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The Theology of the Collective: Generative Violence, Religion and Social Order

The Theology of the Collective: Generative Violence, Religion and Social Order



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Published by: caughtintheweb on Aug 05, 2009
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DRAFT ONLYSam HanThe Theology of the Collective: Generative Violence, Religion and Social OrderIntroductionIt has been quite some time, 70 years or so, since the first meetings of the College deSociologie in Paris, which included many of France’s intellectual luminaries of theinterwar period such as Georges Bataille (its main broker and public face), WalterBenjamin, Jean Wahl, Roger Caillois, Alexandre Kojeve, among others. It was herethat a bizarre field—especially by the present day academy’s scientistic standards—known as “sacred sociology” first emerged as a research programme, only to quicklydissolve into the swath of intellectual traditions past. For many of us, who have beensocialized into discrete disciplinary boundaries, “sacred sociology” seems ridiculous.But in spite of this awkward label, a sociology of “the sacred” as a legitimatesubfield of inquiring a conceptual category has not been advanced since the days of the College. Further, the discipline of sociology in the United States has not evenbeen ambivalent about this tradition. It has knowingly ignored it. There has beenonly one academic study of the College in English, written not by a sociologist but bya scholar of French studies.
 There have been at least two identifiable reasons. The first is quite obvious.Very few, if any, of the members of the College were proper sociologists. The other,and more significant, is that the more “proper” field of “religion” has superseded
Richman, Michèle H., "Sacred Revolutions Durkheim and the Collège DeSociologie." 2002. University of Minnesota Press.
DRAFT ONLY“the sacred.”
Hence, a major drawback of the latter has been a sociology of religionthat is uninformed by theology, accounting for its inability to deal with religiousphenomena on its own terms. Today, the sociology of religion is filled with ration‐choice theory and ethnographic work, a stark contrast from the theoretical work produced in the recent past by Berger and Luckmann, Bellah, and others. It has allbut forgotten the primary interest of the mature‐Durkheim, one of the discipline’sfounding fathers, who saw the crucial link between religion and social theory—thesignificance of the sacred in creating the social.This has resulted in sociology’s lackluster response to issues of violence aswell, and especially religious violence, a topic of growing importance given the levelpublic discourse surrounding global religious extremism.
This may also account forthe late reception of the work of Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben,particularly his
Homo Sacer 
which has inspired scholars across several disciplinesto take stock once again the concept of sovereign power. It is in the unlikely place of Agamben’s critique of Foucault’s later writings, that “the sacred” as an object of theoretical investigation makes its resurgence in contemporary theory.
A notable exception is the work of Michael Taussig. See Michael T. Taussig,Mimesis and Alterity : A Particular History of the Senses (New York: Routlege,1993).
The most obvious exception is the work of Mark Juergensmeyer. See Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God : The Global Rise of Religious Violence
,Comparative Studies in Religion and Society 13, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer : Sovereign Power and Bare Life
, Meridian(Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998).
DRAFT ONLY“Homo sacer” (sacred man) is a concept from Roman law, which defines it asa man “who may be killed and yet not sacrificed.” Agamben suggests that it stillplays a crucial role in contemporary politics. As he writes,An obscure figure of archaic Roman law, in which human life is included inthe juridical order [
] solely in the form of its exclusion (that is, of its capacity to be killed), has thus offered the key by which not only thesacred tests of sovereignty but also the very codes of political power willunveil their mysteries. At the same time, however, this ancient meaning of the term
presents us with the enigma of a figure of the sacred that,
before or beyond the religious
, constitutes the first paradigm of the politicalrealm of the West.
 Hence, while many scholars have spoken of the “turn to religion” in continentalphilosophy,
it may be time for a turn to “the sacred” but not to return to the hazypseudo‐mysticism of the College but to see what “the sacred” can still do forcontemporary understandings of the nexus of religion and violence. Therefore, myinterest in Agamben is not so much about biopolitics but about sacred violence,especially in the Abrahamic religions or what are alternatively called the religions of the Book, which, at least in their public personae, are
human suffering(which, one would assume includes violence). However, in light of recent historicalevents, it is impossible to ignore the violence that has been perpetrated on behalf of religion—whether the violence is in the name of the religion of American‐styledemocracy or fundamentalist monotheisms of all kinds. Consequently, there havebeen many recent efforts to critique religion‐itself based on a rather superficial
Ibid. 12. Emphasis mine.
Hent de Vries, Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Baltimore, Md. ; London: JohnsHopkins University Press, 1999).

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