Thursday, March 17, 2011

Religion's Appeal for the social-political

Susan Buck-Morss, a disciple of the 20th century theorist Walter Benjamin and who wrote a delightful book on the Haitian Revolution's impact on the German philosopher Hegel, composed a great essay "The Second Time as Farce...Historical Pragmatics and the Untimely Present" on the potential of religious thought on mobilizing radical reforms of government. She builds her argument off of the current trend by secular thinkers from the West like Badiou and Zizek to find the radical, egalitarian message out of the Christian message by likewise finding this same mode from Islam.

She writes that "we need to take the radical core of religion seriously, because in our time revolutiuonary power depends on its rescue and reinvention, and not on some facile assertion that 'we' have now progressed beyond religion, when the vast majority of the world's population is excluded in that statement." In essence, this is the same criticism that John Caputo leveled at Badiou and Zizek in that, for example, people filled the halls to listen to his friend the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida because of the interest he raised in religion and not in attempting to remove the "religious baggage" from thought. I firmly believe that the Bonhoeffer/Barth tandem accomplishes the same thing in mobilizing resistance (like it did in communist Eastern Germany) through their theology to anything or anyone that attempts to squash the freedom that is given to humanity by God through Christ (and not just in the spiritual realm but also the material).

Buck-Morss's essay was also helpful in putting together my lecture for modern Islam for my history class and in emphasizing those figures like Taha and Shariati who spoke of the equality of women and challenged the clericalism of their day (I actually read Shariati's Religion book, which I really enjoyed, on the plane ride on my honeymoon-while my wife slept). It also inspired me to look closer at a figure like Qutb, who some say is the main thinker behind Islamic fundamentalism (there is a bio of him I would like to jump into). I am really new to theology when it comes to Muslim thought, but as both a historian and a budding theologian, I think it is important to read both the primary sources (out of the author's mouth) and good secondary sources. In short, avoid the polemics and apologetics.

At the heart of these figures is the struggle with the world and God. Through contrasts and contacts, I hope to have my basic Barth/Bonhoeffer position challenged in a good way in order to fashion a truly democratic social-political thought that takes the religious space seriously all over the world.

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