Why has power in the West assumed the form of an "economy," that is, of a government of men and things? If power is essentially government, why does it need glory, that is, the ceremonial and liturgical apparatus that has always accompanied it? In the early centuries of the Church, in order to reconcile monotheism with God's threefold nature, the doctrine of Trinity was introduced in the guise of an economy of divine life. It was as if the Trinity amounted to nothing more than a problem of managing and governing the heavenly house and the world.
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As the humanities have rediscovered religion, new sorts of questions are being asked about religion and politics. Now that religion is not only about belief but about practices and ideas, with histories, intertwined with other practices and ideas, the intersection of religion and politics is no longer a point, but a varied terrain with multiple dimensions.
Adding complexity and depth to the terrain at the intersection of religion and politics takes time. It moved discussions of religions and politics from belief to ideas, but it focused on one idea in particular, namely, the concept of sovereignty. Religions have rich conceptual vocabularies, and they have rich vocabularies of practice.
Like Schmitt, Agamben sees a close connection between Christian theology and European and American politics. However, Agamben claims that economy, not sovereignty, is the key to these connections. With the term economy Agamben evokes, and explores, a variety of meanings, ranging from the Greek oikos, household, to the economic Trinity the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit with creation. This shift from sovereignty to economy offers two advantages.
First, it complicates the association of political theology with fascism because justifying all-powerful rulership is no longer the only role that religious ideas are thought to play in politics. Citing varied examples from antiquity, early Christian Fathers, and Scholastic theology, Agamben identifies a logic named by economy that informs how religion and politics have been approached for the past centuries. This logic is deeper, as it were, than a certain word or concept that transforms over the ages, but it is not so deep as to be a first principle, requiring commitment before the historical data is encountered.
The logic is both discerned in the historical data and organizes the historical data Agamben discusses and defends this method in The Signature of All Things [Zone, ]. Among the many aspects of economy that Agamben explores, three features stand out. First, economy involves internal relations members of a household, or the Persons of the Trinity.
Second, economy involves an internal facet those internal relations and an external facet the effects those relations have beyond themselves. Third, the relationship between the internal and external facets of economy is sustained by the practice of praise: external actions pointing towards the internal relation.
Agamben provocatively suggests that contemporary European and American practices of deliberative democracy should count as such practices of praise. In other words, democracy may not be a perversion or repression of political theology of sovereignty, as Schmitt would have it , but simply a new iteration of the same political theology of economy that has always prevailed in the West, at least since late antiquity.
While Agamben at times situates his work within the context of early twentieth century German debates — amplifying the voice of Erik Peterson, whose work has been largely overshadowed by Schmitt — The Kingdom and the Glory expands our current conversation about the Christian underpinnings of contemporary politics.
But it expands our conversation selectively, using a controversial, heavily philological method. Dr Vincent Lloyd is an associate professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. About Submissions Masthead. Share This Share this post with your friends!
The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government
Giorgio Agamben. Why has power in the West assumed the form of an "economy," that is, of a government of men and things? If power is essentially government, why does it need glory, that is, the ceremonial and liturgical apparatus that has always accompanied it? In the early centuries of the Church, in order to reconcile monotheism with God's threefold nature, the doctrine of Trinity was introduced in the guise of an economy of divine life.
Symposium on Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory: Introduction
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