Below you’ll find the summary and a few blurbs: Continue reading
Category Archives: theology and religion
I attended the recent conference of the International Big History Association. The association is oriented toward researching and teaching “Big History,” which aims (as their website says) to “understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity,” specifically by means of “the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.” That opens up the field of history into a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary account of the entire 13.8 billion year history of our universe.
Big History is far from alone in its aim to articulate an integrated and evolutionary vision of matter, life, and humanity. Multiple scholarly fields and schools of thought share the integrative aims of Big History (e.g., the universe story, the field of religion and ecology, integral theory, ecofeminism, complexity theory, posthumanities, process philosophy). Big historians still have much to learn from those and other integrative and transdisciplinary sources of evolutionary knowledge. Continue reading
My latest piece for my column at Nomos Journal is up. It’s an analysis of the Afro-Atlantic legacy of contemporary popular music, specifically in light of two interrelated aspects of Afro-Atlantic music: rhythm and trance. The use of polyrhythmic beats in the spirit possession rituals of Afro-Atlantic traditions parallels the structure of the trance experiences that those beats occasion. The beats mix two-pulse and three-pulse beats and the experiences likewise manifest liminal mixtures of humans (possessed) and deities (possessors), as well as mixtures between conscious and amnesiac states, between performer and audience members, between ritual and art, between humans and animals (e.g., the horses we become when we are possessed/mounted by gods)….
I’m always bothered by the inadequacy of the terminology of music theory. Polyrhythm is a better term than syncopation, a striking-together wherein one beat is considered regular or normal, against which the irregular “off”-beat strikes. Such a hierarchy is missing in Afro-Atlantic music; neither duple meter nor triple meter is heard as primary or regular. In fact, there is no abstract meter at all, only the play of multiple meters. Along those lines, polyrhythm seems like a much better term, since it does not assimilate the plurality of rhythms into a hierarchy of regular/irregular beats. However, as Mikel Dufrenne points out in The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, polyrhythm is still an inadequate concept for describing the phenomenon itself. It presupposes a mono-/poly- distinction that is not present in the actual performance or experience of the music.
I’m reminded that there is a magic formula that many of us are still searching for, a formula that would equate the singular and the plural, mono- and poly-, the one and the many, monism and pluralism. My commitment to pop analysis follows along those lines, listening for the truth of to hen in the music of hoi polloi.
[The following is a proposal for a paper in a panel on new materialism and its significance for religion, affect, and emotion in the Anthropocene.]
Articulating multifarious ways that agency is distributed across all things—human and nonhuman—various theoretical schools are emerging that move beyond the anthropocentrism for which affective agency is solely or most fully embodied in humans. Including (but not limited to) new materialism, speculative realism, object-oriented ontology (OOO), and actor-network theory (ANT), each of these schools affirms the vibrant dynamics and unique capacities of nonhumans. They are particularly timely insofar as they address the challenges of the emerging geological epoch, the Anthropocene—a time when human actions, magnified by technoscientific media, are so pervasively intertwined with Earth’s systems that it is becoming increasingly superfluous to attempt to neatly separate humans from nonhumans. Among these new schools, object-oriented approaches stand out for their provocative claim that adequate theories must focus on objects—things. That contrasts starkly with more common theoretical orientations toward relations, processes, events, networks, biopower, and material conditions.
This paper provides an object-oriented account of affect in the Anthropocene, drawing specifically on Timothy Morton’s (hyper)object-oriented ontology and his claims that the Anthropocene is the age of ecology without nature and the age of animism without animism, that is, animism “under erasure” (sous rature). To facilitate an exploratory engagement with animistic affects in the Anthropocene, this paper presents Morton’s conception of objects, elucidating his relationship with new materialism, speculative realism, and ANT, and indicating how one can develop an intimate feeling for a hyperobject like global climate change by attending to the lameness, weakness, and hypocrisy of coexistence in the Anthropocene.
In the recent edition of my column at Nomos Journal, I consider the theologico-political dynamics of fame by looking at depictions of Jesus Christ in a couple musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar and a musical currently in development, Spears: The Gospel According to Britney.
If faith is a matter of ultimate concern (Paul Tillich’s well-known definition), fame is a matter of repeated concern, which is to say, reputation and renown, where reputation is a matter of being subject to repeated considering (re-putare). An ultimate concern (faith) is not the same as a popularly celebrated or highly frequented concern (fame), however their difference is supplementary and not simply antagonistic. Fame without faith is empty, and faith without fame is blind, out of touch.
Looking out of my window, between the blinds, I’m left wondering about the quasi-transcendental function of blindness in faith (blind faith; faith sans voir), justice (blindfolded Lady Justice), and love (blindfolded Cupid; Theocritus, Shakespeare, and others saying that love is blind).
There are at least two ways of being after something. After can be a matter of subsequence (like tomorrow is after today), and it can also be a matter of seeking something or trailing along behind it (like a predator goes after prey). Being after is a lot like following something: tomorrow follows today, a predator follows prey. This double-sense of after also shows up in German, “nach” (after/toward).
Although we generally know whether someone means subsequence or seeking when the word “after” is uttered, some ambiguity is inescapable. One can always misread contextual and syntactic clues. There is no way to completely secure the word “after” from the possibility of being read as pre- and/or post-.
We are after the past and after the future… a dual sense of after, a sense moving in both directions at once. It is in that sense that we are after the end of the world. We are not simply post-apocalyptic (or post-anything, for that matter), for we are still waiting, more or less vigilantly, for an apocalypse to come.
Some people might want to put apocalypse behind us and get it out of our future, but they’re just seeking an inverse apocalypse, an anti-apocalypse, seeking an end to all this talk of the end. No matter how much we want to, we can’t just disavow apocalypse, end, or world. We can never be after something in simply a “post-” sense. The end of the world is our inheritance. What we inherit is what we have coming to us. The end, the world, the end of the world… they haunt our future, like a past that remains to come.
We’ll always be after the end of the world, and so we cannot just drop the end or drop our sense of the world (Lil Wayne’s ability to drop the world notwithstanding). There’s nowhere to drop them off, no “away” to throw them. We’re here in the middle of the world’s ending, going after it, composing a world that has already ended, mourning an end that returns incessantly. Where are we going? Immer nach Hause, immer nach Welt.