Empire & Capital: Theological Considerations

“The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”Karl Marx

“Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream?
to dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
Julia Esquivel, “Threatened with Resurrection”

This course examines contemporary “globalization” within a conceptual field that conjoins theories of empire (and imperialism) with theories of capital (and capitalism).  We treat discussions of globalization, empire and capital within (a) some of the historical contexts from which contemporary modes of globalization have developed, and (b) some of the cultural contexts that clarify how diverse dynamics of race and gender intersect with those of class and economy.  (white racism and gender inequalities, thus, will be crucial in the study of political domination and economic exploitation.)

In unpacking the theological dimensions, the course seeks to show how Christianity has supported imperial and capitalist formations, and how it has functioned, at times, as a source of critical resistance or transformation. Special attention given to how Christian and other spiritual traditions can generate counter-imperial faith and socialist visions amid contemporary contexts of capitalism and empire.


The major antagonism foregrounded in this class is that of class struggle under conditions of current capitalism, and as reinforced and exacerbated by U.S. imperial policies seeking global sovereignty. The antagonisms of class and empire, however, are cross-cut by those of race, gender and sexuality. These as generative of antagonism are also analyzed. The relation one to another of these axes of power are treated – as they have been over the years of this course’s instruction – from the purview of Western colonization. Quijano’s notion of “the coloniality of power” is crucial for pulling together the different axes of power and opposition that generate antagonism.

As to the arts, the course argues that Christian critique and vision – appropriation of its scriptural narrative and key beliefs – require transformation into popular aesthetic messaging. Emphasis is also given to the traditions of popular art already at work in movements of peoples in struggle with Western capitalism, colonialism and imperial forms. Treatment of arpillera textiles, graffiti, song, poetry, dance, and more. Special attention to Zapatista “festivals of resistence,” and the history of Christian liberation theology’s and Protestant spiritualities’ engagement with Zapatismo.

Social movements are prominently treated both at the outset and the conclusion of the course, especially as they organize themselves amid and against immiserations of poverty and military subjugation brought on by the various fusions of capitalist an imperial forces. In the U.S., the recent “Occupy” – or better “Decolonize” – movements are examined. Particular ways that Christians can intersect with such movements is treated by engaging two key texts, Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan’s text, Occupy Religion: A Theology of the Multitude, and Taylor’s Religion, Politics and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire. Lectures treat these two books in relation to Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s notion of “the multitude” as key perspective for considering liberating social transformations. Other social movements – predating and antedating the “Occupy” movements – are also analyzed. The course ends by giving attention to particular social movements contending with imperial formations at three different sites: Puerto Rico, East Asia (the Koreas), and also from the Congo.