Everything is about political theology. It always has been. But I think theologians and theorists alike are just now getting used to the idea. I mean, sure, it’s really uncomfortable. (Have you read Mark Lila?) Plus, the very idea of political theology is complicated and controversial because it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for obvious reasons. For one, it’s powerful; the admission inherent in political theology, especially the work of thinking theologically and politically together, is that both theology and politics are far more effective when done together. They have the ability to move people toward shame and fear, towards anxiety and power, toward domination and control as the core modalities of their life, or towards vulnerability and openness, towards uncertainty and hope, towards dissent and instability. So yeah, everyone wants to do political theology now because you have to get those impressions.
Michael Hogue writes American Immanence from the core religious and theological belief that human persons need political theology to live well in the Anthropocene era. And he writes specifically about the Anthropocene era, since it is in this contextual lens that we find ourselves asking the only questions that matter: questions that narrow the horizon to the natural (keep in mind that for Hogue, to say that ‘nature is all’ is to also say that ‘nature is infinite’; the ‘narrowing’ of naturalism is rather expansive, to be sure) and that position human beings within nature, as belonging to it, responsible for it, reliant on it. To whom do we turn to answer the questions that emerge from Anthropocene? Of course, Hogue insists, we turn to “pragmatically naturalist, radically empirical, and process relational lineages of American immanence” (14). Now Michael Hogue is a full professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School, which means he’s really good at explaining complicated ideas, so if you’re worried because you aren’t sure who or what he means by pragmatic naturalism, radical empiricism, or process relational thought, don’t worry. He writes another 160 or so pages on all of that, and about 125 of them are good. Like, really good. So the book is definitely worth the price.
Hogue’s argument in American Immanence is straightforward: the Anthropocene paradox raises important questions, all of which are at the uncomfortable intersection of the political and the theological. Hogue sees this as an important opportunity to address what he calls the fourth major trial facing American life: the uncertain future of democracy. It is the philosophical and theological traditions of American immanence (the aforementioned threesome of pragmatic naturalism, radical empiricism, or process relational thought) that are best suited to address these questions, thus opening the door for fresh and creative ways of reimagining the future of democracy in the context of deep and abiding uncertainty. So that’s what the book promises to be about. And, boy, does it deliver.
The symposium on American Immanence is impressive. The four essays are by thoughtful, sincere, and insightful people. They ask hard and fun questions, and they get challenging and equally fun answers back from Hogue. That’s what Syndicate is all about.
Thurman Willison dives right in and takes Hogue on (in a critically appreciative way of course) on properly Whiteheadian distinctions between persons and worlds, feeling and knowing. He affirms much of what Hogue details in core sections of the book, but he wonders whether there’s still room in Hogue’s account to affirm “the exceptional quality of personal existence.”
Donald Crosby begins with a discussion of terms. Specifically, he wonders about the term “theology,” and whether it is only appropriate for theism and so too narrow for what Hogue, a leading religious naturalist, is doing when he’s evoking discourse on the sacred? Additionally, Crosby raises concerns about a few more terms, including the relationship between feeling and knowing. But his analysis of whatever is meant by ‘theology’ is where this essay shines.
Bob Mesle explores Hogue’s concept of relational power in some depth. He notes its social and political salience not only for the discussion about American immanence in the book but also about the book’s thesis that the immanentist tradition is uniquely suited to shape our imaginations about whatever it is we think we are doing when we do politics. Mesle’s essay is beautiful and rich. It contains a lot for those readers who don’t know the primary sources as well as Hogue and his interlocutors.
From the opening pages, Hogue builds his argument on the basis of sharply delineated oppositions. There are many, and they are all diametrical and irresolvable. Shelley Dennis asks whether this way of framing the matter is all that necessary or helpful. She recasts the argument as one of contrast rather than opposition: “transformation of opposition into contrast calls us to be more faithful, whether we perceive ourselves to be theists, traditional or otherwise, or secular progressives working to reinvigorate democracy.”