Thursday, October 14, 2010

Room for Theology in "Theory": New Signs in SAQ

A few years back, Eugene McCarraher's review of Terry Eagleton's After Theory posed the question: "After Theory, Theology?" It was a brilliant review of an excellent book and got to the heart of matters in the current state of "theory" (that strange, amorphous mix of continental philosophy marshaled across a range of disciplines in order to do "critique"). Both Eagleton and McCarraher suggested that a thorough, consistent "postmodern" critique of Enlightenment rationality--theory's bread and butter--should ultimately open the door for religious perspectives to get a hearing in a genuinely pluralist academy. (George Marsden made similar claims in The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, but without all the sexy, pomo references.)

Not everyone got the memo, however, and in some ways the university remains the last bastion of a pretty strident secularism. However, there have been pockets of theoretical conversations across the disciplines which have begun to absorb this point. As a case in point, consider the latest issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly, one of the iconic "theory" journals, currently edited by Michael Hardt and published by Duke University Press. (Ever since I knew what "theory" was, I had always sort of dreamed of getting to publish in SAQ.) The Fall 2010 issue, guest edited by two anthropologists, Matthew Engelke (London School of Economics) and Joel Robbins (UC San Diego), is devoted to the theme, "Global Christianity, Global Critique." But such a title might hide the fact that this issue is actually pressing the implications of something like the Eagleton/McCarraher thesis: that perhaps theory not only needs to consider religion, but that theory might even be "religious"--and that perhaps an anthropology of religion might be well-informed by theology without giving up its critical capacities. In his contribution to the volume, Simon Coleman describes this as a "committed anthropology." (My own contribution is something I wouldn't have dreamed could appear in SAQ: "'The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets': Global Pentecostalism and the Re-enchantment of Critique.")

There's no consensus represented by the contributors, but there is a set of shared intuitions and sensibilities. I think the issue signals a new day in both theory and the social sciences.

Here's the full Table of Contents so you can see other contributions:

Joel Robbins and Matthew Engelke

Joel Robbins
Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation

Elizabeth A. Castelli
The Philosophers' Paul in the Frame of the Global: Some Reflections

James K. A. Smith
"The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets": Global Pentecostalism and the Re-enchantment of Critique

Jon Bialecki
Angels and Grass: Church, Revival, and the Neo-Pauline Turn

C. J. C. Pickstock
Liturgy and the Senses

Birgit Meyer
Aesthetics of Persuasion: Global Christianity and Pentecostalism's Sensational Forms

Brian Goldstone and Stanley Hauerwas
Disciplined Seeing: Forms of Christianity and Forms of Life

Simon Coleman
An Anthropological Apologetics

Matthew Engelke
Number and the Imagination of Global Christianity; or, Mediation and Immediacy in the Work of Alain Badiou