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Disquiet over the prevalence of social and economic individualism has a long history. In a world of mobile Capital and increasingly mobile people, communities of common tradition and locality appear to be under threat from the advent of a fragmented market society. Are these complaints against individualism justified? And crucially, how should Christians respond to them? Digging down into the substance of these questions, this project will consider the theological, liturgical and scriptural resources Christians have for understanding the notion of individualism in relation to issues of education, public life and the formation of democratic citizenship.

  1. Postliberalism, Individualism and Society What Next for Individualism? 

     

Context of the Conference: New Solutions to an Old Problem?

...I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each of them withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland. (692)

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


 In Democracy in Ame rica, Alexis de Tocqueville argues that liberal cultures are always in danger of social disintegration, on account of their citizenry. Faced with public lethargy and rampant consumerism, de Tocqueville feared the collapse of politics into inward-looking colonies of individuals who are indifferent to the state of their communities. In recent years de Tocqueville’s analysis has found a fresh hearing among political theologians eager to explore the failures of liberal democracy. In an effort to assert the countercultural status of the Gospel, Stanley Hauerwas, Charles Matthewes, and John Milbank, among others, have challenged Christians to expose the endemic selfishness and hedonism of contemporary culture. According to these thinkers, key to such disclosure is the conscientious excavation of distinctly Christian models of political engagement. At the heart of this enterprise is the promise of an explicitly post-liberal politics in which communal authority is prioritised over individual identity.

This conference brought together political theologians, philosophers, activists and Christian ethicists to explore the significance of individualism for contemporary believers, in a variety of theological, ethical and cultural contexts. Those interested in the intersection between politics, economics and theology are particularly welcome to attend. 

Call for Papers

In both Britain and the United States, political, legal and economic culture has been shaped in significant ways by individualistic accounts of the human being. This fact raises significant issues for political theology. How should political theologians respond to the highly individualistic orientation of both politics and society? Are liberal societies doomed to selfish insularity or are their positive legacies to be gleaned from liberal theory and practice? This conference explored these issues through the lens of postliberal politics. Comprising a rich array of Burkean, socialist and Communitarian strands, the postliberal turn offers a provocative alternative to the prevailing political language of public neutrality, individual rights and procedural pluralism. In Britain such alternatives have made significant in-roads into political discourse in the form of Red Toryism on the Right and Blue Labour on the Left.

 Participants are invited to submit paper proposals in the following areas:

• Autonomy in the Christian tradition

• Individualism and Culture

• Individualism and Liberal Theology

• Self and Ego in theology and politics

• Christian encounters with political liberalism

• Christian approaches to Capitalism and global trade

• Radical Orthodoxy and Christian anthropology

• Christianity and consumerism

• Keynesianism and Political Theology

• Christian responses to Thatcherism

• Christian responses to notions of limited-government.

 

To play audio files, please click on image

 

Discussion Panels  

Should Schools Teach Children to be Individuals?

Chair: Dr Peter Humphreys

Should Schools Teach Children to be Individuals? (LTI Postliberalism, Individualism and Society) by Ben Wood on Mixcloud

 

Dr Peter Humphreys is a graduate of the Universities of Liverpool, Reading, University College London and University of Wales: Lampeter. Now early retired for health reasons, he has worked on applied research issues, as researcher, commissioner and manager, for Queens University Belfast, the Equal Opportunities Commission (Manchester) and the Ins titute of Public Administration (University College Dublin), as well as the EU and UN. His primary focus has been upon equality/discrimination issues. Since retirement, he has qualified in Theology and Church History, which he currently teaches for the Congregational Federation and University of Winchester.

Revd Gary is a Methodist Presbyter and theological educator with circuit experience in Leeds and Leicester. Previous roles included Tutor in Mission Studies at United College of the Ascension, and connexional officer for Formation in World Mission, working across the UK and internationally in developing cross-cultural learning partnerships. He has been active in international partnership work since teenage years. Gary has published papers and articles on practical theology and digital technologies.  A former editor of The Merton Journal, Gary has regularly published, lectured and led retreats on the life and work of Thomas Merton. He is currently pursuing Doctoral research into the meaning of Actors and Bystanders in Thomas Merton. Several of Gary's papers are available at: http://www.scribd.com/garyh_58 Gary continues as a preacher, worship leader and pastor, amateur musician and explorer.

 Dr Esther McIntosh gained a PhD in philosophy and theology at the University of Aberdeen. After several years lecturing in medical ethics, feminist ethics, feminist theology and the philosophy of religion at Leeds University, she took up a research post at York St John University where she is currently a Lecturer and Managing Editor of the International Journal of Public Theology. She is a John Macmurray scholar and a feminist theologian. 

Her research interests span philosophical theology, philosophy of religion, ethics, gender studies and public theology. In particular, she is concerned with the concept of the person and with the ethics of personal relations, especially in response to feminism and religious pluralism. She publishes in both philosophy and theology and is author of John Macmurray’s Religious Philosophy: What It Means to be a Person (Ashgate, 2011). Her most recent publication is ‘Why We Need the Arts: John Macmurray on Education and the Emotions’, Educational Philosophy and Theory (forthcoming, 2014) and she is currently working on ‘social media and the concept of church’.

 

Grace Robinson is a philosophy teacher, trainer and consultant. She founded Thinking Space in 2008 believing that philosophical dialogue and enquiry can help people think and communicate their thinking more clearly. Grace is an accredited SAPERE trainer and an associate of the Philosophy Foundation – both the leading UK charities promoting philosophical enquiry with children and young people.

She is also a Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds where she teaches philosophy and applied ethics. In 2012 she set up ‘Leeds Philosophy Exchange‘ a module on philosophy with children that places undergraduate students in local schools alongside teachers trained to facilitate philosophical enquiry. Grace is currently studying for a doctorate in Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education, at University of London on the role of narrative in moral education.

John Pugh MP was elected as the member for Southport succeeding Ronnie (now Lord) Fearn in 2001. Born in Liverpool, he graduated in Philosophy from Durham University before entering the teaching profession. He taught in the state and independent sectors and was Head of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby prior to his election.

 

In his first term at Westminster John served on the Transport, Local Government and Regions Select Committee and was Liberal Democrat education spokesperson with responsibility for schools.Following his re-election to Parliament in 2005, he served as shadow spokesperson for Transport and Health, and, subsequent to the election of Nick Clegg as party leader worked with Vince Cable as Shadow Treasury spokesperson. With the formation of the Coalition in 2010 he was appointed as Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Health and Social Care, a position he relinquished at the end of 2013 to focus on producing a report examining the social and economic issues facing the North.

 

Is Individualism Bad for Christian Engagement in Politics? 

Chair: Professor Peter Scott

 

Dr Dave Landrum has been director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance since June 2011, when he joined the Evangelical Alliance from his previous role as parliamentary officer for the Bible Society. He has a first-class degree in contemporary politics and urban policy studies and a doctorate in politicsand policy process in education.

Derek McAuley is originally from Northern Ireland. He was educated at Queen's University of Belfast (BSSc in Political Science and Economics) and the University of Liverpool (MA in Welfare Organization and Management). He worked in local government and then the National Health Service for over 23 years before joining the General Assembly in 2009.He has a keen interest in corporate governance and risk. He was a National Council member of the Institute of Healthcare Management and is a member of the Chartered Management Institute. He is a member of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester and a trustee of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association.

Dr Benjamin Wood  gained his BA in Theo logy and Religious Studies in 2007 from the University of Leeds. While an undergraduate he engaged in with Student Politics, representing the LU LGBT Society at NUS Conferences in 2005 and 2006. He worked on a number of society projects including supporting students with disa bilities and improving dialogue between LGBT students and the Leeds Christian Union. He continyed at Leeds gaining an MA by Research in 2009. His research focused on the relationship between Spinoza’s Pantheistic Theology and Post-Christian Feminist Ethics. After gaining his PhD in 2013, he moved to Manchester to take up the post of Research Associate at the Lincoln Theological Institute. He is presently the lead researcher of on the LTI project What Next for Individualism? Issues for Political Theology and Public Life. He is fascinated by the intersection of Christian faith and liberal-secular culture, in particular theological conceptions of political citizenship.

 

 

 

Is Individualism Bad for Christian Engagement in Politics? by Ben Wood on Mixcloud

The discussion begins 6 minutes in.

Keynote Abstracts 

Professor Philip Booth (IEA): Community, not collective: Catholic Social Teaching and the Common Good

Catholic social teaching does not generally support statist and collectivist solutions to economic policy. However, there is legitimate dispute, amongst people who debate these issues, as to the appropriate role of the state in economic and social life that is justified by the Catholic tradition of social teaching. These debates can be mirrored in other Christian denominations. In his talk, Philip Booth will make the case for a broadly free economy. He will argue that this is not an individualist stance but recognition of the limits to positive political action in bringing about the common good. In order to promote the family, the community and society the maximum space needs to be left for voluntary action so that individuals, families and groups can come together for a common purpose. There are those that argue that such a settlement with a small role for government will lead to a radically individualistic society. However, Philip Booth will argue that this is essentially a moral problem and not a political one and that attempts to use the political sphere of influence have tended to promote individualism and undermine community. This is especially true in the field of welfare and finance.

 

Bio: Philip is presently the Director of Programmes at the Institute for Economic Affairs AND Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. Previously, Previously, Philip worked for the Bank of England as an advisor on financial stability issues.

 

David Goodhart (Demos)  Postliberalism in a Cold Climate

Postliberalism in a Cold Climate (David Goodhart, Demos) by Ben Wood on Mixcloud

What is post liberalism? Hard to define it except in comparative way: absorbing best of/dealing with failings and silences of 1980s market liberalism and 1960s social-cultural liberalism. For those who come to it from the left it is above all a debate within the 1960s—separating what was good, the advance of female/race equality etc, with the “emancipatory” urge to reject all authority and tradition and duty which helped to create many of the social pathologies that we are only now recovering from.

Modern liberalism with its agreement to disagree is an ideology for a society with a low level of moral and political consensus. But it also has a very clear view of the good life which turns out to be something that looks very like the life of today’s metropolitan upper professional—well educated people who leave home at 18 go to good universities, enjoy mobile careers, move to London or abroad for a few years, have “achieved” identities based on exam and career success, and urge this social and geographical mobility on everyone else. But it is not possible for everyone to live this life and it sets up too many people to fail. Indeed the gap that has opened up between the secular, liberal, graduate baby boomer worldview that dominates our party, governmental and social institutions and the political and psychological intuitions of the ordinary citizen is the new cultural/class divide in Britain. The liberal graduate elite tends to be universalistic, suspicious of most kinds of group or national attachment, and individualistic, committed to autonomy and self-realisation. Such liberals might care about social justice but, as the American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has pointed out, they don’t “get” what most other people also get—loyalty, authority and the value of stability and continuity in communities. Most people are post liberals yet this is an inhospitable environment for post liberalism, and getting more so thanks to the helper-skelter expansion of higher education and the rise and rise of London. But there are some reasons to be cheerful….

                 

Evening Lecture: Professor Ron Dart: George Grant (1918-1988):Individualism, Red Toryism and the Good

George Grant is considered, by many, to be one of the most significant public intellectuals in Canada in the latter half of the 20th century. Grant thought that at the heart of liberalism was a fusion of liberty, individualism and power, and much of his thinking attempted to unfold what this enfolding meant for theology, philosophy and public life. Grant tracked and traced the origins, development and modern forms of liberalism as it fanned out in different directions. But, he always returned to the inner core of liberalism and examined its appeal yet limitations. Grant was often called a Red Tory for the simple reason he drew from the best of the right and left but transcended the tribalism of both traditions. Grant articulated, from his earliest to his later writings, a notion of the Platonic Good (Simone Weil being his Diotima in many ways—Iris Murdoch was his lesser light) that informed and shaped his understanding of both the individual and community, national and global politics—it was this higher notion of the Good that acted like a moral and metaphysical beacon and lighthouse for Grant. This lecture will begin with an overview of Grant’s life, discuss his idea of “intimations of deprival”, “enucleation”, “enfolding” and “unfolding”, then reflect on his unpacking of such terms as individualism, Red Toryism and the Good.

 

Postliberalism and the Left (Lord Stewart Wood and Professor Peter Scott in Conversation)

The LTI was pleased to invite Lord Stewart Wood to Postliberalism, Individualism and Society. At the time of the recording, Stewart was Shadow Minister without Portfolio and a strategic adviser to Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party. He became a life Peer in 2011. Stewart is trained academic with practical experience of front-line politics and policy development. From 1995, he taught politics as a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford University, and his publications focused on welfare and economic policy in Europe and North America, as well as constitutional reform and public policy in the UK. Stewart was a special adviser to the Chancellor on the Treasury’s Council of Economic Advisers (2001-2007) and a special adviser on FCO, DCMS matters and Northern Ireland at No10 for Prime Minister Gordon Brown (2007-2010).

 

Postliberalism and the Left (Lord Stewart Wood, Professor Peter Scott by Ben Wood on Mixcloud

Wayne Morris (University of Chester) Individualism or Interdependence? In search of more complex models of society from disability perspectives

 

The notion of the ‘individual’ has had an ambivalent role in disability studies and theologies for the past thirty years and more. On the one hand, the mantra of the disability movement from the 1980s onwards was ‘nothing about us without us’ – a criticism of paternalistic attitudes and practices towards people with disabilities. Instead, it was argued, people with disabilities should have the right to make decisions about their own lives, to live independently, and to participate in society equally alongside everyone else. On the other hand, such an approach has been criticised. Theological discourses written in conversation with the lives and experiences of people with profound intellectual disabilities have argued that all life is contingent and limited. It is proposed that the ‘anthropology of liberal citizenship’ (Reinders, 2008) that emphasises the rights of the individual, as the place in which human well being is located, is deeply problematic for people who can never live their lives independently and autonomously. This paper will explore this literature and propose that disability studies and theologies must move beyond simplistic dichotomies of individualism versus interdependence if we are to take seriously the complexity and multiplicity of the lives and experiences of people that a label like ‘disability’ is used to include.

 

Paper Abstracts

Dylan Pahman, Orthodoxy and Ordered Liberty

This paper is a constructive engagement with the principles of religious, political, and economic liberty from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Outside of environmental theology, very little has been written on the subject of Orthodox social thought. The account of freedom offered herein serves to fill one space in this lacuna, with an eye toward the American tradition of ordered liberty, by fleshing out a social application of Orthodox theological anthropology, the distinction between the image and likeness of God, the two freedoms (autexousio and eleutheria) that correspond to them, and asceticism and theosis, in particular.

The affirmation of the individual autonomy that all human persons have by virtue of the imago Dei must be ordered toward the freedom that corresponds to conformity to the divine likeness, viz. freedom from passion and sin, through the synergy of divine grace and human effort in theosis and asceticism, respectively. Beginning with the family, the most basic societal group, I examine, in turn, the concepts of religious, political, and economic liberty through the lens of Orthodox theological anthropology. As there is so little reflection on this subject in Orthodox circles in recent years, despite growing interest in Eastern Christianity in general, the goal of this paper is twofold: (1) to contribute to a broader conversation about Orthodoxy and liberty in society and (2) to introduce avenues of future research into potential insights from Orthodox Christian anthropology for political theory more broadly.

 Author Bio: Dylan Pahman is a research associate at the Acton Institute where he works as assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. A contributing editor at Ethika Politika and a fellow of the Sophia Institute, he received his Masters in Theological Studies with a concentration in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. He also writes regularly on Christian spirituality at www.everydayasceticism.com.

 

 Rob Wheway: Only Humans Would Invent The Offside Rule

Children develop sophisticated agreement–making skills. For any group activity to happen they have to get together to agree what each will do, who are the goodies and who the baddies, or who is on which team, who is 'on' at hide and seek or tag. They set rules by themselves, without parental or outside authority imposing them. They learn to abide by those collectively agreed rules even when the immediate effect on the individual is a loss. Being ‘on’ when you are caught, giving up when you are seen (hide and seek), carrying on fielding when you are out and the next person is batting, all require a commitment to the group above naked selfishness. Liberals commitment to the rights of the individual and that “none shall be enslaved by conformity” crucially depend on collective decisions such as a human rights, independent judiciary, freedom of speech. Contrary to popular Christian assumptions, Government can influence levels of neighbourliness.  Road layouts effect how parents “keep an eye out” for each other’s children. Treating people as customers discourages collective activity and disempowers whereas being citizens encourages collective action and is empowering.  The “Big Society” failed because it confused neighbourliness with contractible service delivery.

 Author Bio: Rob Wheway is a member of the Liberal Institute. Previously, he has been a Liberal Councillor in Coventry City and Wyre Forest District and held elected national office in the Liberal Party.

 

 Tim Stacey, Postliberalism and plurality – making it happen in the real world.

Post-liberalism and plurality may sound like an afterthought. We know the solution, now let’s see how it would work. In fact, the question of post-liberalism is the question of plurality: without answering this question, post-liberalism is either hegemonic, or nothing – or so this paper will claim, before seeking to provide a response to the question, grounded in empirical. The paper begins by returning to the philosophical roots of post-liberalism, and pointing out its critique of a key liberal idea: irreconcilable plurality. It traces how this idea moved into political philosophy, and then politics, policy, practice and personhood. It demonstrates the key question for post-liberalism is what it would look like for real people in pluralist settings. The paper then offers findings from an ethnographic study of community groups in London, revealing the nuanced ways in which such groups simultaneously uphold, subvert, and offer new life to post-liberal ideas.

 Author Bio: Tim Stacey is a PhD Candidate and Research Assistant at the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London. He can be reached at t.stacey@gold.ac.uk

 

Dr Rachel Muers, Conscience Among Friends: Conscientious Objection, Individualism and the Social

In the approach to the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, we have seen renewed interest in the ethics and politics of conscientious objection to military service. But what theological and political frameworks should we use to talk about ‘conscientious objection’, and what can conscientious objection – specifically, objection to military service on the basis of religious convictions – tell us about the relationship between individual freedom, Christianity and the common good? Is conscientious objection about the confrontation between inviolable and un-reasonable individual conviction, on the one hand, and historically unavoidable “reasons of state” on the other – a dramatic playing-out of the limits of a liberal settlement with religion? By looking at the theological and political history of Quaker conscientious objection in Britain, and in dialogue with Locke and Hegel among others, I outline a theological account of conscientious objection that frames it as a challenge both to an individualism based on the marginalisation of religious commitment, on the one hand, and a theological rejection of liberal politics, on the other.

Author Bio: Rachel Muers came to Leeds in 2007. She studied Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge, and held the Margaret Smith Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge from 2001 to 2003. She was then Lecturer in Theology at the University of Exeter from 2003 to 2007. Her academic interests and major publications centre around the relationships between modern Christian doctrine, feminist thought and ethics

 

Paul Bickley Churches and the post-liberal moment

There has been a long historical association between the British left and the Christian tradition. Amongst many tensions and contradictions, there have been moments of genuine convergence - the post-liberal turn is usually thought to represent an opportunity for the latter. That historical association is usually thought of as a matter of transferred ideas (human dignity and equality, compassion for the poor) and shared personnel (from Kier Hardie to Gordon Brown) but churches as living, local communities, have not been seen as having any particular significance for the politics of the left. Yet, in Augustinian thinking, the Church itself is the only authentically political society, a foretaste of the heavenly city - what the Church is, is more important than what churches think.  This paper will draw on ethnographic studies of local congregations, conducted by Theos for the Church Urban Fund, exploring contemporary resonances between post-liberal politics and the tangible life of churches in areas of high social deprivation. I will argue that, if post-liberal politics is to be anything other than a political mood, then it will have to provide space for the revival of genuine forms of association, and that churches are an essential engine of a ‘real’, local, embedded post-liberal politics.

Author Bio: Paul Bickley is the Director of Political Programme for Theos and co-author, with Sam Tomlin, of the Theos/Sports Think Tank report Give us our Ball Back: Reclaiming Sport for the Common.   

 

James King, The Radical Orthodox Necessity of Politics

This paper contends that the Radical Orthodox view of creation presented in John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory makes politics a necessary task for the Christian, departing from views of, e.g., Hauerwas or Yoder, whose anti-politics fit more easily within the modern state. Given Milbank’s insistence on the social creation of reality (theologically construed as human co-creation), Christ’s inbreaking and the subsequent irruption and reformation of society by the church are properly said to occur at the level of the social whole.  This ramifies expectedly into requiring a visible church and encouraging political and social engagement, but also can be seen to foreclose political options available to traditional accounts of Christ’s work that stress the cosmic and transcendent.  For example, both Hauerwas’ ‘peasant posture’ and Yoder’s eschatological patience rely for their meaning on reference to Christ’s transcendent victory yet to be manifest.  Neither, however, meaningfully impinges on society; both fail to (co-)create a true human world.

We see then that political engagement is necessary for the Radical Orthodox project, in Milbank’s formation.  Interestingly, while Yoder and Hauerwas join Milbank in their critique of the modern state, Milbank’s position arguably offers the strongest challenge to contemporary politics.  While either offers a powerful reconceptualisation of the political, not least in their arguing for politics outwith the state, the private convictions both encourage fit within the modern state’s expectations of citizens.  Engagement with the political, with the impulse required by Milbank’s first philosophical choices, is more likely to challenge the state (though current Radical Orthodox policy proposals are not the only ones necessarily to follow). 

Author Bio: James King is presently studying for his PhD at the University of Aberdeen 

 

Ian Geary, Reflections on Liberal and Postliberal Politics

Ian's Paper can be read here: http://www.christiansontheleft.org.uk/reflections_on_post

This paper assesses the meaning of post-liberalism. Generally, it recognises that economic and social liberalism has reached a nadir; and specifically it identifies that the UK is increasingly fragmented and faces a crisis of inequality and identity which secular liberalism is incapable of dealing with. In this context the paper explores some of the contemporary problems in UK politics signified most notably by the spike in support for UKIP, and ponders the opportunities for a post-liberal politics predicated in the politics of a common good, rooted in a Christian worldview that seeks to construct a generous polity lived out in the belief that the future for the UK centre-left is post-secular, post-liberal and pro-faith’

 

Dr. Peter C. Humphreys, The rise and fall of Congregationalism in Dublin or how not to survive in a theocracy 

Religious (Christian) Dissent in Dublin can be regarded as diverse and often contradictory in theology and governance; from extremely ‘liberal’ to deeply ‘conservative’. Compared to the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, however, it has been comparatively under-explored in historical and political contexts. This paper takes a case-study approach of one ‘independent’ tradition. Drawing upon a analysis of unpublished Church records, secondary sources in the public domain, as well as direct personal testimony and engagement, this paper analyses both the dramatic rise largely in the 19th Century and equally dramatic demise of Congregationalism in Dublin during the 20th Century. As each ‘church’ is independent of another, it is unsurprising that Congregationalism in Dublin often differed from that in the North of Ireland (including Donegal). It was often seen as “more liberal” in its approach to Church engagement and theology.  It tended to look East rather than North for pulpit supply and support. Links with Liverpool were stronger than Belfast. Support for the then Liberal Party was strong.

Perhaps it is also not difficult to see how a ‘liberal’ tradition that valued ‘the priesthood of all believers’; the independence of the ‘gathered church’; the authority of Scripture and the significance of the Church Meeting, might find stony soil amongst Ireland’s majority population, equally committed to the teachings of the Papacy and the primacy of Episcopalian governance. In the 20th Century, combined with a new ‘Free State’ Government, which was deeply allied with Catholic dogma, did such a person-based approach to salvation and democratic governance prove too much for survival? Ironically, there is evidence that ‘conservative’ evangelical and extremely ‘liberal’ fellowships are growing now. From a Dissenter perspective, the middle, ‘liberal’ ground continues to shrink. Are there lessons to be drawn here?

 

Emilio Di Somma, Freedom from, Freeedom For: Benedetto Croce’s Social Liberalism

Since the fall of Soviet Union the liberal ideal/political project has turned more and more into its liberist/libertarianist version. Society, understood purely in economic terms, has become a battlefield of personal utilitarian interests and the citizens are more and more interpreted as consumers in the most individualistic sense. Of course such a development has provoked a reaction and rejection of such a state of things. Therefore we see today thinkers and theologians like Charles Taylor John Milbank, among others, who seek and promise an explicitly post-liberal politics in which communal authority is prioritized over individual identity.Instead of taking sides in this dichotomy pushed to the extremes, I suggest a return to the roots of the liberal thinking, to explore those paths that have not been considered and have been pushed aside during the ideological conflict between liberalism and communism in the Cold War era, and individualism and communitarianism today.

Benedetto Croce’s social liberalism represents a critical starting point inside the liberal political current. A starting point in which freedom is the highest criterion for new forms of political action that are able to take into account that both individuality and sociality are intrinsic, necessary aspects of human life. This lead Benedetto Croce to affirm that a true liberal project, both in politics and society, aims to realize in a concrete way the most possible human freedom and creativity that is possible in the given condition; this means to take a liberal or socialist action in response to the specific needs of the given historical and social condition. But even terms like liberalism or socialism, when applied in a political category that has freedom as the highest criterion, lose any ideological value to become useful instruments of a healthy and moral political activity that takes into account the practical problem that can hinder the project of freedom. This means, for Benedetto Croce, to really adopt a truly moral political stance, as: Every other kind of justice, that tries to apply exclusively in every situation one of the two extremes is a utopic one, and, as impossible to realize, is not a moral one, because morality cannot be found in the nothingness but only in the practical. 

Author Bio: Emilio Di Somma is presently a Doctoral student at the University of Aberdeen in the Dpartment of Divinity. He is undertaking a project entitled "Normativity: Nature, Narrative and Nihilism" under the supervision of Dr. Philip G. Zieger and Dr. Christopher C. Brittain.

 

Dr Jonathan Chapin, Embodiment, relationality and individuality in the thought of Rowan Williams

Much contemporary Christian social thought contains a strong critique of an individualistic anthropology and social theory and displays a pronounced preference for notions of community, solidarity, interdependence, and ‘persons-in-relation’. Insofar as Christian social theorists offer any theoretical account of individuality at all, they tend to do so in terms of a polemical contrast between -­ as Jacques Maritain among others framed it - the ‘person’ (celebrated as always already embedded in and constituted by relationships) and the ‘individual’ (censured as solitary, self-enclosed, always prone to cut loose). Solidaristic or communitarian models of personhood, however, evoke the question of what remains of responsible individual agency, especially when – as in prophecy – it is exercised against community or in breach of (corrupting) relationships. The paper explores this question in conversation with Rowan Williams. Williams proposes the outlines of what will be termed an ‘embodied-personalist’ anthropology that aims to blend a theology of the common priestly vocation of humanity, a familiar notion of persons-in-relation, and a striking emphasis on the inescapable bodily location of personhood. While the latter emphasis helps repair a serious deficiency in much previous Christian social thought, his ‘embodied personalism’ still needs more robust accounts both of individual agency and of communal plurality.

Author Bio: Dr. Jonathan Chaplin is the first Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, a position he took up in September 2006. He is Member of the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, and was Visiting Lecturer at the VU University, Amsterdam from 2007-2011

 

Dr Roger Haydon Mitchel, Individuals: our autonomous selves or the loved others? A theopolitical perspective

This paper identifies two trajectories informing our understanding of the human individual. These are traced in accord with Linda Woodhead’s description of the two main trajectories of the Christian repertoire, one sponsoring, sup­porting, and legitimating modes of power from on high, the other af­firming and supplying possibilities of support from below. The first of these is shown to give rise to an understanding of the individual as the autonomous actor while the second presents the individual as the loved other. Indicating the first of these viewpoints as the progeny of the partnership of the church with sovereign power, the paper will characterise autonomy as the individualisation of sovereignty in the cause of a hoped for universal peace. It will be suggested that the autonomous individual is actually the raw material of the consequential capitalist economics, or biopower. As the necessary means to human survival within the Western neo-liberal eschatological vision, individual autonomy will be characterised as synonymous with naked life.

The second trajectory will then be presented in terms of a mainly displaced subalternate genealogy of the counterpolitics of Jesus, rooted in the Hebrew prophetic tradition, that the crisis of neo-liberal individualism provides the opportunity to rediscover. The paper will proffer love for the other with its full expression in love for one’s enemy at the cost of one’s life, or kenarchy, as the reversal of Carl Schmitt’s configuration of Western sovereignty around the friend/enemy distinction. In so doing it will signal a crucial intersection with neo-Marxist desire, as expressed in thinkers like Alain Badiou and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, of the centrality of love in the ongoing life and survival of the multitude. 

 

Dr Benjamin Wood: Reading Mill and Forster in Church: Liberal Politics and Stanley Hauerwas in Dialogue

Throughout his theological career Stanley Hauerwas has struggled against the intrusion of liberal politics into the self-governing domain of Christian ethics. By castigating liberalism for its lack of commitment to virtue, truthfulness and self-sacrifice, Hauerwas makes a firm demarcation between the practices of the liberal polity and the mission of the Church. Is such a separation theologically defensible? In an effort to construct an unfamiliar reading of Hauerwas, the following article examines underexplored areas of resemblance between liberal and Hauerwasian ethics.

Through a comparative reading of the liberalisms of J.S. Mill (1806– 1873) and E.M. Forster (1879– 1970) the following argument retrieves a neglected form of liberal politics which in many respects, conforms to the structure of Hauerwas’ radical description of Christian discipleship. In Mill’s commitment to truth and Forster’s commitment to love to the point of death, both men underscore the vivid Christian legacies from which key strands of liberal ethics spring. This offers a significant yet creative challenge to the Hauerwasian reception of liberal politics, Instead of understanding the Church as an isolated colony bounded against non-Christian culture, Mill and Forster challenge Hauerwas to consider the liberal polity as both the child and responsibility of the Church.