Winter School “Religion and the Culture of Democracy”

Religion and Democracy

A cooperative project between the University of Virginia, the Catholic Academy of Berlin and the FEST Heidelberg

December 12–16, 2021 

Annual Network Meeting “Jewish and Catholic Intellectuality”

Recent decades have seen a renewal of interest in political theology, in the broadest sense of the interrelations between socio-cultural understanding and performance, on the one hand, of the political, and on the other hand, of the religious. This theo-political renaissance has developed, among others, in temporal and discursive correlation to events such as the collapse of communism culminating in 1989 and the emergence of the “clash of civilization” discourse, in particular after 9/11. 

The rise of post-secular awareness too has generated, within the self-reflection of Western modernity, a self-critique of secularism, which seeks to revisit the relations of modernity to various religious – or so-called religious – traditions and cultures, premodern, modern and postmodern. One of the basic theo-political question guiding this intellectual process has been the extent to which secularism, which considered itself as effecting a decisive break between politics and religion, nonetheless has been enacting specific theo-political conceptions, and rather than breaking with traditional debates altogether, has been a specific intervention within these debates.

In this process of critical reevaluation of modernity, Jewish and Catholic intellectual traditions have a specific role to play, since in many respects, and in different ways, both these traditions represent, vis-à-vis the constitutively modern Protestantism, constellations of pre-modern political theology. Coping with modernity for both traditions presented specific challenges, which on the one hand required still ongoing processes of self-reconfiguration and reinvention, and on the other hand singled out these two traditions as sites of modern self-reflection, self-critique and potentially renewal. As such, Jewish and Catholic discourses feature, in very different ways, affinities to a contemporary dispersion of sites that have the structural potential of generating intellectual critique.

The aim of the 2021 annual meeting is to bring together actors within various intellectual discourses, who engage in different ways on the contemporary rethinking of political theology, to establish an initial inter-discursive conversation. The goal of this initial conversation is to layout a basic map of different directions and strategies operative within contemporary debates around political theology, basic positions, goals and orientations, as well as central questions, themes, textual archives and argumentations. 

The participants in the meeting will be invited to deliver talks referring to any aspect of the above set of issues. Talks should address the following main concerns:

(1) Political theology today: critical reflections on various ways of framing and articulating the fundamental theo-political question within contemporary operative discourses and formative debates, in theory and in politics, not the least concerning the aptitude of concepts such as “religion”, “secularism”’ or “political theology”. Other aspects pertain to such questions as the role of religious communities and organizations as well as the State vis-à-vis new socio-political processes such as globalization, economic inequality, the rise of illiberalism, migration or anti-racist and postcolonial concerns, and also in view of regional and interregional concerns in the Middle East, within Israel and in Europe.

(2) Traditions of political theology: various theories, notions, categories and texts within Jewish, Catholic, Islamic and other traditions of thought and politics, which have played a role in shaping historical or contemporary theo-political constellations, and that may shed light or provide inspiration and orientation for current conversations.

(3) Political theologies – future conversation: aspects pertaining to political theology as a topos and space of conversation and debate between different intellectual traditions, cultures, religions and historical discourses. Contributions may address Jewish-Catholic relations and also the relations with and to other intellectual traditions, such as other Christian traditions, Islam, African, Asian or Southern cultures.


Day 1 – October 25 – Monday

18:30Greetings, Opening Remarks
Evening Event: Political Theology and Secular Thought
19:00Vivian Liska (University of Antwerp): Abraham’s Agency: Arendt, Kafka and Human Rights Oliver Hidalgo (University of Munster): Political Theology and the Secular: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Day 2 – October 26 – Tuesday

Theo-Politics of Palestine 
10:00-11:30Gil Anidjar (Columbia University): Negative Political Theology (On Palestine)
David Neuhaus (Pontifical Biblical Institute – Jerusalem, Society of Jesus): Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Palestine 
11:30-12:00Coffee Break
Contemporary Visions
12:00-13:30Agata-Bielik Robson (University of Nottingham): Beyond Sovereignty: Derrida’s Democracy-to-Come
Luca Di Blasi (University of Bern): Political Theology of Guilt
13:30-15:30Lunch Break
Roundtable: Modern Theopolitics in Christianity, Islam and Judaism
15:30-17:30Margareta Gruber (Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Vallendar): Urban living spaces for all peoples. The Vision of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation.
Julie Cooper (Tel Aviv University): Is “Political Theology” a Relevant Category for the Study of Jewish thought? 
Anoush Ganjipour (University of Bern): Modernity and specters of the divine law: the case of Sharia
Evening Event: Theopolitics and Law – European and American Perspectives
19:00Nahed Samour (Humboldt University Berlin): Political Theology and Stigma in the German Rechtsstaat 
David Myers (UCLA)/ Nomi Stolzenberg (USC): Kiryas Joel – New York Theocracy? 

Day 3 – October 27 – Wednesday

Political Theology: Modern Traditions
09:30-10:30Christoph Schmidt (Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Feuerbach and Stirner: The Godman and the two bodies of the subject 
10:30-11:00Coffee Break
11:00-12:30Sandra Lehman (University of Vienna): The Religious Question of Politics. Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Mystical Politics According to Simone Weil
Ron Naiweld (CNRS/EHESS): Political Theology to the People. The Popular Voice of the Bible (and how it is Silenced by Modern Biblical Scholarship)
12:30-14:00Lunch Break
Roundtable: Political Theology in the Post-Secular Age
14:00-16:00Wolfgang Palaver (University of Innsbruck): Political Theology in the Light of Gandhi’s View of Religion and Politics
Azar Dakwar (University of Kent): The Non-Question of Palestine: On Habermas’s Judeo-Christian, Post-National and Post-Secular Turns
Yochi Fischer (Van Leer Institute Jerusalem): Theo-Political Challenges of Contemporary Israeli Secularism
Karma Ben Johanan