Stephen Moore with Karen Bray

The annual Drew Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium is a major event in the GDR calendar and one of the most distinctive features of Drew Theological School. The 2015-16 TTC, which will be the fifteenth in the series, is scheduled for March 18-20, 2016. Its topic will be “Affectivity and Divinity: Affect Theories and Theologies.”

Affect theory is, perhaps, the most prominent development in critical theory in recent years. It participates in a general turn to the emotions and other associated states that has been underway in the humanities and social sciences, in part as a reaction to the pervasive poststructuralist fixation with language and discourse. But affect theory is as much, or more, about bodily sensations as emotions. According to the editors of The Affect Theory Reader, “[a]ffect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon…. [A]ffect is found in those intensities that pass body to body…, in those resonances that circulate about, between, and sometimes stick to bodies and worlds, and in the very passages or variations between these intensities and resonances themselves” (Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, “An Inventory of Shimmers,” in idem, eds., The Affect Theory Reader [Duke University Press, 2010], 1). Affect theory might be considered the critical exploration of all that is generated in this all but inarticulable, quasi-ineffable in-between: acts, knowledges, bodies, selves, and worlds. How do affective states—particularly when they are prepersonal or transpersonal—structure social life and contemporary politics? How do emotions such as rage, joy, shame, hopelessness, depression, boredom, and happiness impede or propel social change? How are epistemologies and ontologies shaped by affects, whether those engendered between human beings or those engendered in assemblages made up of both human and non-human actors? And what might it mean for academics to take more seriously other-than-rational modes of knowing?

In recent years, an ever-increasing assortment of scholars, theorists, and critics in fields as diverse as literary studies, cultural studies, gender studies, queer studies, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, history, political theory, film theory, art theory, and disability studies has turned its attention to affects and emotions. Engagement by scholars of religion with the affective turn, however, remains in an embryonic state. The 15th Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium seeks to catalyze this nascent encounter.

Various strains of affect theory already exist in relationship—occasionally direct, more often oblique—with religious studies. For example, Brian Massumi’s deployment of Deleuze with Whitehead calls to mind process theology and its focus on prehensions (largely nonconscious feelings or sensations). Eve Sedgwick’s engagement with the work of Sylvan Tompkins and Buddhist philosophy resonates with psychological readings of religion and opens up the terrain of affect as fertile ground for comparative theological work. Ann Cvetkovich’s investigations into Christian acedia and the interimbrication of spiritual practices and creative practices return us to monasticism and ritual studies. Sara Ahmed’s passing but suggestive references to religion in her investigation of the cultural politics of emotion beg elaboration. And Baruch Spinoza’s early theorizations of affect haunt all strains of contemporary affect theory—the same Spinoza who returns compulsively to God in his writings and was an architect of modern biblical criticism.

Even, or especially, beyond the elite enclaves of philosophy and theology, religion has always been deeply entangled with affective experience and trans-rational investigation of the world, not least the Christian religion, whose foundational text, the Bible, is an affect-intensive text, emotions and other associated states swirling and eddying through it from creational beginning to apocalyptic end. Religion and affect theory are already joined in muted dialogue. This colloquium will bring together theologians, biblical critics, other scholars of religion, and affect theorists to turn up the volume and decipher the exchange. In so doing we will foster a more explicit theological engagement with affect theory and through a transdisciplinary exploration uncover more fully its potential for religious studies.

A particularly exciting feature of TTC 15 is that several leading affect theorist have agreed to contribute papers to the colloquium and engage in dialogue with the religion scholars who will also participate in it. These affect theorists are:

  • Eugenie Brinkema, Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of The Forms of the Affects (Duke University Press, 2014).
  • Mel Y. Chen, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke University Press, 2012).
  • Patricia Tincineto Clough, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York, and editor of The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Duke University Press, 2007).
  • Ann Cvetkovich, Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professor of English and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2003) and Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke University Press, 2012)
  • Gregory J. Seigworth, Professor of Communication Studies at Millersville University, and co-editor of The Affect Theory Reader (Duke University Press, 2010).

The line-up of religion scholars for the colloquium will soon be announced, as will the program.

Questions about the event may be addressed to Catherine Keller or Stephen Moore.