Apr 21 2014

Political Theology and Modernity: The Legacy of Carl Schmitt









The Northern Theory School in conjunction with the Journal for Cultural Research and the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University is pleased to announce a one-day research symposium on Political Theology and Modernity: The Legacy of Carl Schmitt. It will take place on Monday 9th June 2014 at Lancaster University and the keynote speaker will be Professor William Rasch (Indiana University). This event is particularly aimed at academics and postgraduate students interested in the legacy of Carl Schmitt.

Political Theology, as Carl Schmitt originally formulated it, is meant to serve as an analytical tool.  The core definition of this ‘sociology of concepts’ is not the one usually cited – ‘All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts’ – but rather this: ‘The metaphysical image of the world that a particular epoch makes for itself, has the same structure as that which immediately appears to it as the form of its political organization [Das metaphysische Bild, das sich ein bestimmtes Zeitalter von der Welt macht, hat die selbe Struktur wie das, was ihr als Form ihrer politischen Organisation ohne weiteres einleuchtet]’.

We can elaborate: within a well-defined epoch – the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, modernity, to use conventional markers – the intellectual class of a society constructs a metaphysical understanding of the world it inhabits.  Upon reflection, we see that political organization conforms to the expectations produced by the metaphysics of the day.  Put in a ‘post-metaphysical’ way: for the articulation of political form to be understood, it must be enunciated within the prevalent discursive field of the times.  In other words, the cosmic and social orders are homologous because each speaks the same language.

What is sociological for Schmitt, then, is not a (‘dialectically’ mediated) causal link between material base and ideological superstructure, but rather the systematic conceptual coherence of the superstructure itself; or, as Schmitt puts it, the discovery and comparison of ‘two spiritual [geistig] but at the same time substantial identities’ that commune with one another in the same structural language.  Thus, whereas in a theistic age, political sovereignty and the state of exception have their correlates in the belief in an omnipotent God and that God’s ability to suspend the laws of nature to produce miracles, under the sign of enlightenment deism or modern secular atheism, the thoroughly rationalized ‘machine runs by itself’.

The question we ask is the following: Is Schmitt’s ‘sociology of concepts’, his ‘political theology’, worth exploring as a possible tool for investigating the nature and genealogy of the modernity we think we inhabit?  If so, does Schmitt’s tool need to be sharpened or blunted for it to work better?   We ask as example: is it possible to articulate the foundations of our most cherished political beliefs without recourse to past or present theological concepts?  For instance, is, as some believe (e.g. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Steven D. Smith), the concept of human rights incoherent or nonsensical without reference to biblical theism?  If so, where would such a foundational story lead us?  Or on the contrary, as Richard Rorty taught us, are such genealogical searches for foundations themselves evidence of the proverbial nonsense on stilts; and what would be the consequences of such willful repression of inquiry?

William Rasch is Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at Indiana University. He is the author and editor of many books including Niklas Luhmann’s Modernity: The Paradoxes of Differentiation (Stanford UP, 2000) and Sovereignty and its Discontents: On the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political (Birkbeck Law Press, 2004). Professor Rasch will be a Visiting Professor at Lancaster University in June 2014.

Monday 9th June 9.30 am – 5.00 pm

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Lancaster University

This event is free and open to staff and postgraduates but space is limited. In order to register, please contact Arthur Bradley a.h.bradley@lancaster.ac.uk.

Apr 18 2014

Lyndsey Stonebridge on Life









A Critical Life Workshop with Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge (UEA) at the University of Leeds.

Lyndsey Stonebridge is Professor of Literature and Critical Theory at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of The Destructive Element: British Psychoanalysis and Modernism (1998) and The Writing of Anxiety (2007) and co-author of British Fiction After Modernism (2007). Her most recent book, The Judicial Imagination: Writing after Nuremberg (2011), takes the work of Hannah Arendt as a theoretical starting point in order to think about the relation between law, justice and literature in the postwar period. This workshop will be organised around aspects of Professor Stonebridge’s recent research and will also involve a more general discussion of theory and the academic job market in the era of the REF. It will comprise three parts:

  • Masterclass led by Prof. Stonebridge: Hannah Arendt’s writing on Kafka (reading to be circulated in advance)
  • Lecture: Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge on ‘Statelessness and Modern Literature’
  • Roundtable (staff and PG students): on Theory and the academic job market in the era of REF and ‘impact’

Please note: staff and postgraduate students are all welcome but numbers are limited. To reserve a place please email Nicholas Ray at n.j.ray@leeds.ac.uk. 

This event is free of charge. Postgraduate students at institutions belonging to the Northern Theory School are eligible to apply for a travel bursary of up to £30. There are 10 available. To apply, email Nicholas Ray (n.j.ray@leeds.ac.uk) stating your name, institution and supervisor.

May 14, 11.30am–5.00pm, Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds.

This event is hosted by the School of English, University of Leeds.


Apr 5 2014

Getting Over Freud









Reading and Interpretation: Getting Over Freud is a discussion group for staff and postgraduate students interested in questions about how we read literature.

This series of seminars will look at contemporary writers, such as Martin Hägglund and Adam Phillips, who have challenged our strategies of reading and ways of interpreting everything from death and dreams to sex and selfhood. The focus of discussion will be topics such as: should we read for surface or for depth? Does a text have an unconscious? And do texts say what they mean or mean what they say? We might all be reading after Freud, but the thinkers this series will explore are all getting one over, getting out from under, or getting (a leg) over Freudian modes of interpretation.

In the next meeting, Dr Ziad Elmarsafy (University of York) will be introducing a seminar looking at Edward Said as a reader, focusing on the essay ‘Secular Criticism’ from The World, the Text, and the Critic. Dr. Elmarsafy, a Reader in the English Department at the University of York, is the author of The Enlightenment Qur’an (2009) and Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel (2012), and co-editor of Debating Orientalism (2013) and the forthcoming collection What Postcolonial Theory Doesn’t Say.

Future speakers include: Professor Hugh Haughton (introducing three essays by Adam Phillips); Professor Derek Attridge, (introducing a chapter from his forthcoming book, The Work of Literature) and Dr. Nicholas Ray (introducing Jean Laplanche’s essay, ‘The Unfinished Copernican Revolution’). Please see Events page for further details.

Monday, 5th May, 6:30pm.

Room BS/007, Berrick Saul Building, Heslington West Campus, University of York.

For more information and copies of readings, please contact Alex Alonso (aa611@york.ac.uk) or Doug Battersby (djmb501@york.ac.uk).

Interested staff and postgraduate students from all universities are welcome to attend.

Feb 24 2014

Mieke Bal’s Madame B









A public screening of her new film Madame B followed by a lecture and Q & A with Mieke Bal.

Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic and video artist. She is Professor Emeritus in Literary Theory at the University of Amsterdam and was also Academy Professor of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science and co-founder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. This film is part of her project Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism.

6.00 pm, Wednesday 26th March

The Storey Institute, Lancaster (http://www.thestorey.co.uk/)

This event is hosted by the Department of English & Creative Writing and the Department of English Language & Linguistics at Lancaster University.

Jan 24 2014

Walter Benjamin: All Shades of Gnosis









A workshop with Professor Agata Bielik-Robson (University of Nottingham) on political theology, divine violence and tragedy in the thought of Benjamin.

Agata Bielik-Robson is Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Nottingham. She has published widely in all areas of Jewish philosophy with special emphasis paid on modern Jewish thought, from Spinoza to Derrida. She also researches contemporary philosophy and psychoanalysis, particularly when in a dialogue (or polemic) with theology. This workshop will be of benefit to Benjamin scholars (or those curious about his work) across a spectrum of disciplines: critical theory, philosophy, theology, art history, literature and beyond.

Friday 28th February, 3.00-5.30 pm

Leeds Humanities Research Institute, 29-31 Clarendon Place

University of Leeds

In order to reserve a place, please contact Stefan Skrimshire (s.skrimshire@leeds.ac.uk).

This event is hosted by the Quilting Points reading group at the University of Leeds and the Northern Theory School. It is generously supported by the Leeds Humanities Research Institute.


Jan 2 2014

Howard Caygill on Sovereignty


ArcanumThe Secret Life of the State’

Howard Caygill (Kingston University) 

Howard Caygill is Professor of Modern European Philosophy in the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University. His most recent book is On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance (Bloomsbury, 2013).

Respondent: Professor Maja Zehfuss (University of Manchester)

5 pm, Tuesday 18th February

County Main Seminar Room 1

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Lancaster University

In order to reserve a place, please contact Arthur Bradley: a.h.bradley@lancaster.ac.uk

Dec 2 2013

Foucault’s Iran: Religion, Politics, Revolution

Foucault Iran






A workshop on Michel Foucault’s writings on the Iranian Revolution led by Professor Michael Dillon (Lancaster University).

In 1978, Michel Foucault visited Iran twice as the protests against the Shah reached their zenith and subsequently interviewed the Ayatollah Khomenei in his Paris exile. He went on to write a series of articles for the Corrierre della sera, Le nouvel observateur and Le monde reflecting upon the implications of the Islamic Revolution. To be sure, Foucault’s writings upon Iran are now some of the notorious in his body of work and have been roundly criticised by scholars for at best political naivete and at worst complicity with Khomenei’s regime. However, after more than 30 years of radical political Islamism of all persuasions, the ‘Iranian’ Foucault also begins to seem remarkably prescient, almost prophetic: Foucault was arguably one of the first western thinkers to grasp the complex nexus of religion and revolutionary politics that has become one of the defining challenges to neo-liberal modernity. What, then, are we to make of the Iranian Foucault today? How might we read it in the light of subsequent debates around resistance, biopolitics, political theology, not to mention a new set of revolutions in the Middle East? Why does Foucault speak of a new ‘political spirituality’ beginning to be born in the Islamic Revolution?

2-5 pm, LICA Room A05, Tuesday 17th December, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Lancaster University.

Please note: this event is free but places are strictly limited. In order to reserve a place, contact Arthur Bradley on a.h.bradley@lancaster.ac.uk.

Jul 29 2013

Launched 2013

lancaster-nexus_b&wThis new interdisciplinary network – launched in 2013 – gathers together researchers at northern universities who work in the field of critical and cultural theory.

Jul 27 2013