Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time

Article excerpt

Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time. By William T. Cavanaugh. Edinburgh and New York: T & T Clark, 2002. 126 pp. $70.00 (cloth); $22.95 (paper).

In order to imagine a politics that is determined by the eucharist and is thus concretely located spatially and temporally in particular communities called the church, in Theopolitical Imagination William T. Cavanaugh retells stories about the state, civil society, and globalization with his theological interpretations of these social imaginaries.

The state is "an alternative soteriology to that of the Church" (p. 9)-that is, it tells a different story of salvation than the one the church tells. Cavanaugh defines the state as "that peculiar institution which has arisen in the last four centuries in which a centralized and abstract power holds a monopoly over physical coercion within a geographically denned territory" (p. 10). The foundation of the state, according to Cavanaugh, "is based on a widely-accepted myth about the necessity of the state to save Europe from the 'Wars of Religion' in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," but "the usual way these wars are narrated is false" (pp. 9-10). The standard story-that the modern state was invented to control these wars-"puts the matter backwards." They were, in fact, in Cavanaugh s retelling, "the birth pangs of the state." As he puts it, "to call these conflicts 'Wars of Religion' is an anachronism, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance" (p. 22). The invention of the state necessitates the privatization of religion. Thus the Wars of Religion, so called, were the fault not of the church but of the state, which Cavanaugh claims has failed to save us. Indeed, the state cxmnof save us because the state necessarily habituates violence and thus cannot offer peace-which is only found in the church.

Civil society "names a space that, above all, is public without being political in the usual sense of direct involvement with the state" (p. 53). This distinction between civil society and the state is used by some "to allow the Church to avoid mere privatization on the one hand, and [the] Constantinian [compromise] . …

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