April 2019 – Students and professors dove deep into political theology at the annual Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium at Drew Theological School.
This year’s theme was Political Theology at the Edge: Collectivities of Crisis and Possibility and speakers explored topics of urgent political concern within and beyond the disciplines of religion.
For example, Drew Graduate Division of Religion students Lisa Gasson and Wren Hillis addressed affected political theology and the power of misused language, respectively.
“Political theology is limited by its understanding of truth,” Gasson noted. “Political theology has to listen to music to make music.” Gasson also played the song “Americans” by Janelle Monáe for its political and theological charged lyrics, which conjure a “vision of America worth pledging allegiance to.”
Hillis, who investigated how language collapses amid uncertainty and risk, traced the intellectual history of the word catachresis. “Each taps into a different valence of the term, which, like political theology itself, has multiple modes or points of entry,” he said.
Also presenting papers were Drew Theological School students Hunter Bragg, (“‘Can God Forgive Us?’ Climate Change and Eschatology, Marcuse and Art”), Austin Roberts (“Resisting Geopower: Political Theologies of the Anthropocene”) and O’neil Van Horn (“Wor(l)d Made Flesh: Political Theology, Climate Change and Good-Enough Narratives”).
Catherine Keller, the George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School, welcomed attendees by saying, “Being on the edge is also being on the verge. Together, we are on the verge of exciting conversations.”
The professors who spoke—including many alumni of Drew—teach at some 20 schools across the country.
Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, reflected on how her experiences and deep faith as a child led her on a quest toward confronting racial divide throughout her theological journey. “For me, the theological has always been political,” Douglas explained. She also explored the birth of racial inequality in America and how the deep-rooted color line still exists today.
William Connolly, the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor at Johns Hopkins University, shared a chapter from his upcoming book “Climate Machines, Fascist Drives and Truth.” Connolly examined “intersecting planetary climate amplifiers,” including drought, melting glaciers and El Niño’s, and how they impact the planet. His work calls for a broad coalition that requires transdisciplinary, secular and religious collaboration across social movements and electoral politics.
Cutting-edge contributions from past years of the Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium at Drew are available in a series of volumes published by Fordham University Press. Here a closer look at the 18th colloquium.