Political theology and the conflicts of democracy.


This dissertation is a theological consideration of conflict in pluralist democratic politics. Centering on the relationship between political community and difference, it develops an “agonistic political theology” of radical democracy grounded in the claim that conflict is inherent to the goodness of creation and constitutive of flourishing creaturely sociality. It argues that, rightly understood as emerging from the conditions of creatureliness, democratic conflict can be appreciated for its creative and generative political possibilities—namely, the formation of a vibrant, pluralist, and participatory common life.

An introductory first chapter frames the dissertation’s key claims with respect to recent scholarship in political theory and political theology on the relationship between religion, democracy, and pluralism. The following chapter considers two important schools of contemporary political theology—postliberal Augustinianism and Augustinian civic liberalism—as representative of two approaches to conceptualizing political community and difference in theological terms. Both frame democratic pluralism and difference by way of analogy, appealing to the harmonious unity-in-difference of the divine Trinity, but in so doing they obscure the place of conflict in finite creaturely life. Chapter three thus turns to recent work in agonistic political theory to show conflict’s enduring place in democratic politics and the virtues of an account of democracy centered on facilitating contestational and conflictual engagements amidst disagreement and difference. In chapter four, I deepen these insights drawn from agonistic theory by sketching a “political-theological anthropology” wherein conflict belongs to the natural goodness of finite, embodied creatures who must negotiate their differences in a world of contingency. Chapter five then returns to the question of political community in light of these conditions and limits of creaturely sociality. Drawing on ordinary language philosophy, democratic theory, and grassroots democratic organizing, I propose a form of “agonistic community” centered on practices of conflict negotiation in coming to shared judgment and action. Finally, I conclude the dissertation with a theological meditation on the conflicts of democracy as an occasion for the conversion of love.



Political theology. Democracy. Pluralism. Difference. Community. Theology.