Theological Implications of Object-Oriented Philosophy

An increasing number of new books are engaging speculative realism and object-oriented ontology in terms of their implications for theology and philosophy of religion. A good anthology of approaches is The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion, edited by Clayton Crockett, B. Keith Putt, and Jeffrey W. Robbins. One of the chapters in that book (“The Persistence of the Trace,” by Steven Shakespeare) cites a short piece I wrote in March 2011, “Theological Implications of Object-Oriented Philosophy: Factishes, Imperatives, and Cthulhu.” It was originally posted on the esteemed blog, Knowledge Ecology.

It was a guest post, and it’s expiration date has passed, so it’s not up anymore. I’m posting it here. [NB: this was only an abstract.  For a more thorough account of theological (and ecological) implications of object-oriented ontology in relationship to process, poststructuralist, and ecofeminist theologies, read On the Verge of a Planetary Civilization]. Continue reading


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

Stengers and Haraway on Indigenous Cosmopolitics

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a Sawyer Seminar Lecture at UC Davis featuring Isabelle Stengers and, responding to Stengers, Donna Haraway.  Although they’ve been influencing one another’s works for years, this was one of only a handful of public appearances they have made together.  Adam Robbert of the world renound Knowledge Ecology posted recordings of the lecture HERE, and for a good overview of the topics covered, check out his notes HERE

Following the other lectures in this Sawyer Seminar series, the topic of the lecture was the problem of indigenous cosmopolitics.  I say problem because they were note proposing answers or uncontested definitions, but were opening a series of questions.  How do cosmopolitical proposals for  a global or universal collective of humans and nonhumans relate to indigenous lifeways, for which politics is embedded in local places?  Is “indigenous cosmopolitics” an oxymoron?  If it exists, how?  And so what?

Stengers focused on indigenous cosmopolitics by way of an encounter with “the challenge of animism,” which she connected with the challenges of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft, citing Starhawk on withcraft (feel the smoke of witches burning) and citing David Abram’s sense of an “ecology of magic.”  The main point for Stengers is simply this: ideas are actual participants in the craft of cosmopolitics.  They are, as Haraway put it, “cosmopolitical critters,” actors in the risky “speculative fabulation” (sf) that defines the craft of cosmopolitics.  

Our challenge is to learn the craft of building lures, the craft of animating and being animated by abstractions.  Indigenous cosmopolitics enrolls narrative and memory in practices of reclaiming (not to restore, but to reformat and reactive) the metamorphic power of ideas, bringing them into an open space of participation where humans and nonhumans can (just maybe) co-constitute a world where, as Zapatistas put it, “many worlds will fit,” including the worlds that we call “ideas.”

An Animist Revival? Madness.

  “Normality” in the light of délire, technical logic in the light of Freudian primary processes—a pas de deux towards chaos in the attempt to delineate a subjectivity far from dominant equilibria, to capture its virtual lines of singularity, emergence and renewal—eternal Dionysian return or paradoxical Copernican inversion to be prolonged by an animist revival?  At the very least an originary fantasm of a modernity constantly under scrutiny and without hope of postmodern remission.  It’s always the same aporia: madness enclosed in its strangeness, reified in alterity beyond return, nevertheless inhabits our ordinary, bland apprehension of the world.  But we must go further: chaotic vertigo, which finds one of its privileged expressions in madness, is constitutive of the foundational intentionality of the subject-object relation.  Psychosis starkly reveals an essential source of being-in-the-world. 

Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Indiana, 1995), p. 77.