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Bialecki - Against Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity” | anthrocybib

Bialecki - Against Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity” | anthrocybib

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6/18/13 11:03 AMAgainst Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity” | anthrocybibPage 1 of 10http://anthrocybib.net/2013/03/20/against-heresiologies-book-review-of-barbers-on-diaspora-christianity-religion-and-secularity/
anthrocybib
The Anthropology of Christianity Bibliographic Blog
 Against Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “OnDiaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity”
March 20, 2013
Barber, Daniel Colucciello. 2011.
On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity.
Eugene, Or. :Cascade Books.
(http://www.amazon.com/Diaspora-Christianity-Religion-Secularity/dp/1608994007)
By: Jon Bialecki (University of California, San Diego/University of Edinburgh)
When
started out, its mission was to index and disseminate academicmaterials“contributing to, or in dialogue with” the Anthropology of Christianity. In short, itwas to be a placewhere one could expect to find news – good news, if you will – of the kind of monographs and essaysthat those interested in the intersections of anthropology and Christianity would want to read. Notdo overdo the auto-critique, but this in practice has meant mainly anthropological and ethnographicworks. Some sociology, geography, and history, and even the occasional missiological text has beenincluded, but these have been the outliers. And no one has complained. This suggests that who orwhat we imagine to be ‘in dialogue’ with the Anthropology of Christianity isn’t that far reaching.This a little surprising, given the importance that outside disciplines have had on the anthropology of Christianity. While we cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim either unique, or evenexemplary, disciplinary status in this regard, the anthropology of Christianity certainly has been ‘indialogue’ with ContinentalPhilosophy. FanellaCannell (2006) starts out the introduction to her
Anthropology of Christianity
 volume by invoking Hegel, even if she holds him up as in essence asking“what difference does Christianity make,” which to Cannell was the wrong question entirely. Morerecently, there has been engagement with Continental Philosophy’s own dalliance with Paul (Bialecki2009; Engelke and Robbins 2010). Theology, too, is something that the anthropology of Christianityhas at least a theoretical map to engage with (Robbins 2006), even if its usually taken up in the formof ethnographic evidence rather than intellectual interlocutor. Yet still, this material seems to be theexception, rather than the rule.
 
6/18/13 11:03 AMAgainst Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity” | anthrocybibPage 2 of 10http://anthrocybib.net/2013/03/20/against-heresiologies-book-review-of-barbers-on-diaspora-christianity-religion-and-secularity/
I bring this up not because I want to take anyone to task for not citing or not reading eitherphilosophy or theology, or to celebrate the moments when there has been engagement with thesefields; people will cite whatever they will, and there is no knowing, really, what anyone is reading ornot reading. Rather, I want to draw attention to the anthropology of Christianity’s engagement withtheology and philosophy in order to ask how difficult it might be for the sub-discipline to have anencounter with a text that presents itself as neither philosophy or theology, while yet at the same timeunderstanding itself to be a part of both disciplines. I am speaking here of Daniel Colucciello Barber’s
On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity
 , a book that intentionally slips itself into theinterstitial cracks between those disciplines, and which is all the more difficult to pin down for itsshockingly straightforward, lucid prose. And yet despite all the difficulty in positioning his text, andfor all the distance there is in his theoretical project from the sort of meticulously ethnographic work that is the hallmark of the sub-discipline, I think that anthropologists of Christianity would do well toread Barber. I think that this is the case because Barber allows us to to have a better grasp of theontological and political stakes that are already inherent in the ‘anthropology of Christianity’ project,as the field is now constituted – and to perhaps even think of what might happen if we started doing,self consciously, what we have already been doing all along. To be specific, and acknowledging thatit will take some time to explain what this means, or why it would be important, Barber offers us away to defuse “heresiologies” without erasing Christianity, and gives us reasons to take care to seethat we are not creating a heresiology of our own.
“God, or Nature”
As said above, part of the difficulty in reading Barber is that he is neither fish not foul. A Dukegraduate who worked in Religious Studies and the Program in Literature, who has had teachingposts in philosophy and communications, who skips between quoting Yoder and citing Deleuze,there is a willing refusal to be pinned down. When he rhetorically asks himself “[f]rom what positionis this written,” he answers that he would rather “avoid the question, or at least avoid itspresuppositions.” (Barber, 146). As we will see, this is a motivated position, but one that does notallow for an easy and early recognizability.That doesn’t mean that were are dealing with a completely alien terrain, though. Barber’s politicalprogram, for instance, is thoroughly recognizable. Noting the similarity between his thought andMichael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s
Empire
(2000), Barber tells us that “what is sought is a mode of collectivity that is ‘in common’ without being thinkable in terms of a unified body, such as ‘thepeople.’ This is to say that in each case divergence is seen as central to, rather than as the ruin of,commonality.” (Barber, 144-145, footnote 43).What is interesting about Barber is not his politics, though, but how he
 gets
to his politics. Barber askswhat appears to be two different questions, questions which, for Barber, are just parallax views onthe same underlying issue. The first questions is what would it mean to have a truly diasporicChristianity; the second question is what does it mean to think of the relation between philosophyand theology – or any two other similar discourses – if one presumes a strict immanence in being? Itmay not initially seem clear why these two questions are variants of each other, but Barber’s closely
 
6/18/13 11:03 AMAgainst Heresiologies: Book Review of Barber’s “On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity” | anthrocybibPage 3 of 10http://anthrocybib.net/2013/03/20/against-heresiologies-book-review-of-barbers-on-diaspora-christianity-religion-and-secularity/
argued book makes the case in a way that cannot be easily or uncritically dismissed.The path towards uniting these two questions goes right though Baruch Spinoza, a not uncommonroute in discussions of immanence. Barber starts off his book by asking what Spinoza meant in hisdescription of substance as “God, or Nature.” Barber reads these alternate articulations of reality as
both
indicating substance, the sole and constituting entity in Spinoza’s univocal cosmology. Thismight seem to be a needless doubling, but Barber sees these two significations as not beingredundant. Rather than having God and Nature serving as fungible indexes or signs for substance,God and Nature instead are
separate
attempts to give immanence an “improper” name. These namesare improper because attempts at giving totality a completely encompassing name always fails, inthat these attempts at naming must be immanent to the totality that they name, resulting in a shortfalland a concomitant inevitable excess that escapes signification. That excess, in other words, is the partof substance that the name for substance must be embedded in for it to be possible to attempt toname substance. For Barber, these improper names are still necessary, as there is no escape frominevitability of signification. In fact, multiple improper names are necessary (even as the form of these improper names are contingent), with each improper name grasping the excess of the otherimproper name, and while each improper name also having an excess of their own.This proliferation of improper names creates circuits between God, nature, and immanence, with both God and Nature both having a relationship with immanence, and also with each other. Now,there are other ways to imagine the relationship between God, Nature, and excess, Barberacknowledges; in fact, he architectonically sketches four other paradigms that each posit differentrelations for his Spinozan triad, with each paradigm exemplified by a set of recognizable names inphilosophy. For Barber, though, each of these rival paradigms fail because they attempt to prioritizeeither theology (here standing in for God) or philosophy (here standing in for Nature), or to see oneor the other of these terms as in essence inarticulable. Only an immanence with two improper namescan allow us to grasp the whole – though the whole can never be grasped at once, and as we areimmanent in it, it can never be grasped exhaustively.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and . . . the year of the Lord’s favor”
All this, though, is prelude. The real move comes when Barber puts forward the specifics of oneparticular theological articulation: the “Christian Declaration,” an announcement of a new set of affairs, of a striving for divine perfection and a love for enemies. This announcement is like aperformative, in that these jubilee-inspired qualities are made real in the very act of theirpronouncement.Now, this is a statement that is radically egalitarian, Barber states, undoing relations of domination.Set against hierarchies, it is an “oppositional discourse,” that is not about what is, but rather about“possibilities of existence” that are yet to come (Barber, 36-37). Also, and this is an important point,due to its performative-like nature, the way that it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps, thisdecleration is capable of being given a fully
immanent
reading. Built around bringing to some otherdiscourse the good news that the other discourse lacks, the Christian Declaration is a “theology” that

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