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Political Theology and Early Modernity

With a Postscript by Étienne Balibar
Political theology is a distinctly modern problem, one that takes shape in some of the most important theoretical writings of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But its origins stem from the early modern period, in medieval iconographies of sacred kinship and the critique of traditional sovereignty mounted by Hobbes and Spinoza. In this book, Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lupton assemble established and emerging scholars in early modern studies to examine the role played by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature and thought in modern conceptions of political theology.
Political Theology and Early Modernity explores texts by Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Milton, and others that have served as points of departure for such thinkers as Schmitt, Strauss, Benjamin, and Arendt. Written from a spectrum of positions ranging from renewed defenses of secularism to attempts to reconceive the religious character of collective life and literary experience, these essays probe moments of productive conflict, disavowal, and entanglement in politics and religion as they pass between early modern and modern scenes of thought. This stimulating collection is the first to answer not only how Renaissance and baroque literature help explain the persistence of political theology in modernity and postmodernity, but also how the reemergence of political theology as an intellectual and political problem deepens our understanding of the early modern period.

352 pages | 9 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics


 “This is an excellent volume. . . .Each essay makes a distinct contribution in its own right, but the value of this volume is ultimately found in the way in which the essays as a whole broaden and complicate the notion of political theology, without offering a unified perspective. Shifting political theology away from the paradigm installed by Schmitt toward multiple, and often unexpected, sites shows its pervasiveness, which in turn allows for reconsideration of the entanglement of the theological and the political not only in the past buti n the present as well. Indeed, as the volume shows, the questions and crises that constitute political theology in the early modern and modern periods still haunt the present. Political theology, then remains a pressing contemporary concern, and this volume should serve as an indispensable resource for negotiating its contours.”

Reviews in Religion and Theology

Political Theology and Early Modernity is the most thorough and compelling statement on political theology to emerge from Renaissance studies, a definitive book that raises the stakes of current debates.”

Renaissance Quarterly

“The essays collected in this superb volume seize upon the current ‘turn to religion’ in global politics (and academia) in an effort to rethink the history of secularization as a fitful, inconsistent, and perhaps interminable process that cannot help but draw upon the energies of what it aims to surpass. The political theology of early modern Europe, along with its intense and agonistic theorizations by so many thinkers in Weimar Germany, provide the source material for these groundbreaking investigations. The volume helps us to grasp the ways in which the political theological matrix transmits its urgencies into the present.”

Eric Santner, University of Chicago

“This stellar collection of essays demonstrates why political theology in recent years has become such a vibrant area of critical inquiry. An unusually wide and brilliant range of scholars turn attention to the early modern period as the time when the relation of politics and theology receives a jolt that will have lasting consequence for modernity. Together in all their variety these essays provide a broad and solid base on which all future work on the subject will have to take place.”

Margreta de Grazia, University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations


Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lupton

PART ONE Modern Destinations

1          Political Theology and Liberal Culture: Strauss, Schmitt, Spinoza, and Arendt  

Victoria Kahn

2          The Tragicity of the Political: A Note on Carlo Galli’s Reading of Carl Schmitt’s Hamlet or Hecuba       

            Adam Sitze

3          Hamlet: Representation and the Concrete   

            Carlo Galli

            translated by adam sitze and amanda minervini

4          Blumenberg and Schmitt on the Rhetoric of Political Theology     

            Graham Hammill

5          Political Theologies of the Corpus Mysticum: Schmitt, Kantorowicz and de Lubac          

            Jennifer Rust

6          Dead Neighbor Archives: Jews, Muslims, and the Enemy’s Two Bodies  

            Kathleen Biddick

7          Novus Ordo Saeclorum: Hannah Arendt on Revolutionary Spirit

            Paul A. Kottman

8          Force and Justice: Auerbach’s Pascal          

            Jane O. Newman

PART TWO Scenes of Early Modernity

9          The Instance of the Sovereign in the Unconscious: The Primal Scenes of Political Theology      

            Jacques Lezra

10        Pauline Edifications: Staging the Sovereign Softscape in Renaissance England   

            Julia Reinhard Lupton

11        Striking the French Match: Jean Bodin, Queen Elizabeth, and the Occultation of Sovereign Marriage 

            Drew Daniel

12        The Death of Christ in and as Secular Law

            Gregory Kneidel

13        Samson Uncircumcised        

            Jonathan Goldberg

Postscript: The Idea of a “New Enlightenment” [Nouvelles Lumières] and the Contradictions of Universalism

            Étienne Balibar

            translated by vivian folkenflik

List of Contributors


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