TS II. Political Theology - Ancient and Modern

Course Description: 

Carl Schmitt’s “Political Theology” is one of the most influential works of the 20th century. Its basic claim is: “All significant concept of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts”. On a truly global scale, it influenced theory, terminology and methodology of the social sciences and historiography. The course will evaluate the concept of political theology, its explanatory value, its validity and applicability.

However, Carl Schmitt was by no means the first theorist to use the term. Already in antiquity it formed part of the Hellenist tripartite theology (besides natural theology and mythical theology). Polybius and Panaitios defined it as a type of theology that serves the interest of politicians. More generally, it could be understood as a theology which is constitutive for a given political order.

Via Stoicism the concept of political theology was transmitted to the Church Fathers. While Roman thinkers such as Varro, Cicero, and Seneca insisted on the necessity of political theology to maintain public order, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Augustine refuted political theology and contrasted it with their new concept of a Christian “true religion” and “true theology”, based on revelation. This radical opposition of politics and truth, however, was not shared by all Christian theologians of the time, especially not in the East of the Empire. The struggle between Emperor and Church, the secular and the religious became one of the pivotal issues both in the Byzantine Empire and in the West.

In other words, the basic question is if a political theology can legitimately be based on the Christian creed. This question has remained with Christianity in East and West ever since. It is a key question in Machiavelli’s Discourses just as much as in Rousseau’s Social Contract. And it underlies the radical negation of all theological support for the existing powers in Thomas Müntzer and Michael Bakunin. Finally, it initiated the famous debate between Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt, who in their turn, refer back to the theological debates of late antiquity. This recurring question of the compatibility (or the opposition) of Christian theology and political legitimacy will be one of the guiding questions of the course.

Learning Outcomes: 

The students will be familiarized foundational texts as well as with the political and theological vocabulary of the Christian tradition, and its secularised consequences. They will acquire a better ability to understand modern political terminologies by learning about their historical origins. They gain the historical knowledge that is necessary for understanding present-day church-state relations, and more widely, strategies of legitimacy in different intellectual traditions of Europe.

  1. Class journals: weekly 500-550 word protocols of the class discussion to be submitted 48 hours before the next class. The format of the journals will be explained in more detail in the first session of the course. (80%)
  2. Participation: contribution to class discussion and voluntary presentations of readings. (20%)