Gnosis and the Covert Theology of Antitheology: Heidegger, Apocalypticism, and Gnosticism in Susan and Jacob Taubes 864 631 Tom Carlson

Gnosis and the Covert Theology of Antitheology: Heidegger, Apocalypticism, and Gnosticism in Susan and Jacob Taubes

Friday, June 3, 3:00PM.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

This seminar discussion will treat central themes from Professor Wolfson’s recently completed manuscript on the writing and thought of Susan Taubes, focusing specifically on the readings of Martin Heidegger that may be elicited from her writings and those of her husband Jacob Taubes. While far more attention has been paid by scholars to the work of Jacob Taubes, Wolfson argues that Susan displayed an intellectual and spiritual depth that is well deserting of increased attention in its own right. Her gnostic interpretation of Heidegger, to be explored in this seminar, is, he contends, nuanced and innovative and not to be considered ancillary or subordinate.

Recommended readings can be found here.

The Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at UCSB, Elliot Wolfson is a world renowned expert not only in Jewish mysticism from late antiquity through modernity and in medieval and modern Jewish philosophy but also in the comparative study of mysticism in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, in the modern and contemporary European traditions of hermeneutic, phenomenological, and deconstructive philosophy; and in psychoanalytic theory, feminist theory, and critical theory. He has authored numerous major works including, most recently. The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other (2018, Columbia U. Press) and Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiesis (2019, Indiana U. Press).

Free and open to the public.

The Fetish as a Critical Term for Religious Studies 600 450 Tom Carlson

The Fetish as a Critical Term for Religious Studies

Monday, May 16, 2022
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Beginning from Jacques Derrida’s definition of the fetish as a ‘bad substitute,” Hammerschlag will moderate a seminar discussion in which she argues for the critical importance of the fetish to the study of religion by considering what its history tells us about the field, and what it might mean to reclaim it in light of that history. Beyond a historical review, she will consider with us its role in psychoanalysis, philosophy, Marxism, and contemporary anthropology, asking finally how the term might help us embrace the contingency of our existence as scholars and humans. 

Recommended reading: pp. 208-213 of Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., and Richard Rand (University of Nebraska Press, 1986). You can find the reading here.

Sarah Hammerschlag is Professor of Religion and Literature, Philosophy of Religions, and History of Judaism at the University of Chicago, Sarah Hammerschlag is author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2010), Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida and the Literary Afterlife of Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016), and, most recently, Devotion: Three Inquiries in Religion, Literature, and Political Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2021), co-authored with Constance Fury and Amy Hollywood. Editor of Modern French Jewish Thought: Writings on Religion and Politics (Brandeis University Press, 2018), she has written essays on Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot which have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Jewish Quarterly Review and Shofar, among other places. She is currently working on a manuscript entitled “Sowers and Sages: The Renaissance of Judaism in Postwar Paris.”

This event is free and open to the public.

Neuromatic: Religion, Secularity, and the Techno-Scientific Today 1024 867 Tom Carlson

Neuromatic: Religion, Secularity, and the Techno-Scientific Today

Friday, May 13, 2022
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

This one day conference will take up themes and questions at play within and surrounding John Lardas Modern’s recent book Neuromatic: or, A Particular History of Religion and the Brain (University of Chicago Press, 2021), which argues that our ostensibly secular turn to the brain is bound up at every turn with the religion it discounts, ignores, or actively dismisses.

Session I, 10:00AM-12:30 PM
A presentation by Elizabeth Wilson, entitled “Trapdoors,” followed by a seminar-style discussion

Session II, 2:00-4:30 PM
A presentation by Mayanthi Fernando, entitled “This is your brain on drugs: Psychedelic medicine and the problem of religion,” followed by a seminar-style discussion

*In case those who wish to attend the event want to do some reading ahead of time, please note that Professors Wilson and Fernando will be focusing their discussion on the Introduction, Chapter 4, and Conclusion of Neuromatic. The readings can be found here.

John Lardas Modern is Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College and author of Neuromatic; or, a Particular History of Religion and the Brain (2021), Secularism in Antebellum America (2011), and The Bop Apocalypse: The Religious Visions of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs (2001). University. 

Elizabeth A. Wilson is a Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She is the author of Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010, University of Washington Press) and Gut Feminism (2015, Duke University Press). Her most recent book, A Silvan Tomkins Handbook: Foundations For Affect Theory (2020 University of Minnesota Press), is co-authored with Adam Frank (University of British Columbia). 

Mayanthi L. Fernando is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she is also co-Director of the Center for Cultural Studies. Her research interests include secularism; Islam; multispecies ecologies; liberalism and law; and gender, sexuality, and the body. Her first book, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (2014), examined the intersection of religion and politics in France. She is currently working on a second book on nonsecular ecologies, the secularity of post-humanism, and the capacious possibilities of multi-species world-making.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Department of Religious Studies.

Religion<>Science: A Devolved Manifesto 1024 768 Tom Carlson

Religion<>Science: A Devolved Manifesto

Thursday, May 12, 2022
3:30 PM
Robertson Gym 1000A

In scientific laboratories around the world ecstatic acts of attention are taking place. And in each instance, regardless of what, exactly, is being studied, the reification of the secular category par excellence—religious difference—is being conjured over and over again. Rather than assume that religion and science are inevitably in conflict or independent from one another, or in dialogue with one another, or even potentially integrated, this talk argues that scholars must, first and foremost, reflexively account for the historicity of this categorical distinction. Drawing from the neuromatic archive as well as the post-punk art scenes of Akron, Ohio (Devo, Kent State Chemical Group, and New Wave Psychology) the talk will explore the production of the religion-scientific difference as a way to counter approaches that frame religion instrumentally, that is, in terms of what is valuable, therapeutic, or pathological about its practice.

John Lardas Modern is Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College; Modern is the author of Neuromatic; or, a Particular History of Religion and the Brain (2021), Secularism in Antebellum America (2011), and The Bop Apocalypse: The Religious Visions of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs (2001). He co-curated Frequencies and co-edits Class 200: New Studies in Religion at the University of Chicago Press (both with Kathryn Lofton). Modern is currently producing a multimedia project called Machines in Between.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Religious Studies Department.

Stolen Time: Time and Money in Medieval and Modern Imaginaries 1024 814 Tom Carlson

Stolen Time: Time and Money in Medieval and Modern Imaginaries

Friday, April 29th, 2022 at 3PM

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

The medieval Mediterranean world saw widespread agreement that usury—the practice of lending money at interest, or pricing money in terms of itself—was a preeminent sin; but debate raged over the question of what, exactly, was wrong with it. According to one line of argument popular with Christian theologians in the 12th-13th centuries, the reason that usury is wrong is that the usurer is a thief. He sells, or claims to sell, time to the borrower. But time, the argument goes, is given by God alone, and so the usurer sells what he does not have, accepting money and giving nothing in return. Selling time, according to these Parisian theologians, is not only illicit; it is impossible. By claiming to sell it, lenders are engaged in an act of metaphysical fraud. Juxtaposing medieval theology against the modern conviction that ‘time is money,’ in this public lecture and discussion, Sean Capener asks about the costs and consequences of our claims to put a price on time.


Rei Terada, “The Racial Grammar of Kantian TimeEuropean Romantic Review 28:3 (2017), 267-278.

Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Aesthetic, Section II,” in Critique of Pure Reason (excerpt).

Immanuel Kant, “Doctrine of Right, D,” in Metaphysics of Morals (excerpt).

Sean Capener is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Religions at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Straddling two eras of intellectual history, he studies the conjunction of race, religion, and economy in medieval and modern philosophy and theology. He is currently writing a monograph on conceptions of slavery and ‘selling’ time in 13th-century Parisian scholasticism and modern philosophy and political economy. His work has appeared in Rhizomes, Journal for Religious Ethics, and the Heythrop Journal.

A NICHE event: Christoph Mauch – Planetary Blues, American Environments and Slow Hope for the Future 1024 528 Barbara Del Mercato

A NICHE event: Christoph Mauch – Planetary Blues, American Environments and Slow Hope for the Future

Christof Mauch, Director of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, will talk about Planetary Blues, American Environments and Slow Hope for the Future. He will be introduced by the Director of NICHE, Francesca Tarocco. 

This is the first event organised under the new name of The Center for the Humanities and Social Change, i.e. The New Institute Centre for Environmental Humanities at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (NICHE). Please visit our new website and refer to it for our future activities: 

This lecture also inaugurates the NEW BOOKS in Environmental Humanities series, which will continue into 2022.

Full information on Christof Mauch’s lecture here

Registration is required. Please email to receive the registration form or Zoom link.

The Convergence of Social Struggles 150 150 Susann Schmeisser

The Convergence of Social Struggles

with Amna Akbar, Silke van Dyk, Manon Garcia and Romin Khan

“In order to preserve or even expand the welfare state, migration must be stopped.” Claims like these accompanied the turn of former leftists to the racist and even völkisch far-right camp in the last decade. Underlying such considerations is a view of society in which the misery of some can only be eliminated, or even alleviated, by exacerbating the misery of others. The counter-thesis is that democratic co-determination—especially in the economic sphere—can only be expanded if co-determination means explicitly standing up for migration and against racism in an internationalist way. This thesis is based on an image of society in which forms of oppression, exploitation and domination are interconnected, so that the struggle against one of these forms must strive to overcome all forms of oppression, exploitation, and domination. Between both theses lies a third option: the search for a central origin of the relations of exploitation, oppression and domination in society. Only those who stab into the heart of the beast—so they claim—can prevent the heads of the Hydra from multiplying endlessly. The concern here is not only that emancipatory movements will become increasingly distracted by the struggle against myriad social injustices. The concern is also that emancipation is degenerating into a variant of radical liberalism, in which all forms of life have the same right to exist as long as they do not break out of the framework that neoliberal diversity management dictates. With our guests, we want to talk about the pros and cons for one or the other option considering practical social conflicts: What actual experiences indicate that social struggles have a common direction? And what dynamics prevent such a convergence?

Benjamin Lectures 2022 with Nancy Fraser 724 1024 Susann Schmeisser

Benjamin Lectures 2022 with Nancy Fraser

Three Faces of Capitalist Labor: Uncovering the Hidden Ties among Gender, Race and Class

Nancy Fraser’s 2022 Benjamin lectures are inspired by a striking claim made by W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1935 masterpiece, Black Reconstruction. Characterizing abolition as a labor movement, Du Bois held that US history would have been fundamentally altered had the anti-slavery forces been united with movements of free white wage workers. For Du Bois, the failure of these “two labor movements” to recognize one another squandered the chance to build a labor democracy and set the United States on the road to plutocracy. Fraser’s lectures extend Du Bois’s idea to the present and to the rest of the world. Given the persistence of dependent and expropriated labor, she asks: Can the anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles of our era be usefully viewed as unrecognized labor struggles? And if so, why stop there? Can we view feminist movements, too, as unacknowledged struggles over work in systems built on a gendered separation of paid “productive labor” from unpaid carework? Elaborating these hypotheses, Fraser argues that capitalist societies rely on three analytically distinct but mutually imbricated forms of labor: exploited, expropriated, and domesticated. She further argues that the historically shifting relations among these three faces of labor constitute the hidden ties among gender, race, and class. Disclosing those hidden ties, finally, Fraser considers the relations among, not two, but three labor movements and evaluates the prospects for uniting them.

What Approach to Social Totality Does a Critical Theory Need Today? 724 1024 Susann Schmeisser

What Approach to Social Totality Does a Critical Theory Need Today?

Is there still a need for a comprehensive social theory today that clarifies the interrelation and interaction of the various social spheres? In her influential 1994 essay “Gender as Seriality,” Iris Marion Young is skeptical. Much effort, she argues, has gone into theories that serve no particular purpose other than “to understand, to reveal the way things are.” Now, however, she continues, it is time to proceed more pragmatically, that is: “driven by some problem that has ultimate practical importance and […] not concerned to give an account of a whole”. There is nothing wrong with addressing such practical problems—in Young’s case, it is a question of determining the commonality in the experiences of sexist discrimination under the condition of radically different social situations in which such experiences occur. However, the question Young poses, a question of eminent practical importance for feminism, seems to point back to the horizon of a social theory since it is a question about the coherence of social phenomena after all. For this is precisely what a social theory has to do: it has to show the connections that exist between social sub-fields and thus between the experiences made there.

Often enough, social theoretical designs have tried to accomplish this task by postulating clear hierarchies of social phenomena and derivations between them. This strategy made social theory unattractive to many of the new social movements. Today, however, the question is what connects the inheritors of these movements or at least allows us to deal with the conflicts between them on a theoretical level. If the multiple concrete experiences of exploitation, discrimination, exclusion and so on are not to be reduced to an abstract as well as politically ineffective denominator such as “suffering” or “injustice”, must not then the hour of theories, which promise to reconstruct the coherence of social relations, strike again?

We discussed with Lillian Cicerchia, Victor Kempf, Kristina Lepold, Kolja Möller, Dirk Quadflieg, Hartmut Rosa, Martin Saar and Titus Stahl.

Episode 3 of the Critical Theory In Context Podcast offers insights into the discussions of the workshop with an introduction by Rahel Jaeggi. Christian Schmidt talks with Dirk Quadflieg, Kolja Möller and Titus Stahl.



14:00-14:30 Einführung
14:30-15:30 Kolja Möller: Worauf beruht die Kritik der kritischen Systemtheorie?
15:30-16:30 Lillian Cicerchia: Gibt es ein Primat der Ökonomie und was bedeutet ein solches Primat?
17:00-18:00 Victor Kempf: Ist der kommunikative Rationalitätsstandard als Kritikstandard zu halten?
18:00-19:00 Titus Stahl: Ist Herrschaft der Zentralbegriff einer aktuellen Gesellschaftstheorie?


14:00-15:00 Martin Saar: Wie gelingt der Sprung von der allgemeinen Analyse der Machtverhältnisse zur konkreten Gesellschaftsanalyse?
15:00-16:00 Hartmut Rosa: Wie hängen Deutungsnotwendigkeit und Steigerungsimperativ zusammen?
16:30-17:30 Dirk Quadflieg: Was heißt gesellschaftliche Totalität?
17:30-18:30 Abschlussdiskussion

Make Mars Beautiful: The Aesthetics of Sino-forming in the Chinese Century 1024 575 Tom Carlson

Make Mars Beautiful: The Aesthetics of Sino-forming in the Chinese Century

Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at 1:00 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A 

China plans to send its first manned mission to Mars by 2033, and eventually establish a permanent colony on the planet. Many outside China see this ambitious turn towards space colonization as an attempt to establish global leadership in science and technology. But what is the cultural significance of Mars and Martian colonization for the Chinese? To form a better appreciation for Chinese conceptualizations of the relationship between nature and humanity that will shape the country’s interplanetary future, George Zhu urges us to begin with one of China’s most well known artistic treasures, the Meat Shaped Stone. Making connections across centuries of art, environmental management, and imperial ambition, Zhu outlines a possible future for Mars–and the Earth–in what portends to be the Chinese century.

Humanities and Social Change Scholar-in-Residence for December 2021, George Zhu received his master’s in English literature from the University of California Irvine. He is the co-founder of Double Bind Media, a production company specializing in experimental documentary film and other visual media based in Los Angeles and the Netherlands. Currently, he resides in the Netherlands where he develops and produces a range of multidisciplinary new media work. He is also a writer interested in contemporary Chinese culture, environmentalism, endangered species, climate change, and science studies.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, and Environmental Studies Program.