Category Archives: theology and religion

The Philosophy of Big History

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


Rhythm and Trance

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.


Upcoming Conference Appearances

It looks like I’ve got my conference engagements lined up for the second half of the year.  I’m only doing a few things, and they’re all in California, which isn’t entirely incidental, as I try to avoid travel scenarios that involve high financial and environmental costs.

First, I’m delighted to be presenting on a panel with two close companions, Kimberly Carfore and Adam Robbert.  We’ll be at the IBHA (International Big History Association) conference in San Rafael, CA, August 6-10.  Our panel is “Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey: Resolving Nature-Culture Dualisms.”  The title of my paper: “Concepts for Collective History: Cosmopolitics and the Journey of the Universe.”  I’ll give an overview of three distinct approaches to collective history (i.e., approaches that integrate human and natural histories), including the approach called Big History, the approach of “universe story” advocates like Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and the approach of theorists associated with the “cosmopolitics” proposed by Isabelle Stengers (e.g., Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway).  Adam has a summary of our panel available HERE.

Next, I’ll be in Los Angeles for the annual meeting of PACT (the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition), October 2-4.  I’ll address questions of narrative and image in relation to the work of Peter Sloterdijk, specifically his philosophical theory of globalization, which is an extension of his sphere theory.  My argument is that his general spherology provides a context for understanding the planet Earth as the locus of a grand narrative that overcomes the hegemony of previous metanarratives and the intellectual defeatism of postmodern prohibitions against metanarratives.  My paper title: “Earth: Spherological Imagination and the New Grand Narrative.”

Finally, I’ll be at the annual meeting of the AAR (American Academy of Religion) in San Diego, November 22-25.  I’ll be involved in a couple events.  I will be a panelist in a Roundtable discussion focusing on the excellent new book by George James, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna.  I’ll also be presenting a paper in a panel on “New Materialism, Religion, and Climate Change.”  I’m representing Tim Morton’s object-oriented perspective, specifically in light of his proposal for an updated version of animism.  My paper title: “Feeling for Hyperobjects: Animistic Affects in the Anthropocene.”  I posted a version of my paper proposal HERE.


Animism for the Anthropocene: A Hyperobject-Oriented Analysis

[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.

Continue reading


The Dynamics of Fame

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).


After the End of the World

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.


Sounding Sacred: Religion and Popular Music

I recently started writing a column on religion and popular music (“Sounding Sacred“) for Nomos Journal, an online journal covering multiple approaches to the study of religion and popular culture.  My first piece went up a few days ago.  It introduces “two, too loud pops” into religion: 1) the pop expressing the loud, noisy, sonorous aspects of the sacred and 2) the pop of popular culture.  In short, music and the multitude.  It’s a fun topic, but it’s also extremely important.  Profound encounters with sonority and intimate psychoacoustic relationships are of crucial importance for the ongoing composition of a shared world, a world “belonging to the people” (popularis) (and nonhuman and more-than-human persons are welcome!).

Heidegger said that only a god can save us now, but I don’t think he ever heard rock, hiphop, psytrance, bubblegum, metal, house, acid, country, synthpop, ska, punk….


Latour, Rejoicing: A Critical Review

The recent work by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME, for short), deals with the various felicity conditions of different modes of existence, including religious modes of existence.  Along these lines, AIME extends his previous works on religion, including his writings on factishes, iconoclash, and the freeze-frames that convolute science-religion dialogue.  It is appropriate, then, that the release of the English edition of AIME was accompanied by the release of the English edition of his 2002 work on the felicity conditions of religious speech, Rejoicing: Or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity, 2013).  With these works as well as his recent Gifford Lectures, Latour is making important contributions to theology and religious studies, opening up nice points of contact with science studies, ecology, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology.

There are a lot of good points coming from Latour’s Rejoicing, which he articulates elsewhere as well.  Religions and sciences are not amenable to worn-out oppositions such as transcendence and immanence, subjective and objective, spirit and matter, fetishes and facts, iconography and iconoclasm, traditional and modern.  Instead of separating religions and sciences into two different realms of being or knowing, Latour recognizes that there is only one world, “no other world, just this one here” (174), and there is no truth we can discern about this world without constructing that truth.  Neither religion nor science has a monopoly on truth about existence, and neither one lays claim to knowledge of another world (since there is no other world).  Religions and sciences involve two different kinds of speech acts which thus have two different sets of felicity conditions, and when those felicity conditions are met, different things happen.  Scientific speech acts bring us knowledge of distant things (atoms, the Big Bang, the climate, etc.), whereas religious speech acts bring us closer to one another (family, friends, loved ones).  Sciences enact references and information about the distant and far away, whereas religions enact translations and transformations of what is close by, the everyday.  Nonetheless, I have a few problems with Rejoicing (which are, more or less, also problems with his other writings on religion).

Continue reading


One Earth: Sloterdijk and Monogeism

Affirming the transition of humanity toward a global or planetary civilization, Peter Sloterdijk proposes what he calls “monogeism,” a term which Bruno Latour adopts in his recent works.  From monotheism to monogeism…from God to Globe….

Here’s a couple of excerpts on monogeism from Sloterdijk’s In the World Interior of Capital (Polity, 2013).

[…] the historical object, the terrestrial globe, is a thing full of metaphysical quirks that like to hide beneath the veneer of the ordinary.   It constitutes a geographical philosophical bastard whose logical and physical peculiarities are not so simple to comprehend.  On the one hand, the printed blue orb with the savannah-coloured patches initially seems no more than one thing among many things, a small body among many bodies, that statesmen and schoolchildren set in rotation with a single hand movement; at the same time, it is supposed to represent the singular totality or the geological monad that serves as the foundation for all life, though and invention.  It is this terrestrial question of location that becomes ever more binding the in the course of modernization: while the ancient conception of the cosmos paradoxically made the earth the marginal centre of a universe that humans could only observe from within, the moderns perceived it as an eccentric orb whose roundness we could verify ourselves through external viewing.  This would have unforeseeable consequences for the generations after Mercator.  For us, monogeism—the conviction that this planet is unique—transpires as a fact that is rejuvenated daily, while monotheism can never again be more than an age-worn religious thesis that cannot really be brought up to date, not even with the aid of pious bombs from the Near East.  The proofs of God’s existence must bear the blemish of their failure, while those of the globe’s existence have an unstoppable influx of evidence on their side. (5-6)

[F]or half of millennium, the notion of the round earth settled in the consciousnesses of Western people and their media like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It drew a very small, active minority of these into an unprecedented departure—a pragmatic mixture of a conquering expedition, apostolic history and research process.  But the idea of the earth’s spherical shape did not remain merely a symbolic figure; monogeism was more than a postulation of beautiful physics.  The carriers of this true, as yet unproved idea—tough seafarers, patient cartographers, metal-addicted monarchs and noble-minded spice merchants—piled proof upon proof until the last deniers, ignoramuses and indifferents had to yield before the advancing evidence.  […]  Possible doubters of monogeism must tolerate being labeled revisionists.  The faith of the seafarers changed into knowledge, and that knowledge became trivial and specialized; the earth-believers of the sixteenth century are now postmodern geoscientists—eleven thousand of them gathered in Nice in April 2003 for a Euro-American working conference.  On the flight, most of them would only have cast a brief glance from the air at the strange object of their theoretical desire. (161)


Multifarious Philosophy

I found the cutting-edge of the creative advance of Whitehead studies.  It’s in the new anthology edited by Jeremy Fackenthal and Roland Faber, Theopoetic Folds: Philosophizing Multifariousness (Fordham, 2013).  It takes its cue from Whitehead’s philosophy, particularly on two points.

First: Multiplicity.
“Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world—the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 338).

Second: Poetics.
Theology is most effective and interesting when it is theopoetics, not only in the sense that poetic speech about God is more accurate than prosaic or formulaic speech, but also in the sense that God is “the poet of the world” (ibid., 336).

This is a must-read book for anybody dealing with Whitehead studies.  Even if you aren’t interested in poetics or radical theology, the book contains a lot of other discussions relevant to metaphysics, cosmology, ecology, and the history of philosophy.  My favorite essays in this collection are in the penultimate section, “The Pluriverse,” which focuses on the cosmological/ecological dimension of Whitehead’s theopoetic philosophy, including pieces from Catherine Keller, Luke Higgins, and Roland Faber.

The piece by Faber presents an “eco-theopoetics” that synthesizes Whitehead and Deleuze in a radical affirmation of wild multiplicity after the “ecological death of God.”  Moreover, “wild” does not refer to any identity or opposition of nature or culture, but is about the necessity of our constitutive contingency in the chaosmos.  Nature and humanity are put back in their place (khora), becoming “eco-nature” and “becoming intermezzo.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers