New Project: Seminars in Political and Religious Life

Campion College recently expressed its desire to launch a network of seminars in Theology and Politics, which will be named Seminars in Political and Religious Life, or SPRL

Operating in conjunction with the Centre for the Study of the Western Tradition, the network is designed to be a traveling seminar series, held in association with different institutions in Sydney and Melbourne that have generously offered to host seminars on this topic area, and in so doing provide an avenue to nurture further work in the interface between politics and theology particularly, not exclusively, in Political Theology.

As an update to the progress of the development of the network so far, I am pleased to say that the concept has attracted a lot of interest from scholars from a real diversity of institutions and denominational persuasions, hailing from the likes of the University of Wollongong, Alphacrucis College, The Australian Catholic University, Ridley College, The United Theological College, the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Monash University, Macquarie Univeristy, La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne.

To kick start the series, the first seminar will be held on Tuesday, 10th July 2012 at 1pm at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (278 Victoria Parade, East Melbourne). Matthew Tan, blogger at large at the Divine Wedgie will as the present the first paper entitled “the Ecclesiology of the American Health and Human Services Mandate”. The abstract of the presentation reads:

The most recent mandate issued by the American Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which required all employers to provide the full range of reproductive health measures including contraception and abortion, attracted fierce criticism from religiously affiliated employers, in particular those associated with the Catholic Church. To date, most if not all of the strategies of opposition to the mandate by such religiously affiliated employers have been grounded on a defence of religious liberty as protected by the Constitution. 

Whilst understandable, a question that persists is whether such a strategy is an adequate one for the defence of the freedom of the Church. This paper argues that such a strategy provides only minimal protection from the onslaught by state authority, for the HHS mandate is not merely an administrative measure, but an exercise in ecclesial redefinement, an attempt to redefine what the Church is. Indeed, the defence strategy itself is inadequate precisely because it proceeds on the premise of the Church accepting the state's redefinement of what constitutes the Body of Christ. The solution then lies in an ecclesial, not a legal, mode of action.

Also presenting will be Paul Tyson, lecturer in Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, who will present "Australian Political Branding in an Age of Ideological Pygmies: A Theological Analysis and Response". The abstract to his presentation reads:

In the final decades of last century, post-ideological neo-liberalism was embraced by both main party blocks in Australian politics. Since then, Australian politics has become increasingly ideologically banal. Intelligent and meaningful normative visions, political ideals shaped by coherent and genuinely civic political philosophies, collective belief commitments bigger than interest rates and invasion phobias, transcendently referenced notion of the common good and notions of universal human dignity – such ideals have no place in our politics now. Now elections are little more than mass media branding festivals where competing celebrity representatives of slightly different flavours of ‘rational economic management’ attempt to project an attractive corporate image to the public. 

The seismic swing against the ALP in Queensland’s 2012 state election provides an interesting case study in contemporary ideological banality, for no significant policy differentiation separated the incoming LNP form the outgoing ALP. Beginning from Tony Abbott’s comments that this landslide electoral swing indicates simply that the ALP is now “a toxic brand”, this paper seeks to understand the nature of the ideological banality which characterises both main party political power blocks in Australian politics. From there, a theologically nuanced analysis and response to this banality is attempted.

Readers interested in this series who want to be updated can either hit "like" on the SPRL Facebook page or click "follow" on the SPRL Twitter page.

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