Sovereignty and the event in John D. Caputo’s radical theology

Ullrich, Calvin Dieter (2019-04)

Stellenbosch University. Faculty of Theology. Dept. of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology.

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The notion of sovereignty is the fundamental idea informing democratic society insofar as it defines the principle that a nation or a people have the ‘right’ or ‘force’ to decide their own actions without external coercion. Indeed, thanks to the ‘political theology’ of the influential German theorist, Carl Schmitt, this definition is said to derive its meaning both historically and theologically from the idea of a ‘sovereign God.’ In the context of the contemporary ‘crisis of democracy,’ it is the idea of sovereignty that continues to be either undermined or abused and, therefore, raises the question of the ‘theological foundations’—or the political theology—of sovereignty. Political-theological reflection on the concept of sovereignty, particularly in South Africa, often articulates that the sovereignty of God is to be affirmed not to prop-up theocratic abuses of power, but precisely to relativize all claimants to absolute power. Accordingly, it maintains the theological claim that God is sovereign but distances itself from any vision that would legitimize the state. This study offers a different approach to both the ‘old’ political theology—where God’s sovereignty is used to prop-up the state—as well as to ‘new’ political theology—where God’s sovereignty always exceeds and thus keeps the state in check. It seeks, rather, to raise the question of the foundations of political sovereignty not by out-rightly affirming that God is sovereign, but by exploring the implications and possibilities of thinking about God without sovereignty. It therefore determines to articulate what is called a ‘radical political theology.’ To arrive at a radical political theology, the study considers the contributions of the American philosopher of religion, John D. Caputo. It begins with the origins of Caputo’s philosophical development in the thought of Martin Heidegger, before turning to his creative theological appropriation of the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Through Derrida, Caputo develops an original approach to theology that emphasizes a God who is ‘weak,’ not a divine omnipotent Being and without sovereignty. He formulates a ‘theology of event’ or ‘radical theology’ where God is devoid of all authoritarian power, strength, and authority, and instead is better thought of as a ‘weak force,’ a name for what he calls an ‘event.’ The event is an interruption into the order of things for which one cannot be prepared. God, as a name for an event is an unexpected and disruptive force, which calls on us to be expectant for the infinite possibility of transformation and hope for a world that could always be otherwise. A God without sovereignty, therefore, is not simply a God without power, but rather God’s power is re-inscribed as a ‘weak force’ that lays claim on us. The study then considers what Caputo calls radical theology’s theo-poetics, offered as an alternative to classical theo-logic. The latter describes a mode of theological reflection that is still keyed into the logics of divine Being, while the former is a poetical discourse that gives voice to ‘events.’ Finally, as a conclusion and an answer to the challenge of articulating a radical political theology, the study proposes that the discourse of theo-poetics provides the discursive resources of a radical political theology that can imagine God without sovereignty. With this answer the study will have made a novel contribution in two important ways: first it will have provided an original alternative to contemporary political-theological reflection with respect to the democratic question of theological foundations. Secondly, since Caputo’s thought generally operates in the fields of theology and continental philosophy of religion, this study will have made a significant claim for the status of his work to be considered as a ‘political theology.’

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Soewereiniteit is ‘n begrip wat die grondslag lê vir die vorming van ‘n demokratiese samelewing in sover as wat dit die beginsel omskryf dat ‘n nasie of ‘n volk die ‘reg’ of die ‘mag’ het om te besluit oor hulle eie aksies sonder dwang. Dit is te danke aan die ‘politieke teologie’ van die invloedryke Duitse teoretikus, Carl Schmitt, dat hierdie definisie beide histories en teologies afgelei word van die idee van ‘n ‘soewereine God’. Binne die konteks van die kontemporêre ‘krisis van demokrasie,’ word die idee van soewereiniteit steeds óf geminag óf misbruik, en gevolglik is dit nodig om die ‘teologiese grondslag’—of die politieke teologie—van soewereiniteit te bevraagteken. Politieke-teologiese refleksie oor die konsep van soewereiniteit, veral in Suid-Afrika, gee gehoor daaraan dat die soewereiniteit van God bevestig moet word, nie om ‘n teokratiese misbruik van mag te regverdig nie, maar juis om alle eisers van absolute mag te relativeer. Dit volstaan dus by die teologiese siening dat God soewerein is, sonder om noodwendig legitimiteit aan die staat te gee. Hierdie studie bied ‘n andersoortige benadering tot ‘ou’ politieke teologie—waar God se soewereiniteit gebruik word om die staat te bekragtig—sowel as ‘nuwe’ politieke teologie—waar God se soewereiniteit altyd die mag van die staat oorskrei en dus staatsmag kan reguleer. Die studie poog eerder om die grondslag van politieke soewereiniteit te bevraagteken deur nie God se soewereiniteit as gegewe te aanvaar nie, maar deur die implikasies en moontlikhede te probeer ontgin van ‘n besinning van God sonder soewereiniteit. Dit is dus ‘n poging om ‘n ‘radikale politieke teologie’ te omskryf. Om by so ‘n radikale politieke teologie uit te kom, weeg die studie die bydraes op van die Amerikaanse filosoof van godsdiens, John D. Caputo. Dit begin met die oorsprong van Caputo se filosofiese ontwikkeling in Martin Heidegger se werk, en fokus dan op sy kreatiewe teologiese bewilliging van die Franse filosoof, Jacques Derrida. Deur Derrida, ontwikkel Caputo ‘n oorspronklike benadering tot teologie wat klem lê op ‘n ‘swak’ God, en nie ‘n alomteenwoordige goddelike Wese nie, een sonder soewereiniteit. Hy omskryf ‘n ‘teologie van gebeurtenis’ of ‘radikale teologie’ waar God sonder enige outoritêre mag, krag, of outoriteit is, en eerder aan gedink kan word as ‘n ‘swak krag,’ die naam wat hy toeskryf aan ‘n ‘gebeurtenis’. Die gebeurtenis is ‘n onverwagse onderbreking waaroor ‘n mens nie voorbereid kan wees nie. God, as ‘n naam vir ‘n gebeurtenis is ‘n onverwagse en ontwrigtende mag, wat ons oproep om met verwagting gereed te staan vir die oneindige moontlikheid van transformasie en hoop vir ‘n wêreld wat altyd anders kan wees. ‘n God sonder soewereiniteit is dus nie ‘n God sonder mag nie, maar eerder God se mag wat herskryf word as ‘n ‘swak krag’ en aan ons ‘n eis stel. Hierdie studie bestudeer dan wat Caputo noem radikale teologie se theo-poetics, wat as ‘n alternatief gebied word vir ‘n klassieke theo-logic. Die laasgenoemde beskryf ‘n wyse van teologiese refleksie wat steeds getoonset is op die logika van ‘n goddelike Wese, terwyl die eersgenoemde ‘n digterlike diskoers is wat uitdrukking gee aan ‘gebeurtenisse’. Ten slotte, om saam te vat en ‘n antwoord te bied op die uitdaging om ‘n radikale politieke teologie te omskryf, stel die studie voor dat die diskoerse van theo-poetics die nodige gesprek-gerigte hulpbronne bied van ‘n radikale politieke teologie wat God kan voorstel sonder soewereiniteit. Met hierdie gevolgtrekking sou die studie ‘n nuwe bydra gelewer het op twee belangrike terreine: eerstens sou dit ‘n oorspronklike alternatief gebied het tot kontemporêre politieke-teologiese refleksie met betrekking tot die demokratiese vraag na ‘n teologiese grondslag. Tweedens, aangesien Caputo se werk in die algemeen binne teologie en kontinentale filosofie van godsdiensfilosofie bestudeer word, sou hierdie studie ‘n wesenlike aanspraak gemaak het op die status van sy werk om as ‘politieke teologie’ beskou te kon word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105749
This item appears in the following collections: