One of my favorite things about this whole academic world is the moment a friend’s new book arrives.
I first met Katharine Sarah Moody when we presented together at Subverting the Norm II (2013), and her reputation as scholar preceded her. We met again at a series of talks organized by Kester Brewin on radical theology featuring John Caputo and Peter Rollins at the UK Greenbelt Festival that summer. Her new book is titled Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity: Deconstruction, Materialism and Religious Practices.
Both as a theoretical exposition of Caputo and Žižek and as a practical discussion of Rollins and Brewin, the book is an impressive tour of theologies emanating from a/theistic and materialist readings of Christianity within deconstructive and psychoanalytic frameworks. She frames her goal as such: “Engaging in a close reading of Žižek’s materialist theology and Caputo’s deconstructive theology will allow me to make the case that a Caputian a/theism is the proper framework for a Žižekian fighting collective. This central claim means both that Žižek’s political community of believers in a Cause is properly a/theistic, ir/religious or faith/less and that Caputo’s philosophical a/theology is also a cultural imaginary and socio-political practice—a way of life, form of sociality, or mode of association.” (RT&EM, 1)
Three-quarters of the book is theory, primarily Žižek and Caputo but also engaging just about everyone from whom those two are working. The final quarter, with original interviews and research on Brewin’s Vaux and Rollins’s Ikon collectives, exemplifies what I appreciate most about Moody: she is a clearly gifted theoretician who manages to maintain a deep interest in the practical side of things. For those on the academic end of the spectrum, Moody makes a compelling case for the use of transformance art and suspended space. For those who are newly wading into this world of radical theology through the introduction of Rollins, Brewin, and Caputo, this book provides a remarkably accessible introduction to the theory underneath.
Moody acknowledges the potential downside of all this, namely, that these critiques and re-readings may become an apologetic for a dulled appropriation of materialism for a veiled defense of traditional theism: “While I will argue against a reading of Caputo’s radical theology of the event as simply a way to resurrect God, I also acknowledge that radical theology can be (mis)read within emerging Christian discourse as a form of negative theology designed to enable us to discover the God beyond the ‘God’ of idolatry and ideology.” (8) As you can see, her critique is not an apology for those misreadings but instead a confrontation with those who are reading more complex material as a way to secure clandestine theism. The conclusion of the book returns to this question with an even-handed discussion of precisely these questions coming after the STN2 conference: first, is it possible that what we are actually talking about is a “radical theology lite” that betrays the aims and academic rigor of Altizer and the like, and second, doesn’t any theology that “works” in actually-existing religious communities already signal, by the very fact of its welcome reception, that it isn’t all that radical anyway? Though I firmly support the work of Caputo, Žižek, Rollins, and Brewin, I think the concerns are legitimate and certainly worth discussing (as does Moody along with these writers). She presents a very fair treatment of these question for the reader newly initiated into this world of materialist and post-theistic readings of Christian theology. Put differently, this paragraph is my way of saying that Moody has waded into murky and theoretically contested waters, and she presents a case that diverging perspectives will appreciate.
To that end, Moody desires to see more research on long-term effects: “My exploration of the radical elements within emerging Christian discourse suggests that there is potential for a concrete movement to gather around this religious turn in radical political and social thought and that it might be possible for ir/religious collectives to join in with others in such an endeavour. However, the effectiveness of any emerging Pauline practices of suspension has yet to be documented.” (237)
Order it from Amazon or your local bookstore. When you consider this book encompasses material normally taking 10 books to adequately cover, I say it’s a bargain. This should become the book for understanding relationships between "actually-existing" Christianity and it's more radical readings.
* The big Other demands I tell you that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.