UBC Medieval Workshop 2019
Theologies of the Political
From Augustine to Agamben, and Beyond
29-30 March 2019
In 1922 Carl Schmitt published his essay “Politische Theologie,” arguing that all concepts of modern political thought are secularized theological concepts. In 1934, the same year that Schmitt released a revised edition of his essay, Henri-Xavier Arquillière published a short study entitled L’Augustinisme politique, arguing that all concepts of early medieval political thought are sacralized temporal concepts.
In recent years many scholars of modern and early modern history, political theory, and law have returned to these entanglements of sacrality and secularity posited by Schmitt and Arquillière, and have sought to identify and trace their influence upon the development of Western sovereignty, governmentality, and politics as such. Notably, the contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben has developed his prominent theorizations of the “state of exception” and “homo sacer” through a close engagement with Schmitt’s provocative ideas.
Scholars of late antique and early medieval history and theology have also recently concentrated on the entanglements of sacrality and secularity, but have largely done so by following the lead of Robert Markus, Peter Brown, and their interlocutors in their exploration of the ideas and influence of men such as Augustine and Gregory the Great.
While the focus of one group has been on the processes and effects of secularization at work from the late Middle Ages to the present, the focus of the other has been on the “de-secularization” of the world from late antiquity into the early Middle Ages. While the former attempts to understand what remains of the medieval sacral sphere within secular modernity, the latter seeks to identify what was lost from the late Roman “secular” civic sphere upon the institutionalization and development of Christianity.
In this year’s Medieval Workshop, we seek to bring these two scholarly traditions on the historical relationship of the sacral and the secular into conversation. At what point did temporal political concepts become merged with Christian theology? Was there something particular to the Christian cosmology that accommodated this fateful merging, or was it only a consequence of certain political exigencies following the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity? What concepts distinctive to Christian theology remain within the political, legal, and cultural structures of the “post-Christian” West? More generally, has a faltering confidence in the progressive secularization of the contemporary world led to the renewal of interest not only in the processes of early medieval sacralization, but also in the pre-Christian “sacral” views and practices that were adapted, eliminated, or cast into oblivion thereby? What are the stakes in opening ourselves to the implications of a pre-Christian order of “sacrality?” What part have differing understandings of time itself played in these processes? In short, what has Augustine to do with Giorgio Agamben? Pseudo-Dionysius with Erik Peterson? Thomas Aquinas with Arquillière? These are just a few possible questions we hope to explore in an effort to initiate dialogue and exchange among the disciplines regarding theologies of the political.
Keynote speaker – Conrad Leyser (University of Oxford)
The conference description, information, and the program can be found here [click]: