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Political Theology Unit

Call for Proposals

The Political Theology Unit welcomes paper and panel submissions on any topic pertaining to the interaction between religious and political thought and practice. Here are some themes we're particularly interested in this year:

The Figure of the Enemy in Political Theology 

Through the work of Carl Schmitt, the enemy has been central to reflection on political theology. Schmitt insisted that politics is founded on the friend-enemy distinction, and later theorists such as Chantal Mouffe have harnessed this claim in service of democratic theory. Whereas some religious traditions gesture toward nonviolence as an ideal, the polarization of contemporary politics suggests that the figure of the enemy retains a powerful force.

We are keen for proposals that reflect broadly on the role of enmity in politics and theology:

  • How might earlier reflection on the enemy illuminate political conflict today?
  • What is the relation between political theologies of the enemy and racialized violence?
  • How could the figure of the enemy clarify contemporary anxieties around migration?
  • How does the figure of the enemy shape political reflection in Judaism, Islam, Atheism, etc.?


LGBTQI+ rights as a site of political-theological contestation (co-sponsored with the Queer Studies in Religion unit)

Recent years have seen a significant and concerning rise in anti-LGBTQI+ violence and rhetoric and threats to LGBTQI+ rights–from the devastating shootings at Pulse nightclub in Florida and Club Q in Colorado Springs, to the disruptions of pride events and drag queen story hours by white nationalists across the country, to the bomb threats of childrens hospitals in Massachussetts, Wisconsion, and Ohio following coordinated harassment campaigns from anti-trans groups. We invite paper, roundtable, and session proposals that aim to better understand, critically interrogate, and/or offer resources for responding to that violence via engagement with political theology and queer studies in religion.


Jewish Enlightenment, National Identity, and Modern Christian Thought (co-sponsored with the Schleiermacher Unit and Religion in Europe Unit)

Modern Jewish and modern Christian thought have developed in close interaction, mutually influencing one another's understandings not only of ethics, revelation, and religious community, but also emerging conceptions of national identity. With an eye toward the AAR's 2023 theme of La Labor de Nuestras Manos and the need for revisiting public understandings of religion, this session invites paper or panel proposals reflecting on points of ongoing dialogue, divergence, and debate regarding the Jewish and Protestant Enlightenments and emerging notions of nationalism in modern Jewish and Christian thought, pertaining not only to the US but also to European contexts. Such proposals might consider: 

  • Jewish and Christian conceptions of national identity and the modern state, especially within or in comparison to European contexts
  • The Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and national identity
  • The mutual influence between the Haskalah and modern Christian thought (including the thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher)
  • The persistence of antisemitism in contemporary politics, in overt and implicit forms
  • The relevance of modern Jewish and Christian thought for understanding white nationalism today


Religion, Secularity, and Humanitarianism (co-sponsored with the Religion and the Social Sciences Unit and the International Development and Religion Unit)

In his 2012 book Humanitarian Reason, Didier Fassin argues that the lasting presence of religion, specifically Christianity, can be seen in the ascendency of humanitarian values in Western democratic societies. The primacy of “humanitarian reason,” Fassin contends, elevates the redemptive work of individual and state humanitarian actors and virtues of compassion and charity over the political actions, historical struggles, and subjectivities of those Howard Thurman calls the “disinherited.” This form of response to an unequal world order all too often reifies victimhood and dominant power relations, and commodifies/valorizes the suffering of “others.”

Inspired by and in dialogue with Fassin’s work, we seek paper proposals that explore:

  • Religious and/or secular (moral) logics of humanitarianism, including but not exclusive to Christianity
  • How humanitarian discourse, ideals, and practices have been mobilized in specific contexts or within international development across space and time
  • Contemporary faith-based or religiously-informed humanitarian movements and responses
  • Relationship between humanitarianism and liberation/decolonial movements (and critiques) 
  • How humanitarian reason (and the valorization of suffering) gets taken up or contested in international development work
  • Affective links between compassion and moral action
  • Political theologies of humanitarianism


Gender, Sexuality, and Protest: The Iranian Protests and Beyond (co-sponsored with the Liberation Theologies unit; the Women and Religion unit; and the Religion, Social Conflict, and Peace unit)

The 2022 protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the country’s ‘guidance control’ (or, ‘morality police’) represent a new experience in the voice of youth, especially women, in articulating religious and secular theories of resistance. Its practical and intellectual impact continues to be felt in Iran and globally, especially through the amplification of the Kurdish protest slogan “Women, Life, Freedom!”. This session is dedicated to understanding the dynamics of gender and sexuality in activism and political change. Proposals are encouraged that touch on the role of women in protest with regards to the movement in Iran and internationally, as well as gender, women and the public role of the religious/secular at large. Other possible areas include:

  • Gender and sexuality as lens to think about protest, globally
  • The relationship between protest and religion
  • Non-oppositional ways of considering “loyalty” and “dissent”

Statement of Purpose

The Political Theology Unit examines the interaction between religious and political thought: how do they influence one another, and how should we respond? Political theology emerged as an area of study through the work of scholars such as Carl Schmitt, who examined the origin of political concepts in Christian theology. The area has also drawn upon theological traditions (Christian, Jewish, and otherwise) in order to reflect constructively upon the way in which politics ought to operate. In recent years, political theology has been taken up by scholars in various disciplines, including philosophy of religion, Biblical studies, Islamic studies, African American religion, sexuality and religion, and elsewhere. This program unit draws upon these diverse approaches in order to explore the contribution of political theology to the study of religion. The Unit aims to expand the conversation about political theology to highlight minority, feminist, and queer voices and to foreground scholars from Jewish, Muslim, and other religious traditions. The goal of the unit is to provide a forum for a diverse group of scholars to explore what political theology means in their own work, how they see the conversation about political theology developing, and how political theology can enrich the study of religion.


Steering Committee Members

  • Brandy Daniels, University of Portland
    1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
  • Joi Orr, Emory University
    1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
  • Inese Radzins, California State University, Stanislaus
    1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members