Faculty Writing: On Religious Violence, Political Theory, and the American Short Story

Suzanne Schneider recently debuted a three-part series for The Revealer, in which she discusses the concept of the “religious violence” and questions its usefulness as analytical category to describe conflicts in the modern world. In the first installment, she retraces the emergence of the concept in the work of Hobbes and Spinoza and highlights its ties to the rise of the liberal state.

“Judging from mainstream media coverage and policy reports, the world today is engulfed in the inextinguishable flames of something called religious violence. Though more often invoked than defined, “religious violence” appears to many as a self-evident phenomenon – a category of particularly barbaric behavior that is responsible for a wide range of atrocities, usually perpetrated in the name of Islam. Reflecting this sense of obviousness, notably few public figures have stopped to question whether religious violence is a useful category through which to apprehend upheavals in the world around us. For instance, is it possible to attribute the rise of ISIS to the Islamic textual tradition while leaving material factors—ranging from the location of oil resources to social media networks, insurgency theory, and the Syrian civil war—mostly unaccounted for? Posed in such stark terms, the absurdity of such an approach becomes evident, and yet the public still encounters a slew of self-appointed experts who read verses from the Qur’an as if there is nothing left to explain.”

Christine Smallwood  reviewed three collections of American short stories for the February/March Issue of BookForum in which she maps out various approaches to the art of short story writing — and reading.

“A novel is not designed to be read in one sitting. A reader finds herself in different moods, and different chairs, over the course of a novel; its pages become saturated with meals and conversations and days good and bad. A short story is read all at once, and alone. It might get knitted into life if it is reread many times over the years, but it always arrives complete, a thing apart and sufficient unto itself, like an asteroid. It is at once smaller and more vulnerable than a novel, and stranger and stiffer, somehow more independent. It doesn’t ask for attachment. It asks only to be heard.”

What is political theory anyway? Samantha Hill tackles this question in a blog post for the Hannah Arendt Center in which she discusses the relationship between political theory, history, and philosophy through Hannah Arendt’s own position on the matter.

“Arendt understands the work of the political theorist to be the work of the commentator. She writes, “The political writer loves the world, the world of the pragmata ton athropon, is the subject of politics in the broadest sense. Only the commentator is interested in theory, and loves political theory.” The world of the commentator is the not the same as the world of the author. When we read an author directly “we move into the same world”, we move into a world that was augmented by the author. Authors have the authority to expand our reality. The world of the commentator is the world of books; it is the world of political theory. “Commentators come and ago, the authors remain, we will read 100 years from now . . .” Arendt warns her student to “always return to the text” and not get lost in the twists and turns of commentary.”


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