Sociology stuff I wrote this year

Hi, here’s my three sociology essays for this year which finished off my honours.  I did two courses – the mini-thesis research paper and a general course on social theory, so I had a lot of scope for deciding what to look into for my essays.

For my thesis, “Opium or Liberation? (Notes towards an Investigation)”, I looked into when Christianity supports the powers that be and when it’s liberating; what was it originally, what is it now, and what makes the difference?  I couldn’t come up with any kind of conclusive answer in 10,000 words, so this thesis consists of background theoretical/historical discussion and ‘provisional research’; ie, if I was going to research this topic, here’s how I would go about it.  Hence the subtitle “Notes towards an Investigation” which I stole from an essay by Louis Althusser.  The ‘investigation’ will probably never take place, so hopefully as well as notes towards an investigation it can also serve as interesting guidelines for how we assess the political functioning of various expressions of Christianity today.

For my two essays for the social theory paper, it was recommended to do one on a theoretical question, and one on a particular theorist.  I wrote the theorist one first, writing about atheist philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s interesting use of Christianity in his recent thought.  He’s basically become an atheist Christian, and more than that, he thinks the only real atheism is Christian atheism (the title of this essay, “Dwarfs, Ghosts and Monsters Against the Big Other” probably makes more sense after you’ve read the essay).  I used my other essay, “Religion, Idealism, Ideology, Revolution”, largely as an opportunity to research relevant theorists for my thesis – I looked at Mikhail Bakunin, Marx, Engels, Althusser, Žižek and Jacques Ellul as examples of three basic ways of viewing the socio-political significance of Christianity.

Anyway, here they are if you want to read them.  There are a few different formats to choose from, hopefully they all work and it hasn’t screwed up the formatting when I converted them.

1.  Dwarfs, Ghosts and Monsters Against the Big Other – Žižek’s use of Christianity .docx .pdf

2.  Religion, Idealism, Ideology, Revolution: Three radical-left views of the socio-political significance of Christianity .odt .doc .pdf

3.  Opium or Liberation? (Notes towards an Investigation) .docx .pdf


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8 responses to “Sociology stuff I wrote this year

  • camostar

    I thought number 2 would be a good place to start! It’s really cool to get a background to the whole materialist-idealist thing. Who are these French philosophers again? I make the mistake of referring to Nietzsche as a source of legitimising materialist discourses, but he loves the French so maybe that’s where he develops his philosophy from.

    You used ‘apotheosis’ twice. Nice. Maybe you could use ‘culmination’ or ‘epitome’, even ‘pinnacle’? English has so many of those words, like we love to measure things. ‘Gamut’ is a good one that kind of gives me a similar feel but it’s a semi-completely different meaning, and it reminds me of Gambit in X-men. Emily Dickinson names a poem Apotheosis, filled with sexual passion: When was there never a time for Emily Dickinson?

    I’ll comment on the others when I read them. Looking for-ward to your the-sis!

    • camostar

      These are really valuable; I wish you were still studying — writing! I read an Indian history which attributed the possibility of origins of Platonic thought to Buddhist proselytising traders, positing that idealism has its roots in the East.. I’m really enjoying the stuff on Zizek and having been noting down some works that I’d like to check out. I’ve got a couple of N T Wright’s on the way so looking forward to tearing through them. I like your continual return to belief in a bodily resurrection. Allow me to keep that and I’ll continue reading philosophy, haha. I’d be interested to know how critically you read Wright, or if you identify with his theology almost wholly, concerning what you’ve read.

      • camostar

        I’d be wary of constructing a pre-Constantinian ideal Christianity: The amount of New Testament texts legitimising subjugation of women is just one example where early Christianity lacked it’s radicality. Some courageous bishop penned “The Acts of Paul and Thecla”, a piece exploring a celibate woman’s relationship to Paul and encouraging the leadership rights of women in the Church. He was removed from his position as bishop, sometime in the middle of the 2nd Century. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians alludes to inequalities within the church (1Corinthians 11:17-22) and James demonstrates his knowledge of inequalities by warning his readers of mirroring worldly hierarchy (James 2:1-9) and denounces the ideological approach to faith (vv.14-17). These are just a few examples. Constantine’s embrace of Christianity only further legitimised what was already being practised.

        On an imminent eschatology you should check out preterism. I really need to do some reading down that alley too.

        I think that’s the first time I’ve read a thesis. Thanks for all the thought! It will help me build up my ideology and more convincingly maintain my disavowed approach to non-violence, the penal system, social justice, racism, feminism, etc.

        • calebmorgan

          I think you can make a very strong case for explaining all passages that subjugate women as post-Pauline; from memory all such passages come in the pastoral epistles which are likely to be post-Pauline, apart from one in (i think) Corinthians which may be an interpolation (I’m always suspicious of such diagnoses as it seems like they’re all-too-easy ways of getting out of stuff we don’t like, but I think there are pretty strong cases for it in this situation – I think the interpolation more soundly than the pastoral epistles thing).
          In the content that was almost certainly written by Paul, he alludes to woman leaders in the church.

          In any case, even if Paul did make those statements, he was still very radically egalitarian according to the norms of his time. Which is not to be brushed off. How do we know what is the right move towards freedom and justice and peace now? Something which hasn’t even occurred to us now might start to be talked about in fifty years and be common knowledge in a hundred; and then they’ll look at what we said and did and judge us for how backward we were for (seemingly actively) opposing it.
          I think we should imitate Paul (and maybe even Jesus?) in the direction of his gestures towards his context, rather than the specific content, which might take us in a different direction if we try to replicate it in our context.

          That said, idealising the pre-Constantine church is definitely a temptation I often fall into. I know in theory that they weren’t perfect then, that if the Acts church and Paul had very radical things about them, very soon afterwards those tendencies became more marginalised and definitely things had changed a couple of hundred years later, that even in the epistles Paul shows by everything he’s opposing that the early church could be just as crazy as the modern one, and that while the Constantinian shift was a bad move it wasn’t a complete overnight polarisation.
          I know that all in theory, but in practice it’s often easier to just oversimplify it to ‘radical pre-Constantine’. It’s simpler this way, and assuming that we were going pretty well for three hundred years (rather than – we have hardly ever done very well with living up to Jesus’ ethics) also gives me more hope that we can actually improve how we do things before Jesus returns. I’ll read it again but I suspect that that’s a problem with this thesis that needs addressing (and I’ve justified it by referencing people who made the same mistake).

          Preterism – I’ll look that up.

      • calebmorgan

        Very interesting. In my mind all I have is a vague knowledge of ‘Indo-European’ (formerly the now-understandably-unfashionable “Aryan”) philosophy/language/culture/etc and it all being generally much more idealist than Semitic thought with its far more meaty appreciation for physical creation (even if in other ways it’s more puritanical when it comes to worldly pleasures). This is actually the main thing stopping me from agreeing with Tolstoy/Gandhi that all religions are basically the same at their core; love and non-violence. On some level, Gandhi’s Hindu non-violence is predicated on this world not really mattering compared to heaven, and that’s not a religion I want to follow anymore. I want the kingdom of heaven here.

        Anyway, I tend to move too quickly from a vague understanding, to making connections and thinking about implications and therefores (I just did it just then!). With this particular vague understanding, I’d like to get more specific about the actual history of how these ways of thinking developed. What was the Indian history?

        Incidentally, a book you would probably like is Reframing Paul by Mark Strom, former national principal of Laidlaw; a lot of people recently talk about how Paul challenged Rome but Strom’s is kind of my favourite, he’s the only one I’ve found who focuses really strongly on philosophy, and how Paul’s thought challenged and opposed all the different strands of Greco-Roman thought and their idealism, abstraction and elitism. Unfortunately I loaned it to someone and they lost it, but you’re overseas anyway. Check it out if you can. Great stuff.

    • calebmorgan

      You’ve caught me out there. I casually referenced pioneering French materialists without really knowing who they were, but just referenced someone who casually referenced them while (presumably) actually knowing who they were.

      Also, did I really use ‘apotheosis’ twice instead of utilising one of its fine synonyms? Shame on me! (oh well, if you’re going to over-use a word, that’s not a bad one to pick).

      • camostar

        My prized Oxford Annotated Bible is very quick to assign the ‘subjugative passages’ to non-Pauline sources. I kind of got that feeling too when I was reading the notes, that it just sounds like too much of an easy way to overcome the problems that those passages pose to us. Regarding their true source, I think we’ll never know, but I do agree with taking the spirit of Paul and Jesus against the specificity of the passages. We need to read Paul in light of Paul.

        That’s an interesting rejection of relativism that I haven’t heard before. When you cited it in one of these essays, I was completely smitten and enamoured by Zizek’s non-All, ‘being thrown’ ontology as a perfect embrace of idealism and materialism. Really looking forward to checking something like that out. I also enjoyed the critiques of New Age and Eastern stuff as an excuse for material disengagement. Check out the origins of materialism within Hinduism however: The idealism of the Indian subcontinent seems to have a much richer history of heterodoxy than what Western materialist intolerance allows.

        Haha, yeah the Laidlaw book, it’s on my wishlist. I had come into contact with it before. And had no way of remembering what it was called (I somehow confused it with Wright’s ‘New Perspective’ stuff) until I rediscovered it in this essay. Nice!

        • camostar

          Here’s a quote from Javali in the Ramayana. Although it was expressing the heterodox view, it was still included in the sacred text in a non-dismissive way:

          “There is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that. Follow what is within your experience and do not trouble yourself with what lies beyond the province of human experience”

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