Theology and Continental Philosophy Group
Theme: The Future of Debt: Theology, Economy, and the Political
Amaryah Jones-Armstrong, Vanderbilt University, Presiding
Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
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We live in financially precarious times with ever-accumulating public and private debts, anxiety around austerity in Europe, increasing wealth gap between black and white US households and globally between the 1% and the rest of us. While recent interrogations of debt have been mounted from a wide range of disciplines, this session proposes a diverse exploration of the theologic of debt, especially as it has been shaped by the Christian tradition. What is the relationship of debt to theology? How have the histories of theological and economic discourses on debt been entangled and what is their relationship to the secular? And, given these entanglements, what is the role of religion in relation to the current financial crises? Examining the nature of debt in relation to theological and secular concepts, this panel will raise key questions about the role of theology, religion, and the secular in an age of indebtedness.
The Price of Charity: "Christian Love" and Credit Banking
The Price of Charity: ‘Christian Love’ and Credit Banking
‘Charity’ has a long history of delineating the specifically Christian discourse on love. This delineation does not separate the Christian question of love from those of desire, friendship, etc., but reorients their articulation around a new, specifically Christian field. Charity has traditionally involved a certain ‘gratuity,’ but it also has maintained an inextricable relation to the notion of ‘price.’ The problem of charity, then, involves the point of connection between a finite ‘economy’ of human relations with an infinite ‘gratuity’ which exceeds reciprocal exchange even while ‘giving’ it. How might one ‘love’ infinitely, selflessly, in excess of what one might get in return?
If ‘charity’ names the possibility of a gift of love that exceeds exchange, ‘faith’ (credit) is what makes this gift possible. This paper will explore homologies between Christian charity and credit banking, arguing for the literal identity of ‘credit’ between the two.
The Sovereign Logic of Jubilee
This paper engages the notion of Jubilee as a historical practice and conceptual trope to shed light on the political logic of sovereignty at work in debt management. Jubilee or debt cancellation has served as a metaphor for divine grace in Jewish and Christian scriptures. Partly as a result of its positive associations with the language of salvation in such traditions, it has gained traction as a politically progressive concept in many social justice movements. Discourse on debt cancellation, drawing on this ancient practice as a model, has entered the modern, popular imaginary. This paper argues that these ancient practices should be understood as sovereign acts of exception, undertaken by rulers further to instantiate the logic of sovereignty—whether political or divine. Jubilee also reveals the persistent links between money, debt, slavery, and obligation to political authority, raising questions about its viability as a liberative idea and practice.
The Multicultural Ethic and the Spirit of Microcredit
This presentation brings cultural theories of racial capitalism to bear on theories of pluralism and secularism, to interrogate practices and discourses surrounding microcredit. Building on recent work by Miranda Joseph, Chandan Reddy, and Fred Moten, I argue that microcredit ventures accomplish a strategic rearticulation of welfare capitalism. Once a concept that sought to explain the implicitly Christian paternalism of bosses’ relationships toward masses of workers, welfare capitalism now signals a broad-based invitation to socially conscious, spiritually purifying participation in global markets understood as a pluralist community. I theorize the religious and the secular as categories that must be understood as they emerge through notions of possession, ownership, and value—materially consequential concepts that regimes of capital and finance inscribe into human bodies and lives.
Marx famously posited that ‘the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.’ However, in the wake of recent financial crises, several texts in critical theory have identified debt as the new prerequisite. The criticism of debt, it seems, has not been completed. The connections between religion and debt are undeniable. Early hints of a criticism of debt came from Nietzsche and Benjamin, but in the last decade a few thinkers have foregrounded debt as a problem for thought. The anthropologist David Graeber’s expansive and enthralling text Debt: The First 5,000 years dropped like a bomb around the same time as the birth of Occupy movement, and the book has served as a rallying-cry for popular resistance movements. Italian/French philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato has enlisted Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze in his The Making of Indebted Man and Governing by Debt to theorize both the subjectivity of debt and its power to enforce political agendas. Critical race theorists Denise Ferreira Da Silva and Paula Chakravartty, in a special journal issue of ‘American Quarterly,’ opened up investigations into “the racial and colonial logic of global capitalism.” Finally, philosopher of religion Philip Goodchild, in his Theology of Money, has argued that “debt takes over the role of religion in economic life.” This paper will introduce these texts with an emphasis on how they can further the discourse of political theology.
Vincent Lloyd, Syracuse University
Ellen T. Armour, Vanderbilt University