor till exempel kristendom, islam, scientism och sekulär humanism. 


Article by Francis Jonbäck in Studia Theologica.

Philosophers of religion have traditionally focused their attention on belief in God and assessed such belief in terms of it having some epistemic status like “rationality” or “probability”, or indeed by determining whether or not it constitutes knowledge. In this paper, I focus my attention on the non-doxastic attitude of hope and formulate reasons for whether or not we should hope for God. In light of these reasons, I formulate hopeism as a research programme according to which we should develop concepts of God by starting with the question of what type of being would be worthy of our utmost hope. I compare this view with belief-based concepts of God, such as perfect being theism and what I call worship-worthiness theism. Arguably, the greatest benefit of choosing hopeism is that it is inclusive. Most atheists as well as agnostics and theists can endorse the view. I also suggest a number of directions in which hopeism can be developed.

Existence in the thought and theology of Hans Lassen Martensen

Article by Elizabeth Li in Studia Theologica.

This paper brings to light the overlooked existential commitments of the Danish speculative theologian Hans Lassen Martensen. Primarily known and studied today for being the arch-rival of Søren Kierkegaard, Martensen continues to suffer under his Kierkegaardian caricature as a courtesan to Hegelian speculative thought and to Christendom’s cultural religiosity. In contrast to this portrayal, this paper argues that Martensen’s thought can be viewed as part of a wider existentialist movement developing in nineteenth-century Danish philosophy in response to the dry abstractions of rationalism. It is shown that Martensen’s theological and ethical positions spring from a deep-seated concern with questions of existence, which find expression in three distinct but related moments of Martensen’s theological authorship: Firstly, in his definition of religion as an existential relation, secondly in his view that dogmatic theology should be understood as existential knowledge, and finally by understanding his theological ethics as existential striving.

When the Bible becomes weaponized: Detecting and disarming Jew-hatred

Article by Amy-Jill Levine in Studia Theologica.

Christian preaching and teaching often presents Jews and Judaism as legalistic, obsessed with ritual purity, elitist, money-loving, militaristic, misogynist, and xenophobic. In much popular Christian imagination, Jesus emerges as the only Jew who proclaims the spirit over the letter of the Law, who finds the heart of Torah in compassion rather than in ritual, who demonstrates solidarity with the poor, who counsels peace, who shows respect for women, and who proclaims that God loves all people and not just Jews. Such caricatures of both Jesus and his context are not simply the purview of neo-Nazis and their ilk; they appear in the sermons and teachings of well-motivated Christians who would be appalled to think of themselves as purveying tropes that can inculcate or reinforce Jew-hatred. The problem with such bigoted views can often be traced to biblical passages: Matthew’s invectives against scribes and Pharisees, John’s “Jews” who are children of the devil, Paul’s reference to the Jews “who killed the Lord Jesus,” the “synagogue of Satan” in Revelation, etc. This paper briefly notes ongoing Jew-hatred, explains why Christian teachers and clergy are ill-equipped to address it, details why major approaches to problematic texts are not, and cannot be, fully successful, and then suggests ways for Christian preaching and teaching to move forward in preventing anti-Jewish messages.

The gift in theology: Unilateralism and reciprocity in Kathryn Tanner’s and John Milbank’s theology of gift

Article by Filip Rasmussen in Studia Theologica.

In recent years, many theologians, philosophers, and anthropologists have turned to the simultaneously intriguing and problematic question of the possibility of “the gift”. This article compares the way the latter figures and is developed for constructive purposes in the theology of Kathryn Tanner and John Milbank. After having explained the background of the current resurgence of gift-language in the work of Marcel Mauss and Jacques Derrida, the article examines how Tanner and Milbank answer the concerns of the latter and highlight their very different emphases on unilateralism and reciprocity, respectively. As an answer to a question posed by Sarah Coakley, I argue that the differences between Milbank and Tanner, between “purified” gift exchange on the one hand and “unilateral” gift on the other, are more rhetorical than substantial. Nevertheless, I also argue that there is a tension between unilateralism and reciprocity in Tanner’s theology which comes down to a problem of relationality. I argue that Milbank solves this problem in a better way, and that Tanner’s account might be adjusted by bringing themes of reciprocity, although implicitly present, more clearly to the surface, and by nuancing her notions of “pure” and “completely unilateral” gifts.

Radical incarnation

Article by Jayne Svenungsson in Studia Theologica

Full title: ‘Radical incarnation: The dangers and promises of Christian universalism in the wake of Badiou’s Saint Paul’

In his 1997 pamphlet Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Alain Badiou pointed to the cynical interaction between the burgeoning identitarian movements and neoliberal capitalism. As a bulwark against these tendencies, he proposed a creative reinterpretation of Christian universalism inspired by the Pauline letters. This article revisits Badiou’s argument in light of recent debates on the limits of identity politics. First, it gives a brief overview of Badiou’s innovative and thought-provoking reading of Paul, which gave significant impulses to the politico-philosophical debate in the subsequent years. Second, it discusses some of the lacunas of Badiou’s interpretation of Christian universalism. More specifically, it ponders whether these lacunas may help to explain why the radical left-wing universalism of the 2000s never really took off, but was instead replaced with radicalized identitarian movements on the political left as well as the political right. Finally, it argues that the Christian tradition of universalism nonetheless has significant insights to offer contemporary political philosophy. However, this will require that it learns from its past sins, notably its tendencies of legitimizing supersessionist patterns throughout history. The clue to such a “post-critical” Christian universalism, it is argued, lies in a radicalized emphasis on the incarnational nature of Christianity.

Kierkegaard on indiscriminate love

Article by Knut Alfsvåg in Studia Theologica.

The axle around which Kierkegaard’s thought revolves is the difference between the infinite and the finite, and the commandment to love all humans indiscriminately is the manifestation of the infinite within the area of the finite. The realization of this commandment will not let inequality disappear; finitude can never be conceived as the realization of the infinite and undifferentiated. The goal of absolute human equality will therefore never be realized within the realm of the finite and political. However, one must keep an open space for it as the area from which the values of the political are calibrated and evaluated. If the goal is considered realizable, politics will be reduced to secularized versions of theocracy; if lost, politics will be reduced to entertainment. The task of the church in relation to the political is to maintain the significance of this principle.