Terry Eagleton on Political Religion

One of my favorite recollections from an exuberant time at Duke in the company of Frederic Jameson, Stanley Fish, Eve Sedgewick, and a host of other enfants terribles associated with Marxism, criticism, and postmodernism was discovering Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory (1982). It remains one of my favorite books. When I first read it, I didn’t know that Eagleton’s interests extend far beyond literature, though if I had read more attentively this would have been apparent. He’s an interesting guy, whether he is skewering Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion or dreaming about the possibility of an alliance between leftist-politics and progressive Christianity. Eagleton recently spoke to the Oxonian about the latter:

So do you think there might be potential in an alliance between religion and left politics?

In a sense, you might almost say that’s been the theme of my intellectual career. It’s not always obvious to me or to anybody else for that matter. But of course I started, when I was at Cambridge, as a left-wing Catholic in the heady days of the Vatican Council. And I suppose what you might call “political Christianity” has run as a kind of subcurrent beneath my work. It’s now come to the surface, and there were times, particularly in what you might call my Althusserian phase, when it wasn’t so obvious.

Lots of people would see a contradiction between Marxism and Catholicism, for example…

Well, I’m not sure I would talk about myself as a Roman Catholic. I was brought up in that culture, and it is a culture. That’s one of the attractive things about it. You know, you meet a Catholic from Korea or somewhere, and you share an enormous amount of things in common. It’s like being a Jew, in that sense. I have no truck with the Vatican and all that kind of stuff. But I suppose it’s a certain theological mainstream that interests me, and the political implications of such. And of course that’s been coming much to the fore in the past few years. If you think of the number of agnostic and very theistic leftists from Agamben and Zizek to Habermas and Badiou, who have been raising theological themes, it’s very much part of the zeitgeist.

Because modern politics amounts to a kind of religion, such an alliance would seem natural. Unfortunately for leftist-progressives, the kinds of alliances we are likely to see, and indeed already see, are rather unholy.

Eagleton & Utopia Intersection

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