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Sovereignty and the Sacred

Secularism and the Political Economy of Religion

Robert A. Yelle

Sovereignty and the Sacred

Robert A. Yelle

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018 
Paper $32.50 ISBN: 9780226585598 Published November 2018
Cloth $100.00 ISBN: 9780226585451 Published November 2018
E-book $10.00 to $32.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226585628 Published November 2018
Sovereignty and the Sacred challenges contemporary models of polity and economy through a two-step engagement with the history of religions. Beginning with the recognition of the convergence in the history of European political theology between the sacred and the sovereign as creating “states of exception”—that is, moments of rupture in the normative order that, by transcending this order, are capable of re-founding or remaking it—Robert A. Yelle identifies our secular, capitalist system as an attempt to exclude such moments by subordinating them to the calculability of laws and markets. The second step marshals evidence from history and anthropology that helps us to recognize the contribution of such states of exception to ethical life, as a means of release from the legal or economic order. Yelle draws on evidence from the Hebrew Bible to English deism, and from the Aztecs to ancient India, to develop a theory of polity that finds a place and a purpose for those aspects of religion that are often marginalized and dismissed as irrational by Enlightenment liberalism and utilitarianism.

Developing this close analogy between two elemental domains of society, Sovereignty and the Sacred offers a new theory of religion while suggesting alternative ways of organizing our political and economic life. By rethinking the transcendent foundations and liberating potential of both religion and politics, Yelle points to more hopeful and ethical modes of collective life based on egalitarianism and popular sovereignty. Deliberately countering the narrowness of currently dominant economic, political, and legal theories, he demonstrates the potential of a revived history of religions to contribute to a rethinking of the foundations of our political and social order.


1 The Antinomian Sacred as a Political Category
2 The Disenchantment of Charisma: The Theological Origins of Secular Polity
3 The Ambivalence of the Sovereign Ban: The Homo Sacer and the Biblical Ḥerem
4 Sacrifice, or the Religious Mode of Production
5 States of Nature: The Jubilee and the Social Contract
6 No Deposit, No Return: Religious Rejections of Exchange

Conclusion: Exit Signs

Review Quotes
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Indiana University, author of "A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law"
“Imagine Jubilee! Imagine the Sacred as the necessary companion to Sovereignty. Today. This is a deeply learned book. In the very best sense. Moving with grace across disciplinary divides and cultural boundaries, Yelle speaks to us with great urgency of the need for us to listen more carefully to the lessons of the past and the ethical resources it offers in these troubled times.”
Tyler Roberts, Grinnell College, author of "Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism After Secularism"
“Tremendous. With an incredible depth and range of scholarship, Sovereignty and the Sacred makes a strong case for the continuing importance of the field of the history of religions and the comparative study of religion, and it makes a crucial intervention in theorizing religion. Yelle’s argument is rich, important, and deeply erudite. And it is just really interesting. This book will be essential reading for theorists of religion, political theologians, theorists of modernity and the secular, and those interested in religion and economics and religion and violence.”
Adam D. Tietje | Journal of Church and State
"Yelle’s work demands the attention of religious scholars, political theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and even economists...Yelle makes a compelling case for both the relevance of the history of religions in the academy and attending to the religious and theological dimensions of political life."
Sociology of Religion
"Yelle’s book is exemplary is this regard; it leverages comparison toward surprising, sharp revisions of the familiar story of religions as having laid the groundwork for the modern individual."

American Academy of Religion: AAR Award for Excellence - Constructive-Reflective Studies

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