RESOURCE: Jamie Smith on A/Theism

A/Theism is an interesting move within the conversation about postmodern theology and the church. An effort by some to overcome onto-theological concerns, you can find it in the writings of the emerging church leader Peter Rollins and in the academic work of John D. Caputo — to name only a couple of thinkers familiar to readers of this blog. Our own series editor, James K. A. Smith, offered a lecture at the University of Ottawa in 2010 entitled “Beyond A/Theism: Postmodernity and the Future of God.” It’s helpful in many ways as an introductory lecture on what continental thinkers like Jacques Derrida are really up to, and why Christian writers like Rollins, Caputo, and others employ his thought about religion. The following is a blurb which describes the nature of the lecture from those who hosted the talk, The House. The video is below.

What is the place for religion in our postmodern society, if any? While new atheists spar with fundamentalisms of various stripes over concerns of exclusivity and violence, there has been a quieter proposal for a “pure” postmodern religion offered by figures as diverse as Jacques Derrida and Mark Johnston. These voices suggest a religion purified of particulars (dogma, institutions, authoritative texts), offering us an alternate hope. But is such a proposal “postmodern” enough, or is there better way to understand God in our conflicted time?


  • Dan

    ref “What is the place for religion in our postmodern society, if any?” -it offers to people a worldview which brings comfort, hope and even healing in some cases (see a recent academic article -available free at

  • Dan
  • Ashe_garr

    Jamie, I have to say that I agreed. As someone who was very supportive of a/theism, particularly through the work of Peter Rollins, but over the last couple of years I’ve come to reject it because of its negative anthropology (abnegation), it is not overly surprising that Pete in his new book insurrection he has come to endorse Zizek and the idea of the ‘big other’.

    I just think it is a bit of an irony that Pete’s main target is fundamentalism (or modernity), but his a/theism just end up promoting it. His a/theism just ends up promoting fundamentalism because he still asks us to speak of God as God really is (which a fundamentalist believes he is doing) and if we dont we only ever speak of a ‘big other’. Why should we promote such a understaning of knowledge?

    I also wonder the interpretation of abnegation which is central to Pete’s interpretation of cross as ‘Godforsakeness’, and Paul’s mandate of ‘Jew/Gentile, male/female, slave/free’, in his new book insurrection, isnt radical enough, because when he claims that Christainity is not about interpretating the world anew but an act of abnegating these interpretations because they are just promoting a ‘big other’, is Pete trying to suggest then that his interpretation of abnegation in relation to the cross and Paul isnt itself a interpretation, that Pete has a view that isnt an interpretation, so what Im trying to say then if Pete is offering an interpretation surely he would have then to abnegate his own story of abnegation, because it is nothing but another ‘big other’,a mythology, which he claims every other interpretation is.

    Garreth Ashe

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