Last weekend’s Religion and Radicalism conference was quite something. Under normal circumstances, it requires a little more effort than usual to get here – to Herrnhut, Saxony. On this occasion, the effort was significant. For those who evaded Malaysian elections, slashed feet, dreadful German immigration officials, lambing season and so on, the day of travel revealed … a Lufthansa strike. From Kiev to Oslo, from Helsinki to London, people scrambled to find other options. Eventually, people managed to get here over the next day. The result was that once here the appreciation was much higher.

The paper sessions were absorbing, generating new ideas and at times vigorous debate:

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In the evenings we gathered in our apartment for drinks (the amusement was largely due to this map) …

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… and took instructions in yoga:

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Amazing what a few drinks will make people do at 1.00 am:

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Even so, ageing bones make the lotus position just a little more difficult:

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On Sunday afternoon we had a special treat: the wind chill knocked what was already the coldest ‘spring’ day on record to -20 Centigrade:

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It was our day for trekking, exploring the early days of the Moravian Brethren, Zinzendorf’s Schloss, and the stone circles used for quiet gatherings in the forest. The circles were used to meet and discuss community problems in the 1700s:

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With weather like this, I’m guessing not many problems would have been that urgent. Meanwhile, we made the most of it and plunged down steep hillsides:

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On return, there was nothing a little bit of thawing wouldn’t restore to its old self.

Yet, despite it’s apparent remoteness …

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… it is a place to which people seem to come from all corners of the globe. They even had flags out for us:

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Or, more closely:

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To whet your appetite for the full report on last weekend’s Religion and Radicalism conference in Herrnhut, where the temperature dropped to almost -20 degrees. We were out on a trek through the frozen landscape:

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The kind of shot they produce these days of ageing and wiser rock groups.

So, next weekend travellers will cross the seven seas and come from the four corners of the globe to … the bustling village of Herrnhut, Saxony. The reason: a conference on Religion and Radicalism. It is the fourth in our series, which began in Copenhagen three years ago.

THE PROGRAM

Pre-conference: Arrival and settling in.

Friday, 22 March

8:00-9:00      Breakfast

9:00-10:30    Papers

Mika Ojakangas, On the Medieval Origins of Radical Reformation: An Outburst of the Inner Truth

Christina Petterson, Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine: Radical or Reactionary?

10:30-11:00  Morning coffee

11:00-12:00  Papers

James Crossley, Turning the World the Right Way Up? Or, How British Marxist Historians Found Comfort in the Bible in the Face of Anarchism

Timothy Gorringe, Winstanley as an Inspiration for Contemporary English Radical Politics

12:30-13:30  Lunch

13:30-15:00  Papers

Lu Shaochen, Authority and the Russian Revolution: Luther, Calvin, Lenin

Tamara Prosic, Orthodoxy, Collectivism and Communism

15:00-15:30  Afternoon tea

15:30-17.00  Papers

Mehmet Karabela, Uses of Marx in the Iranian Revolution: Shariati’s Marx and ‘Muslim Marxists’. NB. This paper will be delivered via skype.

Holly Randall-Moon, Secular Critique, Religion and Cultural Studies

17:00-18:00  Relax

18:00-22:00  Dinner and viewing of the film: Winstanley (1975)

 

Saturday, 23 March

8:00-9:00      Breakfast

9:00-10:30    Papers

Mads Peter Karlsen, Stony Ground but not Entirely’ – On Badiou’s Materialist Notion of Grace and its Political Implications

Ole Jakob Løland, Saint Paul: The Legitimizer or Deligitimizer of a New Revolutionary Order?

10:30-11:00  Morning coffee

11:00-12:30  Papers

Chris Hartney, A Lone Radical Christian Voice Against Economic and Governmental Excess? The Example of the Jesus Christians

Marion Maddox, Green Christians: A New Australian Progressive Voice, and the Remarkable Campaign to Silence It

12:30-13:30  Lunch

13:30-15:00  Papers

Tatiana Senyushkina, Religion and Civil Society: Between Secularisation and Fundamentalism

Jorunn Økland, Gender Equality as Value in Religious and Secular Contexts

15:00-15:30  Afternoon tea

15:30-17:00  Papers

Roland Boer, Omnia sunt Communia: Enthusiasm, Reason, and Luther Blissett’s ‘Q’

Anthony Gwyther, Christian Communism Today: The Experience of the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten

17:00-18:00  Relax

18:00-22:00  Dinner

 

Sunday, 24 March

Optional walking tour (depending on weather) of Hengstberg, stone circles, Langsamer Tod (the slow death – climb from Ruppersdorf), Zinzendorf walk through the Wald, Zinzendorfer Schloss at Berthesdorf, and Gottes Acker (God’s Acre) at the Hutberg. This will take about three hours.

You may also opt to saunter through the village of Herrnhut (also included in above walk) and go to the Hutberg, a few hundred metres from town.

Or you may opt to have a quiet rest day at Tagungs- und Erholungsheim.

 

Full Paper Proposals

1. Roland Boer

University of Newcastle, Australia

Omnia sunt Communia: Enthusiasm, Reason, and Luther Blissett’s ‘Q’

This paper involves a reading of the popular novel Q, originally published in Italian in 1999. My particular concern is the tension between enthusiasm and reason, revolutionary passion and calculated organisation. Obviously, this tension has both political and religious translations, with neither claiming priority. Theoretically, the question comes out of Ernst Bloch, while its particular manifestation is Q. Written by the Italian radical collective, Luther Blissett (now Wu Ming), this long novel provides a skilful and engaging retelling of forty years of the revolutionary sixteenth century. Our guiding character moves from Luther, through engaging closely with Thomas Müntzer (‘The Coiner’) and the anarchists of the Lowlands, and then works through the complex machinations that lead to the half-hearted settlement between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Throughout, our protagonist is shadowed by a Vatican agent, Q, penner of letters, worker of intrigues, agent of the pope to be, Paul IV. Since this paper is in the process of being written, I simply list my interests: the sympathies of the novel are clearly with the passionate revolutionaries, even though they all, bar one, come to grisly ends; the novel has become a favourite among the various arms of the anti-capitalist movement, which uses slogans from the book such as omina sunt communia; this popularity indicates that in our day the religious nature of the revolutionary tradition has come to the forefront, with activists becoming well informed indeed concerning the Reformation, Anabaptism, Müntzer, Münster, the Counter-Reformation, and the theological debates around them. All of this will lead me back to the tension between passion and reason, for this interest in the revolutionary religious tradition is happening among the passionate activists, outside the conventional modes of the production of knowledge.

2. James Crossley

University of Sheffield, UK

Turning the World the Right Way Up? Or, How British Marxist Historians Found Comfort in the Bible in the Face of Anarchism

The British Marxist historians (e.g. Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, and Rodney Hilton) were among the most influential twentieth century thinkers in English speaking historiography and British political activism. However, when a new generation of historians and activists were making their mark in light of 1968, there was that curiously ambivalent attitude present among certain British Marxist historians (and found elsewhere in Western Marxism and remaining present in certain contemporary strands of Marxist thought), as well as, or perhaps because of, a hostility to the perception of a strong anarchist presence in the upheavals. A number of ideological and historical reasons will be given for this ambivalence and hostility but it will be seen that, despite the rhetorical hostility, anarchism managed to influence (probably unintentionally) this now ageing generation of Marxist thinkers and one key way was through biblical language and the study of ‘heretical’ users of the Bible. Particular attention will be paid to Christopher Hill and his famous 1972 publication on the English Revolution, The World Turned Upside Down.

3. Timothy Gorringe

University of Exeter, UK

Winstanley as an Inspiration for Contemporary English Radical Politics

Gerrard Winstanley was the main spokesman for the 17th century Diggers. Largely forgotten until the late nineteenth century he was then taken up by Russian socialists and in the 20th century by the Marxist historian Christopher Hill.  Today his ideas and writings are inspirational for a variety of groups in the UK following the breakdown of the welfare consensus. ‘The Land is Ours’ movement,  founded by the journalist George Monbiot, campaigns for land reform and land re-distribution (in a country where 70% of the land is owned by 1% of the population);  the ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ network coordinates information about eco settlements and alternative forms of living; the journal The Land tackles planning issues largely, though not exclusively, for the rural poor; the Transition Towns movement is creating a bottom up democracy which pulls the rug from under corporate and managerial politics. These movements put class, distributive justice, and sustainability together in an interesting way and in the UK are one of the most vibrant socialist voices, following the abandonment of socialist goals by ‘New’ (i.e. market driven) Labour.  They illustrate the way in which socialist discourse and praxis is both reconfigured and continued under 21st c conditions and in face of the emerging threats of peak oil and climate change.

4. Anthony Gwyther

Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten, Germany

The Basisgemende Wulfshagenerhütten: An experiment in the embodiment of the radical potential of the christian religion.

In the course of history, religion (although it has supported power structures of every sort) has again and again been involved in movements which critique elements of the existing social/political/economic/religious order. This critique of the existing order has been at times theoretical, but also practical: that is, attempts have been made to put this radical critique into a lived form. In this paper I describe the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten (of which I am a member), a christian community in northern Germany which seeks to embody an alternative way of life in its varying dimensions. The community originated in the social and political upheavals of the late 1960s which also provoked members of the established churches into an exploration of the radical dimensions and potential of the christian religion. The Basisgemeinde practices Gütergemeinschaft (a community of goods) and operates a manufacturing cooperative which is jointly owned by its members. After a description of the Basisgemeinde I will examine the importance of Religionskritik and Sozialkritik in the beginning of the community and how this comes to lived expression 40 years after the beginning of the community.

5. Christopher Hartney

University of Sydney, Australia

A Lone Radical Christian Voice Against Economic and Governmental Excess?:
The Example of the Jesus Christians

Like many poverty movements throughout the history of Christianity, the Jesus Christians re-imagine a Christ-inspired simplicity that puts them at sharp odds with both mainstream Christian thought and mainstream cultural flows of the West. This small movement, which has been in development since the 1970s,  provocatively rails against “Churchies” who seek prosperity and comfort in the message of the New Testament, while at the same time seeking a life without money that extends as far as dumpster diving and the reuse of abandoned food. The movement is not necessarily left wing in ideology, but certainly in its communal practices it can be seen as offering a radical challenge to other Christians in their relation to issues of poverty, ecology and the state. This paper positions the Jesus Christians in their heritage to other Christian groups such as The Family and the Quakers, but ends by assessing the unique challenge they offer to mainstream Christians. I conclude by considering why mainstream Christianity will never be able to adequately respond to the challenges this organisation presents.

6. Mehmet Karabela

Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada

Uses of Marx in the Iranian Revolution: Shariati’s Marx and ‘Muslim Marxists’

7. Mads Peter Karlsen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

‘Stony ground but not entirely’ – On Badiou’s materialist notion of grace and its political implications

Even though Alain Badiou’s depicts himself and his philosophy as ‘militant atheist’ he nevertheless employs the fundamental theological notion of grace on numerous occasions. This is the case not merely in relation to his interpretation of the Apostle Paul, but also in his presentation of his own philosophical position. This recurrent usage of the notion of grace raises questions of clarification concerning the sense in which Badiou more specifically uses and understands this term: What precisely does Badiou mean when he talks about ‘laicised’ or ‘materialist’ grace? Why does he not just leave this notion behind? In what sense does he need it? Furthermore, it also raises a more fundamental question concerning whether his alleged materialist philosophy of the event might actually be interpreted as a theological doctrine of grace. In my paper I will begin the discussion of these issues and of their political implications.

8. Ole Jakob Løland

University of Oslo, Norway

Saint Paul: The Legitimizer or Deligitimizer of a New Revolutionary Order?

The religious figure Paul the Apostle has returned to continental philosophy as an inspiration for various thinkers. This paper focuses on two of these philosophers, Slavoj Žižek and Jacob Taubes, and asks: Which political themes emerges when we take a close look on the Pauline passages that both Žižek and Taubes use in their interpretations of Paul? How does Pauline Politics look like when we take their common Pauline sources as our point of departure? Our preconception of Zizek’s Paulinism as a desicionist messianism that is ready to legitimate and justify a New Political Order will be put to test by these close readings. The paper will also evaluate the view of Taubes’ Paul as a figure that is constantly delegitimizing any positive political content. By a comparative study of Žižek and Taubes’ interpretations of the same Pauline passages the author will show different aspects of Pauline politics that appears in the contemporary philosophical debate about Paul’s legacy and relevance for the political Left today.

9. Lu Shaochen

Fudan University, Shanghai, China

Authority and the Russian Revolution: Luther, Calvin, Lenin

10. Marion Maddox

Macquarie University, Australia

Green Christians: A New Australian Progressive Voice, and the Remarkable Campaign to Silence It

In the 2010 Australian federal election, the Australian Greens Party fielded its largest-ever slate of candidates. They included several members of the clergy; a lay congregational leader who had been recruited into the party by nuns; a senior church social justice official of many years’ service; and numerous highly committed lay members of their local congregations.

The same election campaign also saw a series of extraordinary attacks on the Greens Party. Australia’s Catholic Cardinal, George Pell, called the party ‘quite remarkably anti-Christian'; the Australian Christian Lobby wrote in its annual report that its attacks on the Greens had been among its most important undertakings for the year; and several Christian organisations issued election guides urging voters to put the Greens last. On the election day itself, a Greens campaign worker was denied legally-mandated access to the space outside a polling booth, because the booth was inside a Catholic church and the priest would not allow the campaign worker onto church grounds.

Drawing on interviews with self-identified Christian Greens candidates, this paper explores their religious motivations for standing, and their responses to and interpretations of the campaign against them.

Next, it analyses the religious anti-Greens campaign in the broader context of the Australian religious and political climate.

Finally, it considers why the Christian left voice, credited with a significant impact on the outcome of the 1993 federal election, has been so effectively eclipsed over the intervening 17 years, and what conditions might enable progressive Christians such as those active in the Greens to reassert a Christian left public theology.

11. Mika Ojakangas

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

On the Medieval Origins of Radical Reformation: An Outburst of the Inner Truth

In this paper, I shall argue that one of the most revolutionary doctrines of radical reformation was actually an orthodox Scholastic doctrine, namely that of the spark of conscience (synderesis), meaning the divine remnant of the fall within the soul of every human being. Although this doctrine of inner truth was revolutionary from the very beginning, its revolutionary potentiality did not become fully affirmed until the authority of the universal Church was called into question, notably by Luther. Yet Luther himself repudiated the doctrine of inner truth, as the only truth is that of the written Word. Instead, radical reformers, such as Müntzer and Denck, argued that both the Church and the Word must be subjected to the authority of the inner truth. The Scripture bears witness to God but only mediately, while the experience of the inner truth is His immediate expression. Thus, these radicals were Catholics without the Church and Protestants without the Word, but it was precisely this that made them revolutionary in the first place. It was the inner truth alone that had authority over them and inasmuch as they had this truth within, so is God and everything that belongs to Him: omnipotence, righteousness, and mercy.

12. Christina Petterson

Humboldt University, Germany

Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine: Radical or Reactionary?

In this paper I want to examine the relation between the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine and a couple of different social contexts (Europe and the colonies) to discuss whether the movement could be determined as radical or reactionary in terms of its socio-economic status, gender politics and theologicial convictions. Embedded in this discussion is a consideration of uses of radical and reactionary and their relations to what is called a ‘fall narrative’ namely that the original pure and dynamic movement became institutionalised and rigid at a certain point in time, thereby leaving behind its radical origin.

13. Tamara Prosic

Monash University, Australia

Orthodoxy, Collectivism and Communism

Communism as a type of social organisation with common ownership of the means of production in many ways rests on the principles of collectivism or worldviews that emphasize the relational, social nature of human beings and their interdependence. Given that religions are all embracing social phenomena that can inform every aspect of one’s life, they are certainly one of the sources that contribute or can contribute towards building a collectivist outlook and embracing the ideals of communism. The paper discusses some of the basic Christian concepts such as the relationship between god and humans, the nature of humans, the concept of sin and their extremely collectivist understanding in Orthodox Christianity, suggesting that it was the Orthodox worldview that also contributed to the success of 1917 Russian communist revolution.

14. Holly Randell-Moon

Macquarie University, Australia

Secular Critique, Religion and Cultural Studies

In the last decade, religious issues have emerged as intense sites of conflict in media and political discourse in western liberal democratic countries. With its focus on issues of representation, power and discourse, cultural studies is well placed to engage with religion’s influence on media, political and cultural communication. However, religion’s influence on everyday life has largely escaped the disciplinary attention of cultural studies. In this paper, I explore how specific kinds of theoretical and methodological assumptions govern the types of knowledge produced and analysed within cultural studies and how these knowledge practices in turn work to marginalise religion within the discipline. Cultural studies is implicated in the secular epistemological orientation of academic critique even as it contests some of its fundamental humanist assumptions from a radical left perspective. As result, there are specific cultural, political and corporeal economies that condition intellectual engagements with the secular and religious in certain ways. Any engagement with religion therefore requires a concomitant engagement with the cultural and institutional operation of secularism. Typically, secularism is understood to separate religion from politics, legally or constitutionally, thus rendering religion a matter of private belief and individual choice. Such an understanding has been challenged by a number of scholars (such as Asad [2003], Taylor [2007], Mahmood [2004] and Masuzawa [2005]) who argue that secularism produces particular understandings of religion. Drawing on these critiques, this paper argues that it is not tenable to exclude religion from cultural studies’ theoretical and disciplinary paradigms. In order to include religion within the purview of cultural studies’ disciplinary concerns, the secular constitution of knowledge practices, and our complicity in reproducing these practices as scholars, must be opened up to critical interrogation.

15. Tatiana Senyushkina

Taurida National V.I. Vernadsky University, Crimea

Religion and Civil Society: Between Secularisation and Fundamentalism

The influence of fundamentalist and secular values ​​in the development of religious consciousness and civil society, using the example of post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine, is analysed in this paper. Civil society is analysed as a result of the influence of secular consciousness on social life and on the relationship between people, which are slowly being transformed in the direction of eroding the clear boundaries of the sphere of influence of religious principles. These processes take place in the context of the formation of priorities drawn from the values ​​of individualism, which is the basis of capitalist society. With the dominance of the economic ethos of capitalism (Max Weber), society needs to find effective mechanisms of social solidarity which is necessary for the regulation of social relations with individualistic values, which are free from regulatory control of the collective forms of religious consciousness. However, along with these processes we can see the examples of the activation of various fundamentalist religious movements, particularly in Islam, which is beginning to play an important role in global geopolitics. The paper focuses on the inter-Islamic contradictions in the Ukraine (Crimea), especially as a result of the conflict between the secular character of “Traditional Islam of Crimean Tatars” and radical movements, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis (Wahhabis), which are developing under the influence of the Arab countries.

16. Jorunn Økland

University of Oslo, Norway

Gender Equality as Value in Religious and Secular Contexts

This will not be a formal paper but a brainstorming session, based on the energetic work at the Gentre for Gender Research at the University of Oslo and seeking ideas to move forward in a collaborative fashion.

WEATHER

Ah yes, the weather: winter refuses to budge, so we have snow and sub-zero temperatures into next week:
Thursday: 4° to -5°
Friday: 1° to -6°
Saturday: -3° to -12°
Sunday: -1° to -8°

While taking a long hike through a local forest this afternoon, in the teeth of a bitter wind and some driving snow, we came across a long run of these:

wolf print 01

They ran for a few hundred metres along a track deep in the forest, spaced out at an even distance, here in the Oberlausitz region of Saxony, which is close by the Czech and Polish borders.

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‘Look at those tracks’, I said. ‘Do you think they’re from a wolf?’

‘Nah, that’s a big dog’, Christina said. ‘Shit, it’s big though’.

‘Are you sure?’ I said.

‘You can see that it’s on a lead’, she said.

I wondered about the absence of human footprints along a muddy track and the  long lope between prints. She wondered about the size of the middle pad and the long claw marks at the front of the print, not to mention the size of an animal that would leave such deep prints.

Back at our lodgings by dusk and slowly warmed up again, we decided to check on wolves in this area.

The results: this is the favoured area for wolves returning to Germany, after an absence of 150 years!

Why? It is a relatively sparsely populated region, with 20,000 hectares of forests, open country, moors and heathland. And there’s plenty of game, since too many deer roam the forests. In fact, a wolf pack lives right here, initially a handful but now with cubs born every year. It all began about ten years ago, when a pair decided to cross the border from the mountains in Poland and set up a new home hereabouts. They mated and had two female cubs. Now known as One Eye and Sunny, they found mates, reproduced, and so the pack has expanded year by year. The young males born have set out to find new territory, roaming throughout the eastern parts of Germany and then as far as Jutland and the Netherlands. And now they are meeting up with some of their Mediterranean cousins from Italy and France. Apparently, a wolf can travel up to 200 km of an evening.

Given the German propensity to have everything managed, neatly and carefully, there is a ‘Wolf Office‘ right here, with all the information you might or might not want.

So yes, they are wolf tracks. A match for the wild boar spoor we saw yesterday.

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Since we are on the old estate of Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf – the plump 18th century landlord with the gift of the gab, a slight messiah complex and a desire to shelter persecuted radical reformers (who built Herrnhut in 1722 on his estate) – we decided to seek him out.

Not a poor man, by any stretch of the imagination, the manor house in Berthelsdorf is sumptuous, if run-down:

Actually, that’s just one of the barns …

Across the road is the local church, at which a spiritual awakening happened on 13 August 1727:

The revived and tiny community at Herrnhut (of 300) was moved to send missionaries (well before anyone else) to such comfortable places as Greenland, Africa and the Far East.

But I couldn’t help wondering whether Zinzendorf was moved in another way:

It’s a fair bet that this convenience has changed little since since 1727, but is this a relic?

Eventually we found him in ‘God’s Acre’ (Gottesacker):

But then who is this, resident in the graveyard?

I was told the real ‘city’ was hereabouts, so I set off on my bike to find Nineveh in the drizzle and mists of an early East German spring. I passed through dank and dangerous forests:

Past mist-enshrouded fields:

To find the great and bustling city:

For the skeptical …

Satisfied that the inhabitants had indeed repented of their sins, I returned home:

The village of Herrnhut, close by the Czech and Polish borders …

… is a damned good place to be, even if getting there entailed riding bicycles along icy roads by snowy fields and hills. But the locals are a friendly bunch, speaking German, Czech and (if over 30) some Russian.

Many good things may be said about Christian communism, not least its ability to provide ridiculously cheap accommodation. But given that Herrnhut is the spiritual home of the worldwide Unitas Fratrum (Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine), they have a knack of finding any flag in their collection.

In honour of our stay here, of course.