This chapter investigates the political theology of development in South Korea through an analysis of trends in popular and media culture in the context of its unique circumstances vis-à-vis modernity, which scholars have dubbed ‘compressed modernity’. It focuses on the cultural production of ‘development citizenship’, which demands self-reliance and resilience for the sake of national development. It argues that the recent upsurge in discourse and media associated with solitude, including reality TV programs on living alone, mukbang (a portmanteau, which translates to ‘eating broadcast’), and drinking alone, serves to prioritise the concerns of the nation and its agenda for development through methods that can be understood as both theological and mediatised.
Shaping the body-politic via institutional charisma
This chapter investigates the religiopolitical nexus innervating the genesis of socio-political modernity by challenging Eurocentric benchmarks and bias. It does so by employing methodologies of historical sociology with the help of a critical reconstruction of categories of social theory. One of the primary fields of historical sociology concerns how the modern state has emerged and taken form since the Late Middle Ages. The chapter studies the process through the lenses of ‘political theology’ – and via the analysis of the influence of religious knowledge, symbols, and ‘charisma’ on state-formation. It focuses on Islamicate cases drawn from Western, Central, and South Asia. The resulting de-centred view of the religiopolitical nexus as articulated ‘East of Westphalia’ shifts the focus from the Leviathan-centred model of sacral and corporate sanctioning of sovereignty toward Asian Islamicate patterns relying on a religious charisma providing cohesion to assemblages of circles and networks.
This chapter applies theories on political theology of sovereignty to contemporary Buddhist Thailand. Based on ethnographic data collected in 2016 in Bangkok, it analyses how a public relations campaign helped legitimise the mandate of the military junta after the passing of King Bhumibol and in the face of pressing calls for popular sovereignty. Organised at a luxury shopping mall, the campaign contained the emergence of a political theology of the people by celebrating the late monarch, venerated for his work in development, as a celestial being. Via astute cosmological framing, the campaign then proposed a new celestial-cum-social political order. It thus subordinated the people to the junta, suggesting the military’s suitability to embody the king’s celestial legacy in a period of transition.
At the basis of Thailand’s contemporary cycle of political volatility are deep questions about the legitimacy of the nation in its current and its future form. This conjuncture raises the broader question: What binds the political in the first place? This chapter considers how the Thai case and its distinct answers to these questions reveals both Thailand’s contested theo-politics and how understanding such politics requires engagements with the materials that hold the political together. By analysing the materiality of two recent protests –one involving blood and one involving cement – this chapter demonstrates how these materials reveal distinct lines of thinking surrounding the forces that bind citizens to the political and mobilise them as distinct sorts of political subjects working towards making differently organised political worlds. By thinking the political through the forces and materials that bind it together, this chapter demonstrates how distinct uses of the materiality reveal how the forces that once held the nation together are quickly becoming the lines upon which it might come apart.
Genealogies of Shiʿa humanitarianism in Pakistan, England, and Iraq
Based on ethnographic fieldwork among charitable trusts in Pakistan and England, this chapter explores the complex genealogies of contemporary Twelver Shia humanitarianism. Moving away from the notion of linear genealogical connections between specific theologies and contemporary humanitarian practices, this chapter argues that the political theology underlying contemporary Shia humanitarianism is informed by the entanglement of diverse genealogical strands. These include reformulations of the ‘Muslim liberal’, the concept of ‘meritocracy’ deriving from managerial discourse, and memorialisations of the seventh-century Battle of Karbala as an inherently political-theological event. In sum, this chapter purports that – to do justice to the complexity of Shia humanitarianism – it is useful to move away from the notion that an a priori theological foundation underlies contemporary humanitarian work, and instead to think through multipolar and multidirectional interactions.
This innovative and timely reassessment of political theology opens new lines of critical investigation into the intersections of religion and politics in contemporary Asia. Political Theologies and Development in Asia pioneers the theo-political analysis of Asian politics and in so doing moves beyond a focus on the (Post-)Christian West that has to date dominated scholarly discussions on this theme. It also locates ‘development’ as a vital focus for critical investigations into Asian political theologies. The volume includes contributions by leading anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists. Each chapter brings new theoretical approaches into conversation with detailed empirical case studies grounded in modern Asia. Not only does the volume illustrate the value and import of this approach to a diverse set of contemporary Asian societies and religions, but it also provides a forceful argument for why political theology itself requires this broader horizon to remain relevant and critical. The focus on ‘development’ – conceptualised broadly here as a set of modern transnational networks of ideas and practices of improvement that connect geographically disparate locations¬¬ – enables a fresh and critical analysis of the ways in which political theology is imagined, materialised, and contested both within and beyond particular nation-states. Investigating the sacred dimensions of power through concepts of transcendence, sacrifice, and victimhood, and aspiration and salvation, the chapters in this collection demonstrate how European and Asian modernities are bound together through genealogical, institutional, and theo-political entanglements, as well as a long history of global interactions.
This chapter conjures an object-oriented political theology that would declare ‘no politics without things,’ and equally, ‘no ethics without things’. The essay explores how religious objects summon and animate national and transnational publics for whom such objects are matters of common concern, taking as its examples two Qur’anic objects that sparked debate among Muslims in Indonesia during the mid-1990s. A cultural politics of belonging and ethical conduct surrounded each object, pivoting especially on the veneration and custodial care Muslims are expected to show toward the Qur’an and its language. The chapter thus suggests ways in which materiality has to be reckoned into the exercise of statecraft, development, conscience, accountability, and address, and so into our ethico-political footing for dwelling in the world together.
Giuseppe Bolotta, Philip Fountain, and R. Michael Feener
This chapter sets out the theoretical framework of this volume. Recent scholarship on political theology has amply illustrated the critical potentialities of examining the ‘religious’ remainder in even the most purportedly ‘secular’ of modern institutions. However, scholarship on political theology to date has primarily involved tracing the presence of Christian theologies within modern Western institutions. By shifting the focus to Asia, this chapter seeks a broader reconceptualisation of the field of political theology, and demonstrates that the political theology of development in Asia makes a vital contribution to our understanding of configurations and genealogies of the political. The focus on development – as a set of transnational networks that connect Western and Asian modernities in complex political and religious entanglements – enables fresh critical analysis of the ways in which the theo-political is imagined, materialised, and contested in and beyond the state. This chapter advances notions of transcendence, sacrifice and victimhood, and aspiration and salvation as particularly valuable analytic categories for understanding how development is lived and experienced within diverse Asian contexts today.
Yoga has always been political, from the ancient past to the present day. In the twentieth century, India’s best-known political figure, Mohandas K. Gandhi, employed yoga in his public politics. For Gandhi, yoga was a way to express his idea that political action always emerged from resolving the tension between the individual and the collective. This chapter considers the political yoga advanced by Gandhi that still resonates in the present filtered through the lens of a modern yogic ethic of development. In doing this, it also offers critical reflections on the political theology of yoga that might be apparent not only in the broadly construed realm of development ideologies, but also in other ideological, intellectual, and political contexts – both in India and abroad.
Chapter 4 examines how general policy orientations were translated into school curricula in the late 1990s and 2000s with regard to cultural and religious matters. It analyses the ambivalent message of the 1999 curriculum, between a celebration of cultural pluralism and the assertion of a kind of ‘Irish majority identity’, along with the Irish State’s continued promotion of religious identity in primary school. It shows that new contents and approaches in history and education for citizenship have been marked by a pluralist ambition (even egalitarian in the case of Civic, Social and Political Education), in contrast with religious education syllabuses which have largely remained a (modernised) vehicle of Christian catechism in the vast majority of schools, with some efforts towards a more open approach at secondary level. The pedagogical project of intercultural education, which is now meant to permeate all school content in theory (in accordance with the aim of ‘integrated teaching’), clashes directly both with religious instruction as it remains taught in primary schools (with religious values or ethos also meant to permeate school life in denominational schools) and with the segregated nature of the school system.