I’m currently working through Catholic theologian William T. Cavanaugh‘s book ((here is a listing of his bibliographic works), “Theo-Political Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism,” for a lecture I’m doing later this quarter. I cannot recommend this book enough to those of you who are doing work in the area of theology and politics. First, he suggests that politics in America requires a disciplined imagination, one where citizens respect borders, and contracts that don’t actually exist. He then traces out the historical development (in true genealogical fashion) of the nation-state as a competing soteriology to Christianity. Third, he moves on to deconstruct the idea that civil space is a neutral, or religion free, space within society, instead he makes the compelling point that civil space, or the public square (a la Neuhaus), is itself a secular theological construct. Finally, in the last chapter Cavanaugh looks to globalization not as the end of the nation-state (where the local gives way to a perceived diversity) but rather, he argues that globalization is an extension of the nation-state project which seeks to dominate the universal. Here globalization can be read as a secularized “catholicity.”At the end of every chapter Cavanaugh returns to the church and mines liturgical and sacramental resources for responding to this counter-theology.
Here’s the opening quote that captures the thrust of this book well:
Politics is a practice of the imagination. Sometimes politics is the art of the possible, but it is always an art, and engages the imagination just as art does. We are often fooled by the seeming solidity of the materials of politics, its armies and offices, into forgetting that these materials are marshalled by acts of the imagination. How does a provincial farm boy become persuaded that he must travel as a soldier to another part of the world and kill people he knows nothing about? He must be convinced of the reality of borders, and imagine himself deeply, mystically, united to a wider national community that stops abruptly at those borders. The nation-state is, as Benedict Anderson has shown, one important and historically contingent type of imagined community around which our conceptions of politics tend to gather (1).
I found the book very engaging, historically deep, theologically astute, and a much needed tool for reading the “signs of the times.” It’s especially helping in our current political atmosphere.