Kierkegaard and Political Theology

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Editor(s): 
Roberto Sirvent, Silas Morgan
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , March
     2018.
     398 pages.
     $46.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498224826.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The editors of this substantial volume (comprised of twenty-three contributions) present the project as “a kind of symposium between Kierkegaard studies and contemporary political theology” (xix). This is indeed what one encounters in its pages. On the Kierkegaard studies side of the ledger, one finds a sufficiently broad spectrum of disciplinary approaches to Kierkegaard addressing a respectably wide selection of his work, which is itself infamously diverse in style and approach. The full breadth of usual suspects are there—Either/OrFear and TremblingRepetitionPhilosophical FragmentsConcluding Unscientific PostscriptSickness unto DeathPractice in ChristianityWorks of Love, and The Concept of Anxiety—along with regular references to his journals and a handful of less well known pieces, such as The MomentTwo AgesAttack upon ChristendomA Literary Review, and a solid number of his Up-building Discourses. 

On the political theology side of the ledger, there is the predictably large shadow of Carl Schmitt, given the perseveration of much contemporary political theology on his work together with his well-known appropriation of Kierkegaard for his own purposes. However, there is, thankfully, a wide enough diversity of figures and texts representing a variety of themes and concerns relevant to political theology to substantially displace the influence of Schmitt on the volume as a whole. This a service in itself to the continued work in that field. There are many names one would expect in any substantial engagement with contemporary political theology—Benjamin, Derrida, Žižeck, Badiou, MacIntyre, Adorno, Habermas, Charles Taylor, Ferreira, Hardt, and Negri. But a number of comparative pieces bring into the mix thinkers less associated with the theory-heavy discourse that much of political theology has become in recent years: Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, artist, composer, and social reformer in colonial India; Augusto Baol, creator of Theater of the Oppressed; mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz; Catholic theologian and writer G. K. Chesterton; Mennonite pacifist, theologian, and ethicist, John Howard Yoder. 

In terms of assessment, the overwhelming preponderance of male voices engaged by the research in the volume cannot go unmentioned. However, seven of the twenty-three contributors are women, which demonstrates some sensitivity on the part of the editors to the need to expand the diversity of perspectives, experiences, and voices in Kierkegaard studies. Related to the editors’ aspiration for diversity in the volume, while there is a spectrum of difference among the contributors with regard to the nature and relevance of Kierkegaard’s relation to Christian faith and theology, there are more explicitly Christian and relatively traditional theological readings of Kierkegaard than the editors’ introduction leads the reader to expect. The area in which there is virtually no diversity—again, against the expectations set by the introduction—is on the question of whether Kierkegaard is a problem or a resource for contemporary political theology. There is unanimous consensus that the latter is the case. The only variance here is on how positive and radical the Kierkegaardian resources are and how robustly they can be retrieved and employed.

All of the obvious problems that Kierkegaard’s work would seem to pose for a serious engagement with the political are addressed in the volume: the ubiquitous concept of the single individual, the privileging of radical interiority over the external and historical, the severe critique of the public arena and “the crowd,” and his explicit, negative characterizations of politics and the political. Indeed, in the face of much traditional reception of his work, making a case for Kierkegaard as a strong resource for political theology would appear to be a steeply uphill battle. However, the contributions in this volume—to various degrees of success—do just that. This is good news if you are positively disposed to Kierkegaard and interested in finding generous readings of his relevance to not only contemporary political theology but to contemporary progressive ethics more generally. These readers will find this volume a helpful resource. However, those wanting a more balanced “symposium,” including in-depth critical analyses of the many ways in which Kierkegaard’s work can be seen as problematic for political theology and a progressive ethics that are not ultimately contextualized within generous retrievals and apologies, may be disappointed on this score.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chris Boesel is Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Drew Theological School.

Date of Review: 
October 30, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Roberto Sirvent is Associate Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, California.

Silas Morgan is a political theologian who lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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