Category Archives: theology and religion

Affects, Bodies, Religions

Some people use affect theory to challenge the notion that religion is inextricably linked to belief and language, proposing instead that body and affect are more primary. It’s good to affirm bodies, feeling, emotions, affects, but that isn’t the way to do it. It’s a red herring, challenging a notion about belief that nobody really believes (i.e., the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief). Continue reading


Philosophy on the Edge

I’ll attend the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association later this week in San Francisco. Even though it’s only a division meeting (not national), it’s a massive event nonetheless. There are a few panels I’m very excited about, including one with Al Lingis and Tony Steinbock, focusing on Steinbock’s recent book, Moral Emotions, which is something like a sequel to his Phenomenology and Mysticism.

I’ll be presenting Friday evening in a panel about philosophy on the edge. Preview: I’ll say something about how coexistence in the Anthropocene is without center or edge. With the ongoing and inevitable erosion of anthropocentric subjectivity, countless beings are crowding into center stage. Everything is a center, being centered amidst multiplicities of centers with a circumference that is nowhere; but this could also be formulated by saying that everything is not a center, being on edge in a world whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. In some sense everything is both a center and an edge, but in another sense, everything is neither a center nor an edge. What this means it that coexistence in the planetary era is fundamentally ironic, ambiguous, and uncertain. My main point will be that this situation does not just call for humans to give up anthropocentrism. It calls for philosophers to give up philosophy, to give up the power of philosophy so that philosophy might become possible again, and still for the first time. Giving up power is about becoming vulnerable to intimate encounters outside of philosophy and outside of the occidental context of philosophy.

I’m thinking with Foucault here, specifically this remark he made in an interview during a stay at a Zen temple in Japan in 1978. “The crisis of Western thought is identical to the end of imperialism,” which is also “the end of the era of Western philoso­phy. Thus, if philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts be­tween Europe and non-Europe.” Adding some specificity to his comments, I want to make a couple of small incisions to open up some possibilities for a philosophy of the future. The incisions use the cutting edges of deconstruction and Buddhism, that is, the blades of the mohel and manjushri. There are a few different lines of thought to bring together here, at least three, including Keiji Nishitani’s work on the encounter between nihilism and emptiness (shunyata), the work of Robert Magliola, Jin Park, and others facilitating an encounter between Derrida and Nagarjuna, and Tim Morton’s invocations of Derrida and Nagarjuna in his dark ecology. The point is not to help solve any problems with some Buddhodeconstructive tag team. The point is to become vulnerable, weak and powerless. The point of the blades of the mohel and manjushri is this: surrender.


Fear and Loathing in New Religious Movements

I find it useful to think with Hunter S. Thompson about a few things, especially fear, loathing, and drugs. This seems instructive for thinking about the status of psychedelics in New Religious Movements (NRMs). I’m interested in thinking about different kinds of fear and loathing that are experienced by practitioners of New Religious Movements who use psychedelic drugs, including an analysis of the psychedelic spirituality implicit in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), a cult classic among psychedelic enthusiasts. Like drugs, feelings of fear and loathing can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the context. The systemic suppression of psychedelics perpetuates harmful cycles of fear and loathing, but in contexts of religious experiences, psychedelics can facilitate inspiring and integrative engagements with fear and loathing. Continue reading


Religions Today: Reflections on Parliament 2015

I just returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City. It was a massive event. Everything I experienced makes up only a tiny fraction of what was happening there. Nonetheless, it was easy to get a sense of some of the trends, themes, and issues that characterize religions today. My overall assessment is that, in many ways, religions today hold the same ambivalence that religions always have. Each tradition has some problems, but each also has much promise. There is dignity and disaster in every religion. What is unique in the 21st century is the planetary scale of religions. Whether they like it or not, religions are entering an epoch in which they must address the intertwining of humans with one another and with the finite planet.         Continue reading


Hinduism and Ecology at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Starting tomorrow, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is meeting in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth such event since 1893. It is a massive gathering of religious scholars and practitioners (and scholar-practitioners) from around the world. The overall aim of the event is to facilitate interfaith dialogue. Recent meetings have become increasingly engaged in developing interreligious responses to contemporary social and ecological challenges. This year’s meeting emphasizes issues of income inequality, climate change, hate speech, war, violence, and the human rights and dignity of women. I’m not cynical about the capacity of religious perspectives to address those issues, but I’m not exactly optimistic either, just scrupulous.

I will be at the Parliament, presenting on a panel, “Hinduism and Ecology: The Sacred Activism of Sunderlal Bahuguna.” Bahuguna is still relatively unknown in the United States, although the Chipko movement, with which he is closely affiliated, is quite well-known among US environmentalists. Another ally of the Chipko, Vandana Shiva, will be at the Parliament. Bahuguna’s perspective overlaps with Shiva’s in many ways, and one could argue that Bahuguna was a crucial predecessor of Shiva, who is about 25 years younger than Bahuguna. Politics of influence aside, Bahuguna and Shiva both contribute much to the efforts to bring Gandhian notions of swaraj (self-rule; democracy) and sarvodaya (development; universal uplift) into an ecological context.

My panel includes excellent scholars of Hinduism and ecology, George James, Christopher Chapple, and Bidisha Malik. I think I’m the only one of us who hasn’t met Bahuguna. Nonetheless, I’ll have plenty to say about the philosophical principles operating in Bahuguna’s sacred activism, specifically his integration of Gandhian principles with ecology and Indian religions. I’ll also share some examples of my experiences teaching about Bahuguna through George James’ wonderful book, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna.


Renewable Deleuze

Philosophies are renewable resources. Deleuze’s philosophy is a case in point.  Theological and religious contexts have seen a renewal of Deleuze in recent years. Kristien Justaert drew out Deleuze’s contributions to liberation theology (Theology After Deleuze). Josh Ramey articulated the hermetic dark precursors to Deleuze’s philosophical spirituality (The Hermetic Deleuze), and Christopher Simpson staged an encounter between Deleuze and radical orthodoxy (Deleuze and Theology). I mentioned this a few years ago, referring to the emergence of a “New Deleuze.” The renewal continues…

Continuing the exhumation of the theological and religious resources contained in Deleuze’s corpus, Daniel Barber digs up Deleuze’s concept of immanence in support of a postsecularism that is opposed to transcendence yet open to the naming of God (Deleuze and the Naming of God). F. LeRon Shults digs up Deleuze’s atheistic and diabolic tendencies to provide theology with iconoclastic hammers (Iconoclastic Theology). Many of these books make interesting points about debates about secularism, esotericism, transcendence and immanence, institutional vs. lived religion, the death of God, theopolitical power, and more.

Shults facilitates perhaps the most predictable renewal of Deleuze. Drawing iconoclastic resources from an ostensibly atheistic thinker is like shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Shults is among few thinkers to apply his Deleuzian sense of theology and religion to ecological issues. In a recent issue of the journal Religions dedicated to religion and ecology in the Anthropocene, Shults describes how his atheistic stance takes position in the Anthropocene. Still, there seems to be something that’s just way too easy about the reading of Deleuze that Shults presents. For example, consider his reading of the Body without Organs (BwO).

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze refers to a “glorious body,” the Body without Organs, which he describes as “a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission.” Insufflation is the operation of the BwO. In the final pages of Iconoclastic Theology, Shults offers a rhetorical question, “‘Insufflation’ sounds scary; how will we hold together?” Subsequently, he reassures us to overcome our fear, but he is thereby offering a resolution to something that is not a problem (…a metonym for his offering of iconoclasm during an era entrenched in iconoclasm). Who is he addressing? Who is afraid of insufflation? Not Deleuzians, surely, and not religious practitioners, who would doubtless find the predicate “scary” to be a paltry approximation for the intensities traversing their immersion in spiritual flows (inspiration/expiration/respiration). Nobody is afraid of insufflation, not Deleuzians, not religious people, not consumers, who are currently insufflating Earth’s life, land, air, and water with incredible rapidity. The problem is not a fear of insufflation but, to the contrary, an excessively zealous insufflation that produces inflammation and thereby botches the fluid transmission of the Body without Organs.

Shults makes the diarrheal  suggestion that we “Let go. Release. Flow,” as if that is a sustainable way to maintain a BwO. He forgets about the importance of maintaining sufficient strata to wake up the next morning. That’s where the rest of us are, struggling to find strata amidst manic insufflation, and Deleuzian resources can support this struggle, and so can numerous contemporary theisms that have already been through the fires of iconoclasm and are blistering with wounds that ooze atheistic secretions (e.g., theisms in liberation theology, spiritual philosophy, postcolonial theology, feminist theology, eco-theology). Along those lines, Clayton Crockett and Catherine Keller are producing perhaps the most relevant readings of Deleuze today. Crockett’s works apply Deleuze’s philosophy to the task of articulating an Earth-based political theology, and Keller folds Deleuze’s philosophy together with theologies of becoming (process), feminism, liberation movements, postcolonialism, and ecology.

It’s still an open question: Who knows what a Deleuze can do? We need more experiments with this renewable resource, more trials in becoming with Deleuze, forging connections with Deleuze’s corpus that energize our engagements in planetary coexistence.


Pope Francis and Integral Ecology

The new encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common Home, contains many references to “integral ecology,” including an entire chapter by that title.

It’s relatively clear that Francis is working with the integral ecology proposed by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who draws on the general ecology of Félix Guattari and the integral ecology proposed by the cultural historian Thomas Berry. Regarding Boff’s influence, consider the Pope’s allusion to Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (# 49). The Pope’s sense of integral ecology is also clearly influenced by the ecological sensibility of St. Francis of Assisi, whose phrase “Laudato Si'” (from his Canticle of the Creatures) provides the title and opening line for the encyclical.

The following are the selections from the encyclical that explicitly mention integral ecology. There are also many other references to integral and integrative approaches, including integral development, progress, and education. Moreover, the Pope does not intend integral ecology to be an exclusively or primarily Catholic endeavor. The encyclical is addressed toevery person living on this planet” (#3).

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. […] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (#10-11)

“We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” (#141)

Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour. (#124)

“An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us….” (#225)

“An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (#230)

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.” (#159)