Symposium Introduction

Dr. Keri Day’s book Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives, can be seen as a lengthy meditation, indeed a recapitulation of the words of artist and black feminist poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, and her acclaimed poem/play/novel For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf:

i found god in myself

& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely1

Day weaves an extraordinary breadth and range of scholarship—Christian theology, black feminist literature and social theory, European continental philosophy and critical theory, and womanist theology—to argue that the world’s global political economy—neoliberalism—operates through mechanisms and procedures which render black women, women of color as expendable and discardable. However, the constitutive excrement of women of color to neoliberalism make their acts of humanity, of care and of agency the very condition of possibility, both from outside and within neoliberalism for forms of resistance, of desire of other possible worlds within this world by the work of our own hands. For Day, this work is what she marks as “religious,” informed by deep, enfleshed, erotic connection for one another, which translates into contingent, creative and immanent love and hope, based on a sense of the sacredness of the black feminine, of women of color and their activity in the world.

In an introduction and five tightly argued chapters, Day forcefully deploys a diasporic conception of her key terms: neoliberalism, religion, womanist and black feminist. These terms mark both hegemonic, if always evolving, conditions of political subjugation and economic oppression, and the myriad formations of what Day calls “Divine” in fleshly actions of women of color as constituted and reconstituted in their dispersion throughout a world marked by colonial formation. Given that diaspora marks both real and imagined homes and familial relations, it should be no surprise that she adroitly moves through a discussion of US black women, and global iterations of women of color, as well as moves seamlessly in discussing the sacrality of the black feminine in Christian and non-Christian ways. Her work, as it dismantles the myth of progress and offers a realized eschatology, or critiques the reduction of persons to things in resisting the acquiring mode, or yearns for a recovery of sensuality and sexuality as foundational to our sacrality and our politics in loss of the erotic, or begins to move from deconstruction to constructive acts of remembrance and resistance in love as a concrete revolutionary practice and hope as a social practice—Day engages in what I might call critical fabulation.2 Day, like many black feminists, will not allow Western discardability and subjectivity to define agency and the black sacred sense of ineffability, which grounds black women and women of color feminine activity in the world. Critical fabulation resists enclosure that predicates truly transformational change on an eschatological inbreaking from outside the signs and marks of life women of color—black feminine sacred—exude by breathing, walking, praying, shouting, dancing, singing, mobilizing, agitating and demanding when already presumed dead by neoliberalism. Critical fabulation offers, against archival absence and disciplinary silence, the imaginative recovery of the hopes of dead ancestors, and their unrealized dreams of justice, as possible pathways of resistance against teleological fate and neoliberalism’s presumed finality.

Her interlocutors on this forum—Melanie Jones, Sarah Azaransky, Christophe Ringer, and Ellen Ott Marshall—both engage her emphases and offer critical questions for her and this forum’s readers to consider. How does Day both privilege and distinguish between black feminist and womanist resources for the religious imagination and resistance they may offer to neoliberalism? In Day’s effort to conceive of these resources in ways that no doubt start in the lived and fleshly experience of women of color, how can the analytic of black feminine subjectivity be retained as she moves from black feminist theories of intersectionality—which often expose the legal invisibility of the interlocking oppressions made flesh in black and women of color women—to more subtle, affective, erotic and emotional connection for political action through more recent feminist articulations of assemblage theory? Does the turn to the erotic and the affective guarantee their disposition for resistance, or is the erotic and the emotions always already contested and contaminated within the neoliberal world? And if contaminated, by what ethically justifiable means might the erotic be retrieved? Given Day follows Audre Lorde’s distinction between the erotic and the pornographic, does Day discount the very ways the pornographic, the abjection of black feminine life, may be retrieved, though violent and oppressive, for signs of resistance, and marks of imagination? Finally, given Day’s commitment to no inbreaking from the outside, no transcendent power guaranteeing the outcome of our fight against neoliberalism, can this humanocentric divine immanence offer a concept of God that lives up to the sacred formations and practices of black and women of color women whose religions conjure up imaginations of and physical fights for justice in this world?


  1. Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf, reprint ed. (New York: Scribner, 1997), 63.

  2. See Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26 (2008) 1–14, esp. 11; and I am also thinking about the work of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley and M. Jacqui Alexander. See Jafari S. Allen and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “A Conversation ‘Overflowing with Memory’: On Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s ‘Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific,’” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 18.2 (2012) 249–62. M. Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

Sarah Azaransky

Response

This Crisis Is Not New

We live on the other side of the end of history. Liberal democracies have not occasioned the final stage, an end point, to social and political progress. On the contrary, out of mid-century liberalism has emerged a global political project that pushes wealth and power upward, violently suppresses dissent, and extends economic valuation to all aspects of our social and political lives. History indeed continues, but now with a singular moral logic—that market competition is the most efficient and effective way to administer to public goods, from neighborhood schools to international health crises. What is good is what is most efficient; what is right is what enables competition and market exchange.

Neoliberalism has a particular history. And whether we trace it to a group of European economists in the 1930s or to Reagan’s and Thatcher’s slashing of social safety nets in the 1980s, neoliberalism has indeed transformed how human beings are in relationship to each other and their larger communities. In this way, as Keri Day so astutely points out, neoliberalism is not merely a global economic project, but “also a cultural project in that it distorts what it means to be responsible moral agents in our globalizing world today” (4).

Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism responds critically to our current political moment with penetrating womanist analysis and calls for action. Day clarifies from the beginning, and underscores throughout, that neoliberalism is premised on a faulty and anemic anthropology of human being as individualized agent who adjudicates each relationship, each community engagement, with a cost-benefit analysis. In my socioeconomic class, this larger regime encourages human beings to be entrepreneurs of self—getting more educated and more skilled, acting as helicopter parents, perhaps meditating daily—not to become more human, but to become more efficient (and, though this category is rarely invoked, less vulnerable). This understanding of human being is wrong because we are in fact dependent and interdependent (and yes, vulnerable). We are, as Day reminds us, dependent on each other, on the natural world, and on God / the Creator / Ultimate Reality.

Ironically and tragically, as Day points out, neoliberalism has underscored interdependence by making more vulnerable already targeted populations, including poor women, children, and men, people of color from all economic classes, queer people of all colors, and disabled people, among many others. At the same time, neoliberalism has “sapped our strength from our moral muscles” (to borrow Bayard Rustin’s powerful phrase) by valuing everything according to whether it is profitable.1 Neoliberalism willfully neglects what a robust economy would actually provide—enough food for everyone, free education at every level, a healthy natural world, and shared efforts to create conditions for justice and, thus, for peace.

Day’s Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism is important because she offers specific ways to confront this totalizing phenomenon. The book’s central chapters demonstrate how resistance to the acquiring mode and how the erotic and love are “concrete revolutionary practices[s]” (105). These three moral practices coalesce in the climax of her argument, hope as a revolutionary social practice. This is my favorite chapter, because Day offers an extended historical case of the Madres movement, a group of mothers who protested the abduction of their children by the Argentinian government from 1976 to 1983. The Madres are exemplary of many aspects of our moral past we urgently need to understand, in order to craft contemporary religious and moral practices that can respond effectively to injustice. Day analyzes social, political, and economic relations of power to which these women were responding, and how women’s activism challenged existing norms of public and private and of gender and civic leadership. The Madres invigorated religious and social understandings of motherhood with urgent political meanings, drawing especially from widely-held reverence for the Virgin Mary. Day insists that “by joining together, these mothers were unintentionally creating a new form of political participation, outside the traditional party structures and based on love, care, and cooperation” (139). The Madres model what I believe is crucial for those of us writing and teaching social ethics in the United States: “these women’s spirituality would not allow them to see the future as redeemable without returning to and rectifying the past” (154).

I am grateful not only to the content of Day’s book, but also to its form, which will make it an effective classroom text. Day consistently defines her terms clearly. Whether neoliberalism, love or erotic, Day specifies the potential scope of categories and how she will use them. This is crucial for a set of categories to which a reader will bring her own priorities and emphasis. It’s also essential for a term like neoliberalism that can describe so much it can start to seem meaningless because it describes everything. Day’s attention to defining her terms is what I want my students to practice in their own writing; and I anticipate that her writing will be underlined frequently in my classes as I encourage students to imitate her precision.

As important to Day’s work here is her ability to reap insight from a variety of sources, some which may, at first glance, seem inimical to her goals. For example, Day’s reading of Kierkegaard’s religious inwardness brings into relief how our capacity to see ourselves as God created us to be is important for us to be able to undertake just action on behalf of others; this is particularly important, Day argues, in the context of neoliberalism, where the “acquiring mode” that Kierkegaard railed against has seeped into all aspects of our lives.

In recovering Kierkegaard’s account, Day is circumspect about the Danish philosopher’s dependence on primarily Christian theological understanding and about whether virtue ethics should describe black women’s moral agency. Yet through a close reading of womanist scholars (especially Katie Canon and Melanie Harris), Day shows how Kierkegaard’s account of virtue can speak to contemporary womanists’ concerns. Furthermore, her scrutiny of Kierkegaard’s terminology—when he appeals to “religious” feelings by nevertheless using christocentric language—puts Day on the vanguard of social ethical thinkers who are accountable to what she calls “growing interreligious sensibilities within postmodern religious thought” and practice (67). Day points out significant shortcomings in Kierkegaard’s work, and nevertheless she is able to engage him to push her own thinking forward.

Day’s book, completed before the most recent US presidential election, speaks presciently to our current crisis. The role of “projective disgust” as “hierarchical domination and injustice . . . built upon the disgust of neighbor due to that neighbor’s differences” succinctly describes how the current administration has consolidated racism, misogyny, antipathy for disability, xenophobia and general misanthropy into a political platform (what Rembert Browne has called “making hate intersectional”)2 (117). And yet Day reminds us importantly that this crisis is not new, that greed has a history, and to resist neoliberalism we can come together in beloved communities to enact different futures of “love, care, and justice” (186).


  1. Bayard Rustin, “In Apprehension How Like a God!” William Penn Lecture (Philadelphia: Young Friends Movement, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1948), 4.

  2. Rembert Browne, “How Trump Made Hate Intersectional,” New York Magazine, November 9, 2016, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/11/how-trump-made-hate-intersectional.html.

  • Keri Day

    Keri Day

    Reply

    Response to Azaransky

    I appreciate Sarah’s overall overview and response to my book. There is one particular observation that Sarah makes that provides opportunity for me to offer greater clarity than what the book provides. She states:

    As important to Day’s work here is her ability to reap insight from a variety of sources, some of which may, at first glance, see inimical to her goals.

    I think Sarah’s observation of my usage of thinkers and sources that are often seen as contradictory is accurate. There is a debate within the field of theology and religious studies more broadly that sees subaltern discourses as in radical discontinuity with perspectives that might be understood as “canonical” or traditional. However, scholars have not come to a consensus on this assumption. In part, my goal was to demonstrate that subaltern perspectives like womanist and black feminist religious ideas often sit in radical continuity and discontinuity with other dominant historical sources (even if the only thing in common is critique itself). For example, my conversation on Søren Kierkegaard as well as Paul Tillich communicates how womanist religious perspectives affirm yet critique and expand traditional perspectives in the areas of theology, ethics, and political economy. As I discuss in chapter 2, little work has been done on Kierkegaard’s religious critique of capital through his idea of “money as abstraction.” Although many womanist and black feminist religious perspectives would unquestionably take issue with Kierkegaard’s notion of religious inwardness (they want to speak of religious inwardness in relation to radical pluralism), his conversation on “money as abstraction” and larger critiques of hegemonic Christianity deeply resonate with black feminist and womanist religious projects. In other words, rather than thinking about subaltern discourses through the language of affirmation or rupture to traditional theology, I find these discourses to be doing both when engaging Western philosophical and theological ideas.

    Whether subaltern discourses affirm or opt to overturn dominant theological ideas, such discourses are disruptive. In my discussion of the erotic in chapter 3, womanist and black feminist religious perspectives disrupt Tillich’s discourse on the ontological unity of love through arguing that the erotic might function with and through agape but nevertheless can be seen as a form of love that singularly sponsors political action and revolution in response to cultural and psychosocial forms of oppression. Some womanist and/or black feminist religious perspectives radically disrupt traditional theological themes or ideas. Consider my argument in chapter 1 on realized eschatologies. While I make room for a tension between apocalyptic and realized eschatology, womanist scholars such as Karen Baker-Fletcher do not, arguing for a realized eschatology, a radical departure from much of theological scholarship on Western eschatological utterances. These examples gesture towards how womanist and black feminist religious perspectives radically sit in continuity and discontinuity with more dominant Christian discourses in the West.

    I imagine that the constructive theological and ethical arguments I offer show how womanist and black feminist religious perspectives engage and move beyond thinkers who are often seen as “canonical.” I do not engage Western philosophy and theology in order to legitimate womanist and black feminist arguments. Rather, I do this to historicize those very arguments. Part of understanding the “epistemological shape” of womanist and black feminist religious discourses involves not only historically identifying the intellectual horizon out of which these perspectives emerge but also noting what they are categorically rejecting and reconstructing.

    In Minima Moralia, Frankfurt School critical theorist Theodor Adorno stated, “One must have tradition in oneself to hate it properly.” Partly Jewish, Adorno understood well the importance of thinking dialectically about how marginalized or subaltern people are shaped in both European and non-European terms when speaking about cultural identity, knowledge, and morality. Speaking from “nowhere” is intellectually and culturally dishonest. Even Palestinian post-colonial theorist Edward Said understood that his ideas were as indebted to Michel Foucault as they were to Giambattista Vico. The point here is that even subaltern discourses must think dialectically about their own intellectual formation and production within structures of empire (how subaltern discourses speak with, against, and beyond dominant discourses). I wanted to bring these theoretical and methodological insights to bear on my own religious arguments against neoliberalism. This can only be done through historicizing religious perspectives among marginalized communities such as womanism and black feminism. We must think together a diverse set of sources and voices.

    I think the work of situating subaltern perspectives on the broader horizon of theological and religious debate remains essential to arguing well the form and content of womanist, black feminist, and other subaltern perspectives. And this is why Sarah’s observation here captures the spirit of this text in terms of sources and voices.

Ellen Ott Marshall

Response

Commentary by Ellen Ott Marshall

It is an honor to join this conversation about Dr. Day’s important text, Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism. I will focus my remarks on her proposal for affective politics, the erotic, and radical hope to resist the formational impact of neoliberalism. In a key paragraph in the introduction, Dr. Day describes “our religious and moral imaginations” as imprisoned by market-driven individualism and a logic of “radical individual self-interest.” These forces impede “cooperative visions” and undermine belief in the possibility of “economic and cultural practices oriented toward flourishing for all” (12). There is certainly a firm interdisciplinary foundation from which to argue that socio-political-economic systems impact our sense of connectedness to others and our sense of possibility for the future. And Dr. Day’s rich descriptions of the impact of neoliberal values on relationship and on the moral imagination further enhance that critique. I applaud her constructive turn to identify resources to resist this formational influence, arguing as she does “that the market principle of competition must not be the organizing principle of all of social life” (13, her italics). I agree with her that erotic power and pragmatic hope constitute powerful, religious resistance to neoliberal forces that drive us apart from one another and restrict our sense of historical possibility. I find myself, therefore, in the position of friendly critical conversation partner. I am completely on board with Dr. Day’s sense of the problem, her proposal for response, and the interdisciplinary methods she employs. From this broad base of agreement, I raise an interrelated set of substantive questions and then two questions about method.

To my mind, affective politics is one of the most intriguing arguments of the book. Affective politics “is a cultural politics of emotions that seeks to align the emotions of political subjects with certain political causes and commitments.” She contrasts affective politics to identity politics, which continues to utilize problematic categories of race (even when the work is intersectional) and keeps the focus on rectification of harm. By contrast, “affective politics re-imagines the public sphere(s) as a site organized around visions of care, tactility, and compassion rather than organized solely around shared identity that demands the recognition of injury as the end goal” (127). I am captivated by the idea that we might configure around constructive affects like joy, compassion, and care in order to do the work of justice. The idea that we might engage the work of justice together out of love for one another is beautiful. Sign me up. I also long to know why Dr. Day thinks this is possible. I do not ask this in a cold, dismissive way. I really want to know where her sense of possibility comes from. What sustains this vision? Where does she root this hope?

A related question concerns Dr. Day’s apparent assumptions about the positive value of affects in the public sphere. Even with the powerful example of projected disgust woven through the chapter, Dr. Day still applies a positive value to affects. This may be because they have gotten such a bad rap in ethics for so long that she needs to take an apologetic approach with them. But given the ongoing contributions of affects to violence in politics, I am regretfully wary of assertions like this: “Political communities based on affect would open up possibilities for new configurations of affiliation in order to sponsor practices of compassion, empathy, joy, and so forth” (126). To paraphrase Scott Appleby, we do need to reckon with the “ambivalence of the affect.”1

I would also love to hear Dr. Day say more about the positive contribution of affects generally construed as negative in the public sphere, primarily anger. Drawing on Audre Lorde, she notes the powerful connection between anger and the work of justice (100), but she does not bring that thread of argument forward as part of affective politics. This seems to me a particularly important argument to continue advancing. Affective politics is not just happy politics; anger is surely one of the affects around which people configure for the work of justice. Day’s writing on Lorde brought Beverly Harrison to mind as well: “To grasp this point—that anger signals something amiss in relationship—is a critical first step in understanding the power of anger in the work of love.”2 How are anger and the erotic related for Dr. Day? How can they work together in affective politics?

Love and hope constitute the ground for her constructive project of resistance, and she takes great care to commend social practices of love and hope rather than reifying them as abstract ideals. Again, my agreement with her prompts me to ask for her input on some persistent questions. Like Dr. Day, I have argued for love as the capacity to perceive connectedness as an essential disposition for Christians engaged in the public square. I focused on agape, however, and I very much appreciate her retrieval of the erotic “as power that unites, heals, and connects” (82). Moreover, her emphasis on the womanist commitment to love as self-actualization overcomes the potentially damaging implications of the self-sacrificial strain of agape interpretation. I also have a similar take on hope, arguing for hope as a practice of ongoing negotiation between the promising and sobering elements of life. Like Dr. Day, I am concerned about the other-worldly dimensions of hope that keep the object of hope beyond or above history, and I commend practices of searching out the seeds of hope in the here and now without glossing over the real losses and limits of life.

I found myself, however, resisting Dr. Day’s strong distinction between practices and ideals. She calls for “love as a practice and not merely an optimistic idea or ideal” (107), and she focuses on “how people live and actually hope (as a practice) rather than abstract religious theorizing about hope” (132). I certainly understand the concerns about abstract, generalized ideals, especially when they are projected onto other people. But I find the separation between ideal and practice in Dr. Day’s writing problematic. Ideals are problematic if they become divorced from history or collapsed into history (and yes, I am paraphrasing both Niebuhr brothers here). But if they remain in a dynamic relationship with lived experience, then they function as a site of accountability and a source of hope for us. Indeed, they function like the new visions that Dr. Day elicits from authors and activists she writes about. They help us to transcend the limitations that neoliberal forces prescribe; and they inspire us to transgress the boundaries that neoliberal values inscribe. But they only function with this kind of liberative power if they remain in meaningful relationship with lived experience and the practices of collaboration and resistance we enact there. In fact, I think that Dr. Day offers us some meaningful ideals that are organically related to social practices of love and hope. Through her engagement with figures in art and in history, she demonstrates the possibility of “new collective forms of relationality” (127). These are not abstract or generalized ideals, but they are ideals that grow out of resistance and inspire more of it.

Dr. Day opens and closes her text with the film Pumzi, which provides an example of decolonial aesthetics and a protagonist who “dreams dangerously.” Dr. Day’s work with this film and her engagement with other historical movements of resistance raises questions about effectiveness, questions that plague studies of social change movements and nonviolence. Given Dr. Day’s use of the word pragmatic throughout the text, I would love to know how she thinks about questions of effectiveness generally, and particularly in relationship to hope as a social practice. Is a preoccupation with effectiveness part of the “hegemony of the visible”? To draw from Sharon Welch’s Feminist Ethic of Risk (which was very much in my mind as I read Day’s text), is a preoccupation with effectiveness part of the ethic of control? Does it have a meaningful place among the postures and practices to which Dr. Day calls us? Is there a way to articulate a different view of effectiveness—or success—that might contribute to the radical hope she articulates? Another way to get at this question is to ask about the relationship between the adjectives “pragmatic” and “radical” for Dr. Day. How are these two things related to one another? Is tension between them real, helpful, problematic?

My last two questions concern method. The first is a perennial one for those of us committed to forms of contextual ethics. When Dr. Day describes the negative material and physical consequences of neoliberalism, she notes the disproportionate impact on women of color. However, when she describes the formational impact of neoliberalism, her writing becomes universal (see the key paragraph on p. 12 noted earlier). If the material and physical consequences of neoliberalism land unevenly, what of the formational impact? Are we all experiencing the same kind and depth of imprisonment in the imagination? Are those wielding more power in neoliberal structures more susceptible to the formational impact, or do they wield more power because they have already been formed accordingly? Do marginalized persons who are more likely to bear the brunt of neoliberalism retain a capacity for cooperative visions? Or do they articulate cooperative visions as part of the resistance to the destructive impact of neoliberalism in their lives? In the example of the Madres, we see people suffering under neoliberalism who also resist it and become models for resistance. But this line of argument—that the marginalized are somehow more resistant to the mal-formation of neoliberalism—also leads to a kind of romanticism of the marginalized that is clearly problematic. I realize that these questions cannot be entirely answered, but I think that discussion of them is important if we are to avoid the kind of unhelpful generalizations about moral agency that womanist and black feminist ethicists have so powerfully critiqued. Dr. Day’s writing also demonstrates how hard it is to avoid generalizations especially when addressing something as monstrous in scope as neoliberalism.

My second methodological question concerns sources. I do not object to any of the sources that inform this text. I do not believe that women scholars of color should only cite women scholars of color, of course. However, I end the book puzzling over two things. First, I am not clear why Dr. Day chose the figures she chose. Because selection is essential (we cannot bring every relevant figure into one text), explanation is too. This book has a striking combination of scholars present within it, but it also has a slightly ad hoc nature to it. Why these figures in these places situated in this particular relationship to one another? Again, I do not oppose the selection of figures, but I want to hear the casting decisions articulated. I pose my second question as a white feminist professor eager for texts on black feminist and womanist ethics. I find in Dr. Day’s text a tendency to explain and critique the work of white male scholars and to reference the work of black feminist and womanist scholars. This is most striking in the fifth chapter on hope. In this chapter, Dr. Day explains and critiques Walter Brueggemann over several pages and then references five black feminist and womanist scholars in one paragraph. Now, to be fair, she has discussed the work of some of these scholars in other places in this text. However, this is a point where she might present fully their views on hope and then lay her approach deeply in conversation with them before demonstrating the approach through the description of the Madres.

I trust that my comments convey my great appreciation for this text, its analysis and its vision. I look forward to hearing more from Dr. Day through Syndicate in the coming weeks and through her scholarship for many years to come.


  1. R. Scott Appleby, Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).

  2. Bevery Wildung Harrison, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (Boston: Beacon, 1985), 14.

  • Keri Day

    Keri Day

    Reply

    Response to Ott Marshall

    Ellen raises a number of questions such as the value of the affective turn, the relationship between practices and ideals, assessing the effectiveness of a “pragmatic” politics of hope, and more. I will address her set of interrelated substantive questions and then turn to her questions about method.

     

    The idea that we might engage the work of justice together out of love for one another is beautiful. Sign me up. I also long to know why Dr. Day thinks this is possible. I do not ask this in a cold, dismissive way. I really want to know where her sense of possibility comes from. What sustains this vision? Where does she root this hope?

    When writing this book, I knew that reclaiming love as a political category would spark conversation and debate. In order to avoid the historical usage of love as sentimental and divorced from justice work, I dedicated an entire chapter to this concept. My possibility in love sustaining a vision of hope and human flourishing first turns on how I describe love: not merely as a sentiment but as a concrete revolutionary practice that is oriented toward justice-making work. I try to demonstrate how black feminist and womanist politics reshape Christian discourses on love. Love is not simply a benign feeling of togetherness. Nor is it merely an interpersonal longing. It is embodied in sets of practices that critique, dismantle, and reconstruct personal and systemic relations once structured in dominance. Love has a direct relationship to hegemony in which the diverse practices of love (ethics of care, empathy, justice, etc.) deconstruct dominating relations and institutions. I want to push back on accounts of love that think ahistorically about the concept, emptying it of its political content. For certain, although I do not name this in the text, love has different forms, from familial love to romantic love. However, love as a political practice (self-love and love of others) has been central to freedom movements such as the Civil Rights Movement and black feminist social movements (Combahee River Collective). So, I do not hold love (as seen in black feminist politics) as sentiment (which can always be co-opted and used for hegemonic purposes). Rather, love is a political practice forming the self and the self’s relationship to those who are radically different from themselves. And this practice is always pushing the limits of hegemonic relations and institutions. This was the major argument of chapter 4.

    My claim here is not fantastical thinking but rooted in historical moments. For instance, I am currently working on a manuscript that explores the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 and how this interracial community embodied love as a political practice, as a practice of justice. Started by a black clergyman as well as black women domestics and janitors, Azusa disrupted the racist habitus of twentieth-century churches and broader society. The Azusa movement also challenged the political and economic imaginary associated with the modern nation-state and its religious apparatus (white churches). In its brief three years, it demonstrated the possibilities of love as a political practice, rethinking difference and practices of human flourishing. Likewise, a holiness movement, the Evening Light Saints also provide a historical account of love as a political practice. Moreover, the history of Koinania farm and engagement of people across differences provides deeply hopeful moments for me as we confront white supremacist, patriarchal, and hyper-capitalist structures. My hope is rooted in historical moments that gesture toward new worlds and ways of being than we presently have.

     

    A related question concerns Dr. Day’s apparent assumptions about the positive value of affects in the public sphere. Even with the powerful example of projected disgust woven through the chapter, Dr. Day still applies a positive value to affects. This may be because they have gotten such a bad rap in ethics for so long that she needs to take an apologetic approach with them. But given the ongoing contributions of affects to violence in politics, I am regretfully wary of assertions like this: “Political communities based on affect would open up possibilities for new configurations of affiliation in order to sponsor practices of compassion, empathy, joy, and so forth” (126). To paraphrase Scott Appleby, we do need to reckon with the “ambivalence of the affect.”

    I agree with Ellen that we must reckon with the ambivalence of affect. However, I must admit that I am a bit puzzled by her comments here, as I imagined my chapter on love as precisely raising this question. My argument is not that affect simply carries positive value. Rather, I contend that affect is always and already part of human relations and especially deployed by hegemonic institutions to foster gross forms of injustice and inequity. It is important that I emphasize that this is my departure point in discussing an affective politics. I do not theorize the need for an affective politics from “on high” (from an abstract point of view). We need to think about the cultivation of positive political emotions because political emotions are already being deployed in hegemonic ways to foster forms of physical and social death for marginalized populations. This is why I begin the affective discussion with the problem of projective disgust, which is the cultivation of political emotions at a structural level that breeds violence. Because we are already beset by imperial emotional economies that morally legitimate and normalize institutions and actions, we need to wrestle with this affective dimension of social/institutional life in order to respond. I propose the need to articulate an affective politics that can participate in the process of crafting and building political communities. My claim is that justice projects are not adequately addressing the affective dimension of justice work. I offer an intervention here, and gesture toward how we might think about an affective politics of love and justice. So, the Janus-faced nature of affect (or the ambivalence of affect) is something I try to name by showing that it has been used in contradictory ways, as ways to both legitimate and resist hegemony.

    Political communities based on non-hegemonic affective practices could open up possibilities for new configurations of affiliation in order to sponsor practices of compassion, empathy, joy and so forth.” I think that this previous statement has been demonstrated in recent social movements. For instance, black lives matter (BLM) introduced a new community of affiliation across sexual identities. A number of cis-gendered black men (some clergy) commented that marching with transgender men and women opened them up to a new way of being in community with those different from themselves. BLM, in great part, emerges from the anger and rage surrounding the killing of black men and women. BLM not only cultivated an affective politics (i.e., the desire for justice through anger) but also encouraged folks marching in the street to practice black joy. Joy is central to sustaining any kind of justice work, as evil often proves intractable. An affective politics in part grounds BLM, transforming the views of cis-gendered black men who are taught to have projective disgust of other sexual identities.

     

    I found myself, however, resisting Dr. Day’s strong distinction between practices and ideals. She calls for “love as a practice and not merely an optimistic idea or ideal” (107), and she focuses on “how people live and actually hope (as a practice) rather than abstract religious theorizing about hope” (132). I certainly understand the concerns about abstract, generalized ideals, especially when they are projected onto other people. But I find the separation between ideal and practice in Dr. Day’s writing problematic. Ideals are problematic if they become divorced from history or collapsed into history (and yes, I am paraphrasing both Niebuhr brothers here). But if they remain in a dynamic relationship with lived experience, then they function as a site of accountability and a source of hope for us.

    I actually agree with Ellen here on her assessment about the relationship between ideals and practices. And I imagined myself to be making this precise argument. As I stated at the start of chapter 5, I am concerned that ideals tend to solely lead in how we think about ideas of hope. For instance, Christians tend to start with what the “Bible says.” Or there tends to be a focus on doctrinal teachings of eschatology such as “the rapture” for some religious adherents, which shapes how people articulate hope. I want to reframe how we speak about hope by allowing our ideals to feed back into the empirical world. This is actually why I critique Brueggemann. I see ideals and practices as dialectically related. The problem is that practices, particularly the practices of invisible populations, are seen as secondary and subsidiary to the content of ideals. This is what I categorically refute. In fact, different ideals grow out of and gain their power from social practices. The point for me is not to jettison ideals but to show the interrelated nature between ideals and practices. Consequently, for analytic reasons, these two categories cannot be collapsed into each other. They must retain some sense of autonomy although they are mutually imbricated in understanding hope itself. This is what my book sought to do.

     

    Given Dr. Day’s use of the word, pragmatic, throughout the text, I would love to know how she thinks about questions of effectiveness generally, and particularly in relationship to hope as a social practice. Is a preoccupation with effectiveness part of the “hegemony of the visible”? To draw from Sharon Welch’s Feminist Ethic of Risk (which was very much in my mind as I read Day’s text), is a preoccupation with effectiveness part of the ethic of control? Does it have a meaningful place among the postures and practices to which Dr. Day calls us? Is there a way to articulate a different view of effectiveness—or success—that might contribute to the radical hope she articulates? Another way to get at this question is to ask about the relationship between the adjectives “pragmatic” and “radical” for Dr. Day.

    This question felt most helpful for this text and my broader work. Ellen raises a very critical question and perhaps the limits of my usage of pragmatic. My usage of this term begs clarification. First, I do think that the idea “pragmatic” can be used as a tool of hegemony. We see this in how economic elites argue for certain policies on “pragmatic grounds” that such policies are effective, such as major tax cuts for corporations (to create jobs) or the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act on the premise that it allows individual autonomy (non-government interference) on insurance choices. However, my text in the introduction and first two chapters foregrounded the norms and values that would guide how we might think about effectiveness in relation to projects oriented toward justice and human flourishing. For instance, I discussed the concept of governmentality and how the market rules through the state in legitimating policies that adversely affect communities (on the symbolic and material levels). Projects of resistance among oppressed communities (as well as liberationist theological discourses) are often tied to the state, the state as an actor that provides amelioration and correction to market excesses. I problematized this assumption about the state, as the state itself facilitates and enables neoliberal practices to flourish. Therefore, the question of effectiveness in relation to a pragmatic politics of hope in this neoliberal moment is conditioned by this suspicion and critical interrogation of the state, opting for grassroots organizing to challenge the ideologies and material practices that constitute the operations of the state. Perhaps, the state will not save vulnerable populations. This must be recognized. I do think questions about effectiveness or “what are the means under which we can actually realize different ways of being” (socially, politically, economically) must be considered in projects of survival and justice. I do think I needed to offer a more robust conversation on the idea of “pragmatic” as well as the risk of it being co-opted as an ethics of control. This is a very helpful question I want to think more about.

     

    But this line of argument—that the marginalized are somehow more resistant to the mal-formation of neoliberalism—also leads to a kind of romanticism of the marginalized that is clearly problematic.

    I am intrigued that I have been read in this way: as making a claim that the marginalized are more resistant to the malformations of neoliberalism. I hoped to communicate that the marginalized simply resist, in ways that are instructive for broader communities who experience the malformations of neoliberalism (although perhaps in different ways). A major claim of my text is that women of color are not seen as subjects, as producers of knowledge about the impact of market forces and religious traditions that may collude with such forces. My focus on these women is to give voice and render visible their practices and forms of religious resistance. These women are not victims but global economy often treats them as objects in capitalist machinery. What would it mean for dominant theological and religious discourses reflecting on economy to treat women of color around the world as subjects in the formation of theological knowledge and moral norms? These women who resist and embody cooperative visions are not more inherently virtuous. On the contrary, their move to resist is due to their acute experience with forms of immediate death. The issue of survival grounds the necessity of these women’s resistance efforts. Writing about women of color as subjects of theological and ethical knowledge is about affirming and legitimating these women as producers and purveyors of radical resistance efforts oriented toward love, justice, and hope. It’s about concretizing them as possibilities when thinking through the transformation of structures beyond neoliberal rationality. So the charge that my argument here automatically leads to a kind of romanticization feels a bit overstated to me.

    I think Ellen is right, however, that there needs to be more discussion in the book from me on the relationship between the impact of neoliberalism on women of color (particular claim) and the impact on human communities more broadly (universal claim). This is always a hard line of thought to reconcile, the particular to the universal. I do want to maintain that the loss of connection and belonging (the erotic) is a universal experience within the neoliberal matrices of society. I assert this but, at times, do not demonstrate this claim in the way that I demonstrate the uneven impact of neoliberalism on poor women of color. This is an important observation I will carry into my future projects.

     

    Why these figures in these places situated in this particular relationship to one another [in the text]? Again, I do not oppose the selection of figures, but I want to hear the casting decisions articulated.

    I must admit, when this book went to publication, I realized that I wanted to provide greater explanation on why I engage particular thinkers, namely Kierkegaard and Brueggemann. One goal of this text was to put unlikely partners in conversation with each other. Black liberationist and womanist discourses are often seen as in radical discontinuity with dominant Western religious discourse. I think this is a mistake, for methodological and substantive reasons. I think womanist discourses, for example, sit in radical continuity and discontinuity with Western theology and ethics. I wanted to demonstrate that there is something to be gained by asking how these unlikely conversations open up new avenues of thought on questions surrounding neoliberalism.

    For example, in chapter 1, Walter Benjamin is an excellent conversational partner for womanist religious discourse because he grounds a religious critique of capital in the voices of oppressed communities, arguing for a postmodern idea of history and redemption (which resonates with many womanist projects). In chapter 3, I discussed the erotic, and Paul Tillich is a primary theologian who attempts to explore the erotic in relation to love. His way of discussing the ontological unity of love and the centrality of the erotic enriches how womanist and black feminist discourses speak about the erotic as political forms of knowledge. However, womanist and black feminist thought pushes and challenges Tillich’s discussion of the ontological unity of love. I spent some time in Sarah Azaransky’s response to directly address the question of thinkers.

Christophe D. Ringer

Response

Love’s Resistance

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to respond to Keri Day’s Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives. Keri has long served as a conversation partner in our shared interests around religion, social ethics and political economy. This book arrives at an important time. Neoliberalism has now traveled the curious path beyond narrow academic interests into a wider cultural vocabulary. During such moments the critical purchase of a concept can be lost as its invocation is used to quickly explain everything in general and nothing in particular. Day’s Religious Resistance deftly avoids this trap by offering a mapping of the usage of “neoliberalism” and specifying her entry point, drawing on insights form Foucault with a distinctly religious voice. And this, I argue, simultaneously reveals the religious qualities of neoliberalism itself. In this essay, I want to think through some of the implications of Day’s work for our understanding self, society and the sacred under the conditions of neoliberalism for human flourishing.

There are a variety of methods by which scholars bring religion into conversation with the “the economy,” “the market,” and “globalization.” Some describe capitalism itself as a religion by identifying various features that correlate to the structure of familiar religious traditions. Others claim that global capitalism itself is an idol by virtue of its sacralization and sacrificing of human lives. Jung Mo Sung’s Desire, Market and Religion is representative of this view while acknowledging its limits. He argues that the critique of idolatry “does not mean a critique of the market as such, but only its sacralization, namely of the absolutizing of its laws. One must be careful lest the critique of the sacralization of the market laws take us to the extreme of the same logic, which is its demonizing.”1 What is often lost in such accounts is the distinction between the demonic as finite structure that distorts acts of the will and idolatry as the willful worship of a finite object. Moreover, this method fails to account for how persons, cultures and religious traditions that do not absolutize or hold global capitalism as sacred, experience global capitalism is a matter of life and death. Religious Resistance avoids this methodological dilemma early on.

My own position is that global capitalism and its neoliberal instantiation is our religious situation, the very structure of social relations that occasion the social and cultural forms that give life meaning. Although Day does not make this claim specifically, she insightfully and persuasively cautions us not to “misrecognize neoliberalism simply as a set of market policies or a new economic regime” (9), but to see it as a rationality that shapes the meaning given to life itself. Thus, Religious Resistance positions religious institutions, ideas and practices as embedded within neoliberalism both fueling and contesting its cultural logics. In addition, Day also acknowledges neoliberalism as a form of governance that does not oppose individual liberty but works through it, recruiting our very desires and choices to secure its legitimacy. As such, Day rightly argues that the terrain for resisting neoliberalism exists not only within public policy, but also within moral and religious imaginations that shape and form us. The initial excavation of these nuances evidences that religious discourse is not peripheral but central in understanding neoliberalism.

In examining the prospects for resisting neoliberalism, Day makes a strong claim that the transformation of the self “is a necessary precondition for prophetic social action” (9). More importantly, Day mines the potential of religious discourse to move beyond the ideological impasse of personal or structural remedies for social change. I appreciate Day’s skillful weaving of womanist, black feminist, critical theorists and traditional theologians to recover a robust religious existentialism. In particular, one that values the centered-self formed in community rather than the self-centered entrepreneurial subject that occupies the neoliberal moral imagination. My use of the term entrepreneurial here is not pejorative but descriptive. As neoliberalism images the social world through market relations, the acquisition, management, and investment of one’s human capital becomes the key marker of moral responsibility. Day’s account of the “acquiring mode of existence” demonstrates how this vision diminishes our capacity to “share, give, and love” as well as recognize our interdependence with others as the condition for our own lives (49–53). Day situates the religious self as an intervention to this vision through the mode of resistance.

The virtue of Day’s account is that it opens up further questions and complexities. I find agreement with Day’s critique of our culture’s pervasive penchant for equating personal wealth with personal worth and the religious legitimation that often accompanies it. However, this aspect coexists with our culture’s ability to tap into our desire for identity, uniqueness, authenticity and a more just world. Consider that Taco Bell encourages us to “think outside the bun!” Sprite says, “Obey your thirst!” Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln MKC will assist those ready to plumb the depths of Eastern philosophy and a beer by Dos Equis just might make me the most interesting man in the world. To be sure, comedians and satirists regularly parody these practices and some efforts such as the recent Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner are spectacular failures. This failure, however, offered Heineken an opportunity to offer their own product as the answer to our desire for a path beyond our ideological and political differences.

The point here is that for a generation of social theorists such as Eric Fromm, a conversation partner for Day, “individuality” and “authenticity” were part of a moral vocabulary that preserved the self against the “massification of society” threatening our humanity. Today, terms such as individuality, identity, authenticity, wholeness, empowerment, self-realization, self-actualization, self-esteem, self-discovery, self-care and their attending pieties are the “technologies of the self” at the very heart of neoliberalism. Thus, Toni Morrison’s Sula, whose close reading by Day demonstrates the power of the erotic in the self-actualization of black women (86), is also a featured in Oprah’s Book Club with the similar goals of self-discovery that is “nothing short of salvation.”2 As such, the God-given womanist self-love and self-actualization that Day argues is a precondition for prophetic action (55) is already deeply conditioned and contested by neoliberalism. This in no way invalidates Day’s call to prophetic action. Rather, it clarifies that the resistance that Day envisions, has the tall order of being rooted in everyday practices whose meaning must simultaneously transcend the quotidian nature of neoliberalism itself. This makes Day’s engagement around the nature of political communities and the power of love even more critical.

Religious Resistance, unsurprisingly, quickly disabused me any account of love that is anemic, traffics in mere sentimentality or is circumscribed to narrow “family values.” Day draws out the contours of a love that integrates the perennial themes of agape, eros and philia as revealed in concrete acts of care, trust, respect and compassion. Drawing on a diversity of figures such as bell hooks, Howard Thurman, Abraham Heschel, Alice Walker and the Combahee River Collective (105–9), Day places the possibilities of love of God, self and neighbor within contemporary social theory in a call for an affective politics. As for affect, Day situates projective disgust as a powerful political emotion that occasions humiliation, oppression, stigmatization and disenfranchisement along the lines of difference. I agree with Day that religious and theological discourses have not given significant treatment to projective disgust. However, there is in such sources significant work around “purity and pollution” and its relationship to disease, disfigurement, guilt, shame, innocence, judgment, bodies and flesh. Such sources may provide additional support and resources for Day’s construction of a womanist affective politics. Religious Resistance is timely in that it arrives as affect theory is enjoying a revival. More importantly, much of this interest is not antiquarian, but grows out of struggles for social justice that have experienced the limits of argument, evidence and facts in the face of powerful political emotions.

The critical purchase of Day’s call for an affective politics I believe lies in the possibility of resisting what Paula Ioanide calls “hegemonic emotional economies.”3 In her work on the emotional politics of racism, she argues that such emotional economies “reproduce white ignorance in people’s affective, embodied, and reflexive structures, not merely their cognitive ones.”4 For Ioanide, challenging the circuitry of racism, nativism and imperialism requires reorganizing the way racial signs are invested with meaning in public through new cultural practices that impact unconscious affective structures. She also reflects on the difficulties of sustaining social justice organizing in the face of the intransigence of often well-meaning people to abandon oppressive logics and policies toward people of color and the poor. I want to argue that such organizing against hegemonic emotional economics might call for Day’s affective political communities. Without such communities to cultivate deeply sedimented and shared meanings over time, it is unlikely that such oppressive economies of affect will be disrupted. Day positions a social theory of assemblage with a potentially critical role in such a task.

In a variety of organizing spaces great pains are often taken to distinguish self-interest from selfishness and selflessness. The former being associated with greed and will-to-power and the latter being a denial of oneself, with both viewed as unattractive. Self-interest then is situated between personal core values and collective democratic values. Day’s account of love, however, love calls us to act of behalf of ourselves and our core values, unless they manifest structural and personal harm to those that are different. What distinguishes Day’s account from traditional political ideas such as liberty, toleration and difference is the desire to connect the political to the affective. Moreover, at a time when intersectionality has traveled from a theory to an identity itself (“I’m an intersectional ____”), Day raises important questions not of its relevance, but of its limits. Assemblage theory, a social ontology that avoids the reification of categories by focusing on the affective interactions between bodies, serves as one entry point. The takeaway is the possibility of rethinking the public sphere in a way that is not dominated by groups organized around identity. This move strikes me as a curious choice.

The use of assemblage theory here appears to potentially short-circuit the project of Religious Resistance in two respects. The first is that assemblage theory displaces the subject, epistemology and meaning in favor of affect, tactility and feeling. As such my concern is that the very thing that Day does so well—arguing for the subject as the terrain of transformation, eros as a source of knowledge and the recovery of love’s deeper meanings that push politics beyond procedures to “motivations and intentions oriented toward new futures” (128)—is also displaced in the process. Second, after such displacements, how would one discern or interpret interactions between bodies as caring and compassionate versus cruel and callous? Moreover, would such displacements still support the contributions of assemblage in organizing political communities? I suspect the answer lies in what I take to be the generative quality of Day’s account of political communities.

The Argentine “Mothers of the Disappeared” emerge as the paradigmatic example of Day’s political community. Here, issues of shared identity, experiences and memory provided deep wells of meaning and motivation for a powerful witness of radical love and concrete political demands in the face of evil. It seems that “political communities” for Day is not equated with social movement, mediating institutions, or the nation-state as political community defined by Rawls. Nor is it a narrow communitarian vision. It is as if Day intentionally eschews these distinctions to discern another path toward building political communities. This is a path whose possibilities are being realized in the present while disrupting the false inevitability of a neoliberal future. And that in itself is a practice of hope.


  1. Jung Mo Sung, Desire, Market and Religion (London: SCM, 2007), 71.

  2. Kathryn Lofton, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 187.

  3. Paula Ioanide, The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).

  4. Ibid.

  • Keri Day

    Keri Day

    Reply

    Response to Ringer

     Ringer’s question on my usage of assemblage theory comes to me as a welcome invitation, as I offer the contours of assemblage theory rather than a full-throated account. Ringer foregrounds two critiques in relation to my usage of assemblage theory:

    The use of assemblage theory here appears to potentially short-circuit the project of Religious Resistance in two respects. The first is that assemblage theory displaces the subject, epistemology and meaning in favor of affect, tactility and feeling. As such my concern is that the very thing that Day does so well—arguing for the subject as the terrain of transformation, eros as a source of knowledge and the recovery of love’s deeper meanings that push politics beyond procedures to “motivations and intentions oriented toward new futures”—is also displaced in the process. Second, after such displacements, how would one discern or interpret interactions between bodies as caring and compassionate versus cruel and callous? Moreover, would such displacements still support the contributions of assemblage in organizing political communities?

    I want to first concede that Ringer’s point is well taken. Intersectionality seems to hold fast as a successful tool for socioeconomic and political transformation because it is subject centered, foregrounding women of color such as black women. Black feminist and womanist scholarship has argued that discourses of representation, and its recognized subjects, are the dominant and most efficacious way to achieve forms of political intervention. In terms of assemblage theory beginning with Deleuze (although I use Jabir Puar for this text), nonrepresentational, non-subject-oriented politics is simply impossible—we can’t use affectivity to theorize projects of justice, particularly within a statist understanding of political intervention that requires well-defined political subjects. These arguments lead many scholars to say that these theories are simply incompatible, even antagonistic. In my book however, I want to disagree. Taking my cue from Puar, I want to hold out that while these two theories are not analogous or compatible, they are frictional, being held together in tension. I ask: what might be gained from thinking these two theories together when speaking about communities of identity and projects of justice?

    First, as I discussed in chapter 4 (122–25), assemblage theory does not deny that race, gender, and other categories do exist and do a certain kind of social-structural work. Rather, assemblage theory maintains that these categories are not fixed points of ontology. This observation has been taken for granted within womanist theological discourse, for example. Assemblage theory holds that identity categories are discursive practices instead of ontological assertions. These discursive practices that produce identity categories (that then are mapped onto bodies) are fluid social constructs generated by material and linguistic conditions. In Puar’s account (which is the account I use and which differs from Delueze’s idea of assemblage), it’s not that assemblage theory displaces the subject but that it offers a different account of how subjectivity comes into being and how the “subject” is constantly shifting within material and affective relations. Likewise, affective theory does not displace epistemology but offers a different epistemological account of knowledge and identity that are brought to voice and agency through bodies and emotions. For certain, assemblage theory is subject to the same critique as Butler’s discursive account of performativity when thinking about identity and agency (too reliant on the linguistic turn). However, I do think that assemblage pushes intersectional theory to think beyond ontology when thinking about the production of subjectivity and identity. In my texts, I unfortunately do not make a clear distinction between many black feminist discourses (who have been doing this work) and womanist discourses, which need to wrestle more deeply with these theoretical questions about subjectivity and identity in relation to intersectionality (and how this affects theological arguments about the creation of political communities and justice work).

    I am also interested in responding to structural injury (structural injustice) in affective terms. Assemblage theory is about understanding how the eruption of affectivities, political emotions, tactility and feeling lead to political energies, temporalities, and lines of flight (which give way to social movements even if fleeting) in both hegemomic and non-hegemonic ways. If affectivities such as projective disgust constitute structural hegemony, affectivities such as empathy and care can respond to projective disgust, helping to shape an ethics and practice of alterity. Alterity is not just about difference but thinking the relation of difference, as a relation of mutual recognition instead of exclusion. Relations of alterity are marked by affective practices. Hence, for me, structural injury must be met with a more expansive vision of political and human community that transcends relations built on exclusion. We need an affective account of political community and justice to do this. The point here is that assemblage theory involves mapping how the eruption of affectivities can also create different, unexpected moments of otherwise thinking, speaking, organizing, and doing politics that are not necessarily beholden to current hegemonic emotional economies. And these alternate affective practices may move beyond strict identity categories that have historically constituted “recognizable” political communities.

    For instance, the beauty of Black Lives Matter was precisely in how anger, rage, love, and a desire for justice over the murder of black lives created encounters and events among different bodies that are often not found collaborating in the same social space, such as transgender, queer black men protesting beside cis-gendered black men. Historically, this has not been a recognizable political community within political and policy circles. In fact, some leaders of the Civil Rights generation often critiqued BLM for its queer “element,” opting to support the movement from “afar,” which demonstrated the kind of transgressive affective economy BLM modeled. Reading Black Lives Matter as a series of affective encounters and movements among different kind of bodies that created an alternate community at a particular historical moment can help us think about how we foster subversive emotional economies to battle hegemonic emotional economies, which bolster state violence, inequities, and injustices.

    Yet, reading BLM through assemblage theory doesn’t mean that intersectional readings are disallowed. In fact, activists who participated on the streets of Ferguson, for example, enunciate identity—they do not abandon identity politics (this is seen through BLM’s political manifesto detailing their demands for justice within economically disadvantaged black communities). Yet, this enunciation of identity is not frozen or stable but is constantly being rearticulated through BLM’s affective movements, energies, contagions, and demands for justice. Early on, BLM was also critiqued for not fashioning a policy agenda to bring about change and justice—a central goal of intersectional theory and liberal democracy more broadly. My hunch, in part, is that BLM understood the virtue of defiance in movement building, the work that political affectivities (such as defiance and anger) do in reclaiming political agency against hegemonic emotional economies. This is also part of the work of identity itself and justice more broadly. This then means that intersectionality and assemblage are not analogous but frictional, as they can be held together in creative tension. Thought together, perhaps these two theories can open up avenues for theorizing the material and affective in relation to projects of identity and wider social transformation.

    A final note on why these two theories thought together might be generative: as I discussed earlier, assemblage theory shifts the epistemological shape of knowledge itself (whether religious, political, or social in scope). It’s not that assemblage theory displaces epistemology and meaning in favor of affect, tactility and feeling. Rather, this theory thinks epistemology through affectivity, through tactility and feeling. An excellent example of this point can be found in Ashon Crawley’s Blackpentecostal Breath: An Aesthetics of Possibility, where in part, Crawley is interested in how to think about epistemology through an aesthesis, through the somatic, affective and aesthetic dimensions of life. How we think about structures of meaning-making expand beyond totalities. Projects that focus on identity or social transformation always risk being grounded in totalities. Through a turn to affect, our epistemological understanding of how knowledge is produced in relation to identity undergoes interrogation. This affective turn tries to resist the totality (often supported by epistemologies that do not account for bodies-in-motion but rather in favor of unexplained fixed points of identity).

    Although I articulate some reasons why intersectionality and assemblage should be engaged together, I am quite compelled by Ringer’s critiques on the need to keep thinking about the benefits of assemblage theory in relation to identity and quests for justice.

Melanie C. Jones

Response

Dare to Dream, Again

The Politics of Love, Hope and Redemption in Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives, by Keri Day

Our world is a mess. According to Keri Day’s Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives, the current economic, cultural, and political movement known as neoliberalism that constitutes today’s global social order expose crisis rather than progress. An unregulated, under-regulated, state-influenced, free-market neoliberal economy does not reveal better days. We are living in an era of heightened individualism and increasing competition that engenders and disadvantages the poor. The terrors of our time force us to #staywoke and limit our capacities to imagine the possibilities of enlivening a different world. What will it take to dream, again?

Ethicist Keri Day opens her book by awakening readers to the Kenyan Afrofuturist film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi, which narrates the heroic story of Asha, a member of the Maitu East African community, who subverts the powers that seek to threaten her imagination and gumption. Asha receives a seed of new life in a post-Earth society that convinces its citizens no other life exists beyond their world. Resisting the social order, Asha treks through deserts until she finds a glimpse of new terrain and uses her body to plant and nurture the seed for new growth. Asha does not discover new life on her own; a community sparks her curiosity and stimulates her fervor. For Day, Pumzi illustrates Asha, an African woman, as “savior of the world” (3). This creation story situates readers at the crux of Day’s project which uncovers the structural evil of neoliberalism that fosters disconnection, clouds possibilities, and stifles human flourishing with poor women of color as its most vulnerable target.

Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism traces the compounding assaults of neoliberalism upon human subjectivity and moral imagination. A neoliberal society celebrates “do it yourself” (DIY) models wherein alienating self-interest determines success. With a Foucauldian lean, Day interprets neoliberalism as the disciplining, regulating, fashioning of “good subjects” toward its lures. Neoliberalism is also a religious concern as conservative religious ideals “such as hard work, personal responsibility, and self-improvement” shadow its schemes (11). Day’s central thesis “argues that engaging U.S. black feminist and womanist religio-cultural perspectives with Jewish and Christian discourses exposes and deconstructs alienating modes generated and exacerbated by neoliberal economy (alienating modes such as social distrust, absence of care and compassion, and rabid individualism)” (4). Day is drawn to Black feminist and womanist responses to neoliberalism for three primary reasons. First, both schools of thought confront neoliberalism and its particular effects on poor women of color. Second, both reclaim the erotic as a life-giving mode of power that appeals to deep emotions and sensations and resists radical disconnection. Third, both situate love as a “concrete revolutionary practice that shows up in the ordinary and mundane lives of poor women” (14). Day resources and expands these theoretical approaches to offer a critique of neoliberalism through six responses of religious resistance.

Chapter 1 unravels the fallacy that time alone characterizes human progression. In linear estimations of history, the world gets progressively better over time. From the vantage point of the oppressed, Day articulates time in itself does not prove better social conditions. When slavery reached emancipation in America, Jim and Jane Crow ruled. When Southern lynching waned, segregation peaked. When integration was realized, mass incarceration intensified. In these historical examples, systemic structures of racism retooled to sustain the devastation of the marginalized. A neoliberal economy follows this tragic pattern with a promise of progress that ravages communities by eliminating budgetary line items for indispensable social programming and repealing policies like DACA under the guise of compassion to serve and protect.

Chapter 2 gives fresh insight on how resisting the insatiable acquiring of things calls for a radical transformation of the self. In a neoliberal economy, having as the goal verifies a “crisis of human meaning” (49). If what it means to be human is based on what one acquires, then Day rightly captures this is a moment of truth when ideas about what is virtuous and valuable must be radically reassessed.

Chapter 3 reclaims the erotic as necessary personal and political power for social transformation. The problem of embodiment in Western discourse contributes to elevating agape and philia love while devaluing eros as a lesser form of love. Building on the work of Paul Tillich and Eboni Marshall Turman, Day illuminates eros through “bodies in motion” brings agape and philia into being (80). To lose the erotic is to deny the power source mediated by the body that helps us come alive.

Chapter 4 introduces an affective politics of love that rejoins emotions with political commitments. Day reframes Alice Walker’s womanism as less about rigid ontological positions of Black women’s experiences and more concerned with the celebration of difference (109). Day posits a theory of assemblage that “organizes political communities around heterogeneity, variety, and difference in relation to bodies and affect rather than around fixed categories that fashion intersectional identities of difference” (126). In a real sense, who we are for each other will need to mean more than shared experiences of harm.

Chapter 5 offers a “pragmatic politics of hope” that moves away from an apocalyptic vision and toward the messy present (131). Optimism is pale in the face of hope. Day “radicalizes hope” through an inward turn that remembers the dead, reexamines the past, and resurrects beloved communities to imagine a transformed future.

Radical hope does not come from the mountaintop, but from the valley of dry bones where death is imminent and ever-present. Day presents a case study of the Mothers of the Disappeared or Madres de Plazo de Mayo as the 1970s and ’80s social movement of ordinary, everyday women confronting the Dirty War in Argentina who placed their bodies on the line in the city square to protest the gripping reality of their disappearing children. Madres de la Playa parallel today’s Mothers of the Movement who become “public women” upon the death of their children by police brutality and gun violence (150). The public display of grief by the Madres reminds me of the uncontrollable sobs and gut-wrenching screams I witness on any given day living in Chicago upon the announcement that another son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, student, coworker or friend is missing or dead. Movements like Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK) in Chicago, who shift the pain of their dead children to protest from their porches by hanging out on the block, cooking food and emanating love, reveal resistance is not merely responsive, but creative.

“We are not yet saved” (43). As I read Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism, I understand Day articulating a womanist theology of redemption that is beyond Christocentrism. With Asha from Pumzi in the backdrop, Day’s politics of redemption suggests our saviors are ourselves within a realized eschatology. The vulnerable cannot wait for a great cosmic redemption from this world through a counter-worldly divine intervention; it will require a radical transformation of the current social order that fosters divine and human co-creation. “The state cannot save us” (178). The case study of the Madres de Plazo de Mayo with the torturers in concentration camps wearing Catholic insignia reveals the church will not save us. Colloquially speaking, we are all we got! In line with Pumzi, Day skillfully illuminates redemption of this present neoliberal age will not come from the East or West, the state or the church, but within as beloved communities concretize love and radicalize hope. While I agree, Day’s theory of redemption leaves me with tension. Must an African or African-descended woman, a mother of humanity, be the Savior, always? Does this salvific call of co-creation with God offer us a life-giving blessing or leave us with an enduring death-dealing burden?

I am concerned that bodies do not move and emotions are not stirred against neoliberalism until the devastation hits “home” or the political invades the personal. As a millennial womanist concerned with the convergence of the prophetic and the popular, I wonder about the possibilities for beloved communities to be cultivated through virtual technologies. What enabled the Argentinian mothers to gather was their shared concern, unrelenting persistence and relative proximity. For a radical hope to manifest, it seems to me that beloved communities will need to form within a particular context and establish bonds beyond their immediate locales. Geographies of dissent must cross spatial boundaries in a neoliberal globalized world. The Black Lives Matter activist must encounter the Palestinian activist to discern necessary strategies of resistance in the wake of a militarized police. Asha, in Pumzi, had to journey to a strange land to find fertile ground for planting and tilling. The work ahead may require deep emotional and political connections to collective struggles that are domestic and abroad which place bodies and selves on the line and online.

I imagine a world where Black lives matter.

The first national art campaign instituted by Black Lives Matter during Black History Month of 2016 invited dreamers to imagine Black futures through visual, musical, lyrical, and literary arts. The campaign, titled “In a world where Black Lives Matter, I imagine . . . ,” follows Day’s logic that the path to the future begins by envisioning a world that encompasses the change we want to see. Transformation starts with asking the what-if questions that evoke social memory. What if an off-duty cop never approached Rekia Boyd and her friends in a West Chicago park? What if Sandra Bland had not been arrested and never made it to that Texas jail cell? What if Kenneka Jenkins made it home after a night with friends and no one left her body in a hotel freezer? Building upon Slavoj Zizek, Day acknowledges the what-if histories “urgently compel us to act to realize a different future sitting inside of the present” (26). Day is not rehearsing an elusive American daydream, but a reorientation of despair in living color. Remembering the stories of the dead opens space to imagine a radically different future and fashion a world beyond our wildest dreams.

Keri Day compels readers to “dream dangerously” and believe beloved communities that practice love concretely and radicalize hope from the pit of despair are possible in the here and now for the revolution of this world we know and our redemption (17). Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism is a dream come true for every radical, Afrofuturist, Black feminist and womanist seeking to make meaning of the mess.

  • Keri Day

    Keri Day

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    Response to Jones

    I appreciate how Jones picks up on a central goal of my text: to remember the unfulfilled yearnings and longings for justice of those who have died in order to pull those yearnings into the present for actualization. Dreaming dangerously, as Jones states, is not an “American daydream” but rather, refusing to allow despair to have the last word. A part of dreaming dangerously is connected to making visible the forms of religious resistance that women of color already practice and embody. I ground this important claim at the start of the text through introducing a Kenyan film written by Wanuri Mathi, entitled Pumzi. Pumzi offers a powerfully transformative metaphor for how more liberative forms of knowledge are already present in contrast to the objectifying, commodifying forms of knowledge associated with hyper-capitalist free market practices. However, Jones raises a very important question on the undue burden that perhaps is placed on women of color by privileging the subversive practices of an African-descended woman such as Asha:

    In line with Pumzi, Day skillfully illuminates redemption of this present neoliberal age will not come from the East or West, the state or the church, but within as beloved communities concretize love and radicalize hope. While I agree, Day’s theory of redemption leaves me with tension. Must an African or African-descended woman, a mother of humanity, be the Savior, always? Does this salvific call of co-creation with God offer us a life-giving blessing or leave us with an enduring death-dealing burden?”

    First, I agree with Jones’ claim: that there is an undue burden often placed on the “strong agency” of black women (and women of color more broadly) within families, communities, and broader nations. For instance, black women have often been treated as the “backbone” of black churches in which black women’s labor and pennies make possible the spiritual, social and financial activities of these communities. Yet, speaking of black women as the “champions” or “nurturers” of black churches is deeply linked to their exploitation and psychosocial fatigue within these heteropatriarchal contexts. This exploitative overreliance on black women is also a historical experience within the broader narrative of America, as black women served as “mammies” and domestic servants for white households. I take it that Jones is worried about the underside of citing women of the African diaspora as salvific inside of a system that seeks to devour their labors and lives.

    Jones raises a necessary query. But my turn to women of the African diaspora (as well as noting Pumzi as a black feminist / womanist metaphor for flourishing) is more about expressing the possibility of an alternative future based on a subject who has been rendered a nonsubject within Western ideologies and globalizing processes. I seek to express the possibility of an Asha, which reveals the limits of present neoliberal discourses and systems. These discourses and systems cannot imagine black women leading or contributing to a preferable future because such women are rendered invisible, their forms of religious resistance are muted because they contradict the market-driven ideologies and practices of global economy. Their forms of resistance encourage a deeper interrogation of a global neoliberal system and all of its malformations and structural dis-eases. Right now, there is failure of moral imagination on who might help societies discern how we must act in this neoliberal moment. And societies are unable to morally imagine due to the racist, heteropatriarchal, and inequitable structures that are driven to see human meanings in relation to profit and “economic growth.” Neoliberal societies are not turning to women of the African diaspora for answers to existential problems (as black churches often do, creating an undue burden on black women). As a result, I seek to conceptually make room for the diasporic subject, so that we might render visible this subject’s forms of protest, resistance, and transcendence within global forces.

    I also want to note that Pumzi functions as a black feminist / womanist metaphor because it introduces the social self, the communal self, which must sit at the center of all projects of human flourishing. Asha is not simply the savior of humanity. When watching Pumzi, one must remember that an entire community of persons helps Asha plan her escape in order to discover life on the outside of their authoritarian system. Pumzi does not present an individualistic account of redemption but a collective vision of redemption and flourishing which culminates in and through Asha as a possibility, as a subject of flourishing (rather than an object within market ideology and practice). Communal action makes possible new worlds, new beginnings rooted in care for each other and broader creation. Hope as a social practice is a collective endeavor and I argued this throughout the text, primarily in chapter 5, where I describe the Madres de Plazo de Mayo movement. Centering women of color’s practices and movements of religious resistance does not seek to reinscribe and exploit these women’s lives. Rather, being attentive to these women’s practices diagnoses neoliberal ways of being as profoundly bankrupt and calls for new modes of togetherness that break with the rabidly self-interested values and processes of global economy.

    A final question Jones raised:

    As a millennial womanist concerned with the convergence of the prophetic and the popular, I wonder about the possibilities for beloved communities to be cultivated through virtual technologies. What enabled the Argentinian mothers to gather was their shared concern, unrelenting persistence and relative proximity. For a radical hope to manifest, it seems to me that beloved communities will need to form within a particular context and establish bonds beyond their immediate locales. Geographies of dissent must cross spatial boundaries in a neoliberal globalized world.

    I will just offer a brief remark in relation to this observation. For certain, the question on how we should think about geographies of dissent as well as methods and means is very important. At the start of the text, I talked about the contradictions of globalization—that it fosters extreme economic disparities yet has connected the world in ways we have never witnessed. Paradoxically, while virtual technologies might be seen as a benefit of global economy, it is also important to note that technology has equally been used to perpetuate state violence among black and brown bodies around the world (drones) as well as other forms of surveillance. Virtual technologies can foster movements oriented toward beloved community (think about the Arab Spring or Black Lives Matter) but can also impede beloved communities, as such technologies can become tools of state violence. There is a Janus-faced nature to virtual technologies that must be explored. I suppose the relationship between virtual technologies and beloved communities is a highly contextual question that involves discerning power relations, authority, grassroots organizing, and subversive action against state violence.

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