Political theology investigates the ways in which theological concepts or ways of thinking relate to politics, society, and economics. Though the relationship between Christianity and politics has been debated since the time of Jesus, political theology as an academic discipline began during the latter part of the 20th century, partially as a response to the work of both Carl Schmitt and the Frankfurt School. The journal Political Theology currently examines this interface of religious faith and politics.
Writing amidst the turbulence of the German Weimar Republic, Carl Schmitt argued in Political Theology that the main concepts of modern politics were secularized versions of older theological concepts. Mikhail Bakunin had used the term in his 1871 text "The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International" to which Schmitt's book was a response. Drawing on Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan he argued that the state exists to maintain its own integrity in order to ensure order in society in times of crisis.
With the exception of Schmitt, much of political theology’s roots can be traced to discussions of the relationship of ethics and religion. The influence of Hegel is also evident throughout much of political theology including the theology developed by the Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz. Metz explored the concept of political theology throughout his work. He argued for the concept of a 'suffering God' who shared the pain of his creation, writing, "Yet, faced with conditions in God's creation that cry out to heaven, how can the theology of the creator God avoid the suspicion of apathy unless it takes up the language of a suffering God?" This leads Metz to develop a theology that is related to Marxism. He criticizes what he terms bourgeois Christianity and believes that the Christian Gospel has become less credible because it has become entangled with bourgeois religion. His work Faith in History and Society develops apologetics, or fundamental theology, from this perspective.
Two of the other major early developers of political theology were Jürgen Moltmann and Dorothee Sölle. As in Metz' work, the concept of a suffering God is important to Moltmann's theological program. Moltmann's political theology was influenced strongly by the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, and both Moltmann and Sölle were influenced heavily by liberation theology, as was Metz. Another early influence was the Frankfurt School of critical theory, especially Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School's broader critique of modernity.
Reinhold Niebuhr also developed a theology similar to Metz in the practical application of theology. During the 1930s, Niebuhr was a leader of the Socialist Party of America, and although he broke with the party later in life socialist thought is a prominent component of his development of Christian Realism. The work by Niebuhr that best exemplifies his relationship with political theology is Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics (1932).
One of the most influential developers of recent political theology is Stanley Hauerwas, though he considers his work to be better termed a "theological politics". Hauerwas has actively critiqued the political theology of both Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr, and has been a frequently critic of Christians' attempt to attain political power and align themselves with secular political ideologies. Moreoever, he has been a severe critic of liberal democracy, capitalism, and militarism, arguing that all of those ideologies are antithetical to Christian convictions.
Many major non-Christian philosophers have written extensively on the topic of political theology during recent years, such as Jürgen Habermas, Giorgio Agamben, Simon Critchley, and Slavoj Zizek.
The term political theology has been used in a wide variety of ways by writers exploring different aspects of the subject, with tension developing between those advocating a traditional concern with individual "moral reform", such as Clyde Wilcox's God's Warriors (1992) and Ted Jelen's The Political World of the Clergy (1993), and those leftists who focus on collective "social justice", e.g. Jeffrey K. Hadden's The Gathering Storm in the Churches (1969) and Harold Quinley's The Prophetic Clergy (1974).
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- "Johann-Baptist Metz", The Vocabulary of Political Theology, Gonzaga University.
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- Political Theology of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben: http://fr.slideshare.net/AmineBenabdallah1/la-rception-de-carl-schmitt-par-giorgio-agamben-a-benabdallah, Amine Benabdallah, Sciences Po Paris, 2007
- Radio Interview with Dr. Stephen Bede Scharper: A Political Theology of the Environment, University of Toronto, 3 October 2008.