Political Theology Seminar Series 2020-21

Political Theology Seminar Series 2020-21

New reflections on the sacred in contemporary politics

Photo of Trump and religious leaders

Political theology is a broad and diverse series of investigations into the relationship between theology and politics, particularly the way that theological categories continue to underpin and inform, in oblique ways, modern secular political concepts, discourses, practices and institutions, such as sovereignty, the nation state and democracy. Political theology is fundamentally concerned with the problem of legitimacy and it refers to the absent place of the sacred in modern secular societies. As a mode of enquiry, it gives us an alternative framework and language in which to understand forms of political experience that cannot be adequately grasped by conventional political theory. Debates in political theology have been heavily influenced by the thought of Carl Schmitt, particularly his theory of the sovereign state of exception and the secularisation of theological categories into modern political and juridical concepts. However, new approaches to  political theology have sought to move beyond Schmitt’s conservative sovereign-centric paradigm, developing new ways of thinking about the economy, environmental concerns, social and racial justice struggles, and the role of religion and church organisations in public life, as well as drawing on other religious traditions such as Judaism and Islam. The question of the sacred and what it means today may also allow us to understand contemporary political phenomena, such as the rise of populism, post-secularism and the ‘return of religion’ in the public sphere, the significance of symbols in new forms of protest, the flourishing of conspiracy theories, and the new states of exception in the era of Covid-19.

This seminar series brings together a series of experts from different fields – political theory, continental philosophy, law and theology – to explore the intersections between the theological and the political.

Speakers include:

Professor Vincent Lloyd, Theology and Religious Studies, Villanova University; Director of the Political Theology Network (Wed, 11 November 2020 – 6-7:30pm)

Professor Tina Beattie, Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton (Thurs 21 Jan 2021 – 6-7:30pm)

Dr. Peter Langford, Law, EdgeHill University (Wed 11 February 2021 – 6-7:30pm)

Professor Elettra Stimilli, Theoretical Philosophy, Sapienza Universita di Roma (Wed 4 March 2021 – 6-7:30pm)

Dr Eskander Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, Politics and IR, Goldsmiths University of London (Wed 6 May 2021 – 6-7:30pm)

Dr Michael Kirwan, Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin (Wed 27 Ma7 2021 – 6-7:30pm)

Dr Jeremy Kidwell, Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham (Wed 10 June 2021 – 6-7:30pm

Seminars will be held on-line (via MS Teams). Virtual attendance open to all

The series hosted by the Research Unit for Contemporary Political Theory (Department of Politics and IR, University of London).

Contact seminar convener and Director, Professor Saul Newman, for details on how to join:

‘Migration, Technologies & Postcolonial Genealogies’ online seminar series

Organised by Dr. Martina Tazzioli, with the support of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies (PoCo) and the Department of Politics & International Relations

Autumn Term

November 26: Veronica Gago (University of Buenos Aires)

December 3: Beste Isleyen and Polly Pallister-Wilkins (University of Amsterdam)

December 11:  Anne McNevin (New School)

Spring Term

January:  Shahram Khosravi (Stockholm University)

February: William Walters (Carleton University)

Huub Dijestelbloem (UVA)

March:     Claudia Aradau (King’s College)

Jasbir Puar (Rutdgers University)

For further info:


Funding for Elizabeth Evans on Disability and Politics

Photo of Elizabeth EvansCongratulations to Dr Elizabeth Evans, Reader in Politics, who has been awarded an ISRF Mid-Career Research Fellowship for a project on ‘Disability and Politics: Rethinking Representation’!

Here are the details of the project:

Theoretical approaches to political representation typically distinguish between three dimensions: descriptive representation, the similarity between elected representatives and the represented in terms of their characteristics and backgrounds; substantive representation, the reflection of citizens’ interests and opinions in the preferences of decision-makers and in the outputs of the policy-making process; and, symbolic representation, the effects that representatives have on the electorate. These dimensions have been analysed empirically, specifically in relation to gender and/or ethnicity, which has developed scholarly knowledge and the public understanding of political representation. However, there have been very few studies of disability as it relates to political representation, either at the theoretical or empirical level. This project brings together interdisciplinary disability scholarship with political theory and political science, in order to rethink political representation.

Debates and policies concerning accessibility and inclusion in politics often make reference to disability as one of a list of social groups, and yet to what extent do these proposals seriously reflect upon or engage with either the needs or interests of disabled people? Rather than simply adding disability into existing approaches to political representation, this project seeks to fundamentally rethink what we mean when we talk about political representation, interrogating the implicit, if not explicit, ableist assumptions that lie at its core, especially those concerning merit.

This project questions how a disability lens helps us rethink the three dimensions of political representation. How should we approach descriptive representation in relation to a heterogenous, and sometimes invisible, social group? For example, how do societal approaches to learning disabilities complicate debates concerning the politics of presence? The research will also interrogate the ways in which we conceive of the substantive representation of disabled people’s issues and interests. For example, how does the typically individualised, medicalised and paternalistic approach to disabled people affect the representation of their interests in the policy-making process? Finally, how should we approach symbolic representation in light of assorted impairments, and the porous nature of disability as a social category. For example, how does the varied nature of disability complicate the symbolic value attached to the actions of disabled politicians?

By developing theoretical approaches to political representation, this project questions how adequately existing dimensions of representation are able to respond to debates concerning the presence of disabled people in political institutions. It also examines the ways in which certain frames and narratives dominate the conceptualisation of group identities, issues and interests. This research therefore brings together normative political theory and political science with disability studies, to reimagine what political representation looks like for a heterogeneous social group who remain amongst the most marginalised (and sometimes invisible) in society.


Governing Life through Technology, Connectivity and Humanitarianism (GLiTCH)

In 2020-22, Dr Martina Tazzioli will be participating in an ESRC funded grant alongside researchers at the universities of Durham and Leeds: ‘Governing Life through Technology, Connectivity and Humanitarianism’ or GLiTCH. Here is the official description:

“GLITCH examines how financial and digital technologies are transforming refugee governance and refugee live. Debit cards have radically changed humanitarian aid, tech start-ups and volunteers have produced apps and maps for refugees. How do digital technologies and financial tools change the relationships between financial actors, humanitarian  agencies and refugees? Which forms of value and data extraction are generated ? Are refugees transformed into techno-users while they are forced to protracted confinement and displacement ?

GLITCH investigates the increasing role of financial actors in migration governance. By Focusing on a multi-sited research which will include Greece, Jordan, Lebanon and the UK, the project aims to reveal emerging transformations in humanitarian outreach and the new barriers produced by them. Building on participatory co-produced research, project will benefit refugees, volunteers and hosting communities.”

Book Launch: Rebel Politics

On 30 October 2019 the Department of Politics and International Relations launched Dr David Brenner’s new book Rebel Politics: A Political Sociology of Armed Struggle in Myanmar’s Borderlands with a panel discussion on the changing dynamics of the civil war in Myanmar, one of the most entrenched armed conflicts in the world.

people sitting at a desk talking

Book launch of Rebel Politics

Based on long-term research inside the Kachin and Karen rebellions, Rebel Politics analyses the relations between rebel leaders, their rank-and-file, and local communities in the context of political and geopolitical transformations in Myanmar’s borderlands. Using ethnographic methods and social theory, it provides an insight into the hidden social dynamics of political violence, ethnic conflict and rebel governance. In doing so, the book explains how revolutionary elites capture and lose legitimacy within their own movements and how the internal politics of rebel movements drive wider dynamics of war and peace.

The book launch featured a roundtable discussion with David Brenner (Goldsmiths), Kai Htang Lashi (Kachin National Organisation), Lee Jones (Queen Mary University of London), and Shona Loong (University of Oxford). It was chaired by Sanjay Seth (Goldsmiths).

More information about Rebel Politics can be found here:


Interview with Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi

Book cover

Revolution and Its Discontents, by Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi

Recently arrived lecturer in Comparative Political Theory, Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, has given an interview to e-zine Jadaliyya about his new book, Revolution and its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019). You can find the interview here:

Book Launch for Dr Rachel Ibreck

On 10 October, staff and students joined Dr Rachel Ibreck, lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths to celebrate the launch of her book – South Sudan’s Injustice System: Law and Activism on the Frontline – with a panel discussion at SOAS, University of London. The panel included Benjamin Avelino (South Sudanese community leadership UK in Europe), Matt Benson (Conflict Research Programme, LSE), and Prof. Alex de Waal (World Peace Foundation, Tufts University), and was chaired by Mawan Muortat (South Sudan political analyst).
people sitting at a desk

Rachel Ibreck (centre) talking at her book launch at SOAS

Rachel’s book argues that legality matters intensely in South Sudan, the world’s newest ‘fragile’ state. Plural and competing laws and authorities have governed throughout the atrocious civil war since 2013. South Sudanese people have been subjugated by legal practices, with colonial and authoritarian roots. Yet in the midst of a protracted violent conflict, people still turn to accessible ‘customary’ courts, and South Sudanese legal activists strive to make a more humane legal order from below, using social networks and cultural resources to respond to injustices. The struggles in courts and prisons are revealing about the power of law, and the possibilities for transforming violent conflict.  More information on the book can be found here:

Migration, Technology & Postcolonial Genealogies

A seminar series organised by Dr Martina Tazzioli, with the support of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies.

Speakers for academic year 2019/2020:

Dr.Martin Lemberg-Pedersen (Aalborg University, November 20)

Prof. Engin Isin (Queen Mary University, December 9)

Prof. Claudia Aradau (King’s College, Spring term)

Prof. Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna, Spring term)

Prof. Nicholas De Genova (University of Houston, Spring term)

This seminar series centres on migration and technologies, drawing attention to the colonial and postcolonial genealogies of the current governmentality assemblages. In particular, it aims at fostering a debate about the mutual entanglements between the racialisation of some individuals as “migrants” and the political technologies used for governing unruly mobilities. The seminar series is characterised by an interdisciplinary approach with the purpose of challenging self-contained understanding of migration, and situating it within broader political, historical and theoretical analyses of bordering and racialising mechanisms. At the same time, it critically engages with technology, the technologisation of border security and datafication of mobility by highlighting continuities and differences with colonial modes of governmentality.


Disability and Political Representation

According to the Department of Work and Pension’s most recent Family Resource Survey, 13.9 million people in the UK reported a disability. This works out at around 22% of the UK population, a percentage which is likely to rise over the next few years due to increased life expectancy. Despite constituting such a significant group, they are under-represented across our political legislatures at both the local and national levels.

Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

The under-representation of disabled people in politics has detrimental consequences for the health of our democracy. In particular, it has the potential to affect the ways in which issues and interests of particular importance to disabled people are represented. When specific groups are under-represented, there is the danger that their voices and perspectives are not included. Indeed, research has shown that disabled people perceive the political system as less responsive to their demands.

Recognising that disabled people face particular types of obstacles in the political recruitment process, and also that the issue itself receives little academic or political attention, the Minister for Women and Equalities has commissioned us — Dr Elizabeth Evans (Goldsmiths, PIR) and Dr Stefanie Reher (University of Strathclyde) — to study the barriers to elected office. By interviewing candidates, activists and elected politicians across all parties, as well as Independents, our objective is to create a list of recommendations on how to tackle and reduce those barriers for relevant stakeholders to discuss, with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of disabled politicians.

Of course, disabled people are not a homogenous group. There are a significant range of impairments that affect people’s opportunities in a variety of ways, including: financial costs; accessibility; the oftentimes aggressive and ‘yah-boo’ nature of Westminster politics; and the demands of election campaigning. The complexity of disability as a category means that there will not be one single explanation for why disabled people are under-represented, nor will there be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing patterns of under-representation.

The issue of disabled people’s political representation has received little attention beyond the UK. This means that we cannot necessarily learn from ‘best practice’ in similar systems of democracy. Indeed, cases in which active measures have been taken to address the representation of disabled people typically occur in post-conflict societies, in which the sudden and significant increase in the number of disabled people required an urgent political solution. For instance, Uganda have introduced reserved seats for disabled people, a strategy that is unlikely to work in the UK system.

Our research is therefore intended to shine a light on the range of barriers experienced by disabled people with a range of impairments in the UK, in order to create a list of appropriate solutions based on the experiences and views of disabled people who are politically engaged. Our findings will be published in a report for the Government Equalities Office, which will be made available to all relevant stakeholders and the public.