CFP Political Theology and Modernity – The Legacy of Carl Schmitt (Lancaster University – 9th June 2014)

Political Theology and Modernity – The Legacy of Carl Schmitt
Day Event at Lancaster University, Monday 9th June 2014

The Northern Theory Group in conjunction with the Journal for Cultural Research and the Politics, Philosophy and Religion Department of Lancaster University is organizing a one-day research seminar on the 9th June 2014, at Lancaster University, beginning at 1000am and finishing at 5.00pm.  The keynote speaker for the day is Professor William Rasch, Professor of Germanic Studies at Indiana University (author of Sovereignty and its Discontents: On the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political).  A summary of William Rasch’s contribution is appended to this message.  Michael Hölzl, of Manchester University, and translator of one of Schmitt’s central texts on political theology, will also present a paper at the event.

The event is particularly aimed at academics and research and graduate students interested in the legacy of Carl Schmitt.  Expanded versions of the prepared contributions to the day will be eligible for consideration (through blind peer review) for a special edition of the Journal under the guest editorship of William Rasch (Indiana), Arthur Bradley and Laurence Hemming (both Lancaster).

If you wish to attend please email Laurence Hemming or Arthur Bradley, as soon as possible.  There is no charge for the event but we do ask that you register in advance.

Call for Papers  We are inviting short contributions of up to fifteen minutes (maximum) from participants – initial proposals of not more than 500 words should be emailed to Laurence Hemming or Arthur Bradley by 10th May 2014 – because of the short notice we will get back to you within a day or two about acceptance.  Even if you are not aiming to make a formal presentation, we would welcome your attendance.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Laurence Hemming & Arthur Bradley

A summary of William Rasch’s contribution is below, providing the context for the event.

“Political Theology, as Carl Schmitt originally formulated it, is meant to serve as an analytical tool.  The core definition of this “sociology of concepts” is not the one usually cited – “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” – but rather this: “Das metaphysische Bild, das sich ein bestimmtes Zeitalter von der Welt macht, hat die selbe Struktur wie das, was ihr als Form ihrer politischen Organisation ohne weiteres einleuchtet.” (The metaphysical image of the world that a particular epoch makes for itself, has the same structure as that which immediately appears to it as the form of its political organization.)  We can elaborate: Within a well-defined epoch – the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, modernity, to use conventional markers – the intellectual class of a society constructs a metaphysical understanding of the world it inhabits.  Upon reflection, we see that political organization conforms to the expectations produced by the metaphysics of the day.  Put in a “post-metaphysical” way: For the articulation of political form to be understood, it must be enunciated within the prevalent discursive field of the times.  In other words, the cosmic and social orders are homologous because each speaks the same language.  What is sociological for Schmitt, then, is not a (“dialectically” mediated) causal link between material base and ideological superstructure, but rather the systematic conceptual coherence of the superstructure itself; or, as Schmitt puts it, the discovery and comparison of “two spiritual [geistig] but at the same time substantial identities” that commune with one another in the same structural language.  Thus, whereas in a theistic age, political sovereignty and the state of exception have their correlates in the belief in an omnipotent God and that God’s ability to suspend the laws of nature to produce miracles, under the sign of enlightenment deism or modern secular atheism, the thoroughly rationalized “machine runs by itself.”
“The question we ask is the following: Is Schmitt’s “sociology of concepts,” his “political theology,” worth exploring as a possible tool for investigating the nature and genealogy of the modernity we think we inhabit?  If so, does Schmitt’s tool need to be sharpened or blunted for it to work better?   We ask as example: Is it possible to articulate the foundations of our most cherished political beliefs without recourse to past or present theological concepts?  For instance, is, as some believe (e.g. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Steven D. Smith), the concept of human rights incoherent or nonsensical without reference to biblical theism?  If so, where would such a foundational story lead us?  Or on the contrary, as Richard Rorty taught us, are such genealogical searches for foundations themselves evidence of the proverbial nonsense on stilts; and what would be the consequences of such willful repression of inquiry?”


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