PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL CRITICISM 31, 5-6 (September, 2005).
Confessions of the Soul:
Foucault and Theological Culture
At the conclusion of a conversation with Michel Foucault in the Spring of 1980, he asked me to arrange for a meeting where he could speak with some theologians about his current research on Christianity. It was a fine meeting, very memorable for me personally, and I am pleased to report that the theological conversation with his work has continued. This essay will briefly indicate some elements in the dialogue that is taking place in English-speaking countries between the writings of Michel Foucault and students of religion and spirituality. This attention to his teaching and writing in those areas, especially in the history of Christianity, could have been anticipated. Although his volume on Christian sexuality has never been published, his interests in religious themes is difficult to overlook inasmuch as he lectured and published frequently on such topics as ascetical practices, penitential forms, pastoral power and political spirituality. Jeremy Carrette has assembled a helpful collection of many of the writings on Christianity and religion.[i] And he is an editor of a new volume of essays in which a range of religious thinkers explore Foucault’s relevance for historical, systematic and moral theologies.[ii] Before turning to a consideration of the religious conversation with his work, I would like to claim that Foucault’s thought does in fact contain a philosophy of religion. Inasmuch as his project was a ‘history of the present,’ he is necessarily engaged in a religious analysis because the forms of knowledge, power and subjectivity which he saw as animating our culture are often constructed in decisive ways in argument or alliance with religious practices and concerns. This conviction mandated Foucault’s scrutiny of religious writers and customs. In a 1975 lecture he mentioned the insight which would greatly shape his studies of the next decade: What ‘took place starting in the sixteenth century, that is to say, in a period that is not characterized by the beginning of de-Christianization, but rather, as a number of historians have shown, by a phase of in-depth Christianization.’[iii]...
[i] Religion and Culture by Michel Foucault. Selected and edited by Jeremy Carrette. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
[ii] James Bernauer and Jeremy Carrette (ed.) Michel Foucault and Theology: The Politics of Religious Experience (Hampshire, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004).
[iii] Course lecture of February 19, 1975, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975 (New York: Picador) p. 177...