The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World

Interview on this book with Taylor, at The Immanent Frame.

The Theological and the Political is strikingly original, theoretically robust, ethically sensitive, and politically resonant in a moment when so many forces are working to erode the possibilities of human flourishing. Mark L. Taylor has effected nothing less than a wholesale transformation of the discourse of theology- in deep solidarity with those who struggle with courage and dignity for a more righteous world.” Corey D. B. Walker

“In this haunted, haunting journey through poetry, philosophy, and political theory, Mark Taylor reimagines ‘the theological’ as a practice irreducibly concerned with human suffering. A much-needed negotiation of political, liberationist, and philosophical strategies, this book operates in the ‘ruins of transcendence,” where thinking is embodiment and interpretation survival – perhaps even transformation.” Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Wesleyan University

“Mark Lewis Taylor at his best! The Princeton professor of theology and culture offers here to his readers a deep, path breaking essay on our reflective relation to the divine amid the painful, perilous resistance to the earthly powers that be. A must-read for all concerned with the survival of humankind in the contemporary predicament of our planet.” Otto Maduro, Professor of World Christianity, Drew University

The Theological and the Political – On the Weight of the World is Taylor’s most philosophical statement of his theological approach. Taylor here traces how liberating spirit emerges amid the always interacting world of bodies. Taylor’s thought begins in a historical, practical social ontology. Bodies in our world come into relation at different rates of motion and rest. Yet pervading all is a labile tension between two tendencies: one, wherein changing bodies are in a mobile state of “extension,” thereby displaying a mutual intimacy and distancing of bodies that bring life and freedom; a second, wherein bodies are in “concentration,” amassing, crowding, , accumulating, obliterating, exterminating. This concentration brings death, exclusion, oppression.

Antagonisms mark human being, arising from this tension in the world’s being, especially as being concentrates – arresting and freezing bodies, sometimes as a ruling class, a constructed white “race,” a hegemonic masculinism (sexism, patriarchy), a dominant gender and sexuality, a system that is colonial or neocolonial, imperial or neoimperial. The specters of world as concentrated haunt us today in the colonizers’ “camps” (concentration camps, refugee camps), in U.S. incarceration and detention, in exploited labor, in families under aerial bombardment, in families hemmed-in by the daily grinds of poverty, in persons in torture rooms, in nature subjugated to human systems, in any person or group subordinated to others’ concentrating modes.

The arts are liberating spirit’s first stirring of resistance under antagonism. They nurture, preserve, re-forge the world’s being as extended. They reach for freedom and life. Each art image – whether a gesture, textile, décor of one’s dwelling, public marches, music, painting, song and dance, graffiti and mural, a style of walk, a body-pose – can be “the prodigious force-sign of an improbable presence irrupting from the heart of a restlessness on which nothing can be built” (J-L Nancy). The arts dream, unsettle, resist – loosening the grip of concentrated forces of capital, race, of hegemonic gender and sexual constraints, daily confinement of whatever form.

Social movements are catalyzed by these liberating art-signs, but also are necessary to embody their liberating force. Movements organize practices that shape human actions and states that are liberating. Movements protect bodies in extension, resisting concentration in all its forms. Even when social movements bring revolutionary forms of political liberation, they are always tempted to return to the non-liberating forms of concentration. Liberating spirit, thus, persists as a necessary, renewing, critical and self-critical power of social movements.