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Introduction

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Part of the Radical Theologies and Philosophies book series (RADT)

Abstract

This chapter lays out an argument for a presuppositionless reflection upon theological thought in its context and in this way introduces the book as an attempt in pursuit of a radical critical theology. It considers the (1)method, (2)content, and (3) scope of this book: a critical reading of Bonhoeffer’s social theology in Sanctorum Communio from the perspective of Žižek’s materialist theology in order to tease out the assumptions of the text or our understanding thereof.

This chapter is derived in part from my article ‘Critical Theology: Why Hegel Now?’ published in the International Journal of Philosophy and Theology (February 2019), available online https://doi.org/10.1080/21692327.2019.1581654.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Bultmann, ‘Die Aufgabe der Theologie in der gegenwärtigen situation’ (1933). Despite Bultmann not engaging in critical reflection of the political happenings in his wider corpus, as Gareth Jones points out in his Bultmann (1990), his Marburg address nonetheless represents a clarion call for the post-war modern theology’s occupation with reflection upon its contextual ‘existence’.

  2. 2.

    Taylor, Erring (1984).

  3. 3.

    Ward, Barth, Derrida and the Language of Theology (1995).

  4. 4.

    See also his concise “Metaphysics and Phenomenology” (1997).

  5. 5.

    See Ward (1997, pp. xl–xliii).

  6. 6.

    See Horkheimer (2002, pp. 188–243).

  7. 7.

    Yet it is important to note that Benjamin’s consideration of the theological was not isolated, for an element of Marxist recognition or identification, if not appreciation, of a revolutionary dimension to Christianity has been present ever since Engels. See Collier’s Christianity and Marxism. For a historical survey of attempts to connect the two traditions in European thought see Bentley’s Between Marx and Christ.

  8. 8.

    Examples of both engagements will be presented in the next chapter through theological engagement with Žižek. Ward skilfully charts theological implications and responses at the end of each section considering what he identifies as the key critical theory emphases: representation, history, ethics and aesthetics.

  9. 9.

    Žižek’s discussion of the implications of the book of Job ‘Subtraction, Jewish and Christian’ (2003, pp. 122–143) that will be discussed in this book is an example.

  10. 10.

    I am not advocating the abandonment of the preposition in Floyd’s thought, only the realisation of its foundation.

  11. 11.

    Cf. Sigurdson (2013, p. 5).

  12. 12.

    Cf. Ward (1997, p. xlii): ‘In our time, a space is being cleared and a time is being announced that only theological discourse can provide with a logic’. This is something to which Žižek is constantly drawing our attention—theological character as the excess or monstrous, transcendental, never submitting to an identity but rather blurring the hypostasized boundaries between them irrevocably. See Žižek (2006, pp. 68–123).

  13. 13.

    Modernity affected both the theological method and content, while, at the same time, theology critically evaluated and responded to modernity. Therefore, modern theology does not only denote a temporal category of theology, or indeed a theological character of modernity, but is also a term describing an engagement between theology and the modern. Insofar as it does not denote a mere persistence or reiteration of traditional theology in the modern era, nor an adaptation into the modern worldview, modern theology is rather to be considered as a particular example of the dialectical relationship between theology and its cultural context—the modern and theology. Likewise, Bonhoeffer’s theological thought was influenced and to some extent shaped by modernity, which affected his theological method, as well as the content of his thought. At the same time, he critically evaluated and responded to modernity.

  14. 14.

    Some examples: Bethge (1967), Dramm (2001), de Gruchy (1999), Feil (1991), Plant (2004), Dumas (1971), and Busch Nielsen et al. (2007).

  15. 15.

    This is the reference for footnote 5 on page 23 of the first volume in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works collection (DBWE). According to Richard Roberts, this also qualifies Sanctorum Communio as a classic illuminating the relation between theology and the social sciences. See Roberts (2005, pp. 375–377).

  16. 16.

    This quote is taken from Whitson Floyd’s article discussing the sustained critical reflection of Bonhoeffer’s thought.

  17. 17.

    This is seen in ‘Building Blocks for a Materialist Theology’ in The Parallax View, where Žižek not only carries forward the major conclusions concerning Christianity reached in his earlier works, but expresses new developments of ideological critique in theological terms (Žižek 2006, pp. 68–113).

  18. 18.

    In the section titled ‘Postsecularism? No thanks!’ of Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (2001, pp. 152–160), Žižek critiques Derrida and Habermas for reimagining religion as a politically compatible or servile philosophy which avoids challenging the current political or sociological makeup. Devoid of critical socio-political potential, its function is that of a fetish—to escape the uncomfortable dimensions of religion in favour of a mere thought experiment without any social consequences.

  19. 19.

    As will become clear, another contact point between them is the impact of and engagement with the social philosophy of the German idealist Georg Hegel.

  20. 20.

    Dahill also proposes her Reading from the Underside of Selfhood: Bonhoeffer and the Spiritual Formation (2009) as an example of the only (to her date) feminist reading of Bonhoeffer.

  21. 21.

    Dahill points out that Bonhoeffer’s androcentrism and gender essentiality was based on the order of creation, part ‘of unexamined inheritance, rather than intentionally developed insight’ (Dahill 2013, p. 65)—that is his. In the final part of her essay (pp. 77–83), she proposes a Bonhoefferian understanding of gender which, she argues, might have developed in the right circumstances (if he did not move into the all-male world of Finkenwalde) but developed more his earlier rejection of all orders of creation.

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Correspondence to Bojan Koltaj .

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Koltaj, B. (2019). Introduction. In: Žižek Reading Bonhoeffer. Radical Theologies and Philosophies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26094-1_1

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