Michael Hogue

A New (Old) American Political Theology: Elemental Democracy in a Time of Ecological Emergency

Professor of Theology
Meadville Lombard Theological School
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Saturday (8/5) 1:30-1:50PM

Resilient Democracy in the Anthropocene: A Theopolitics for a Time of Uncertainty and Paradox

This presentation articulates “resilient democracy“ as a way to enhance life in the geocultural context of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is a paradox that signifies simultaneously a dangerously human age for the Earth and an age of ecological possibility for humanity—in making the Earth homo imago, we have discovered ourselves as terra bestiae. Attuned to the coincidence of the political and socio-ecological vulnerabilities of the Anthropocene paradox, “resilient democracy” provides a normative theory of democratic life that generates and guides efforts to enhance human and more-than-human life in contexts that threaten life.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Politics and Enhancing Life: Disruption, Dialogue, and Democracy

The premise of our laboratory is that in order to engage fully the questions of enhancing life, one must explore it in relation to global political challenges. This is because global political challenges (e.g. climate disruption, terrorism, refugee crises, post-truth media) provoke questions about power (who’s got it, who doesn’t), value (forms and loci) and shared life (social and ecological, global and planetary) that directly bear on the questions of Enhancing Life Studies. The purpose of our laboratory is to test the utility of “Enhancing Life Studies” as a framework for interpreting and/or morally engaging global political challenges. Our group hypothesis is that Enhancing Life Studies provides a way of looking at global political challenges that illuminates them in new ways which we will explore in the laboratory. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

My work as a scholar and educator is situated in the broad area of religion and ecology, where I focus on questions of theological and religious ethics and political theology. My dissertation and first book, The Tangled Bank, compared Hans Jonas’s and James Gustafson’s approaches to the hermeneutical and philosophical questions that arise at the intersections of scientific, theological, and ethical modes of thought. In that work I began to develop a theological ethics that was attuned to both the evolutionary continuity of human and nonhuman life as well as to the special burden of human responsibility for the future of life in a time of eco-crisis. In The Promise of Religious Naturalism I expanded on this work by engaging new forms of American religious naturalism as resources for the development of post-secular religious ethical responses to environmental crises. My current research builds upon my previous work but moves in a more constructive direction through development of a political theology of elemental democracy for a time of ecological emergency. In addition to serving as professor of theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School (Chicago, IL), I hold leadership positions in the AAR and the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought. I am the editor of the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, serve on the editorial boards of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science and Science, Religion, and Culture, and co-direct the Religion, Vulnerability, and Resilience Project.

Project Executive Summary

This project explores questions concerning the enhancement of life through constructive theopolitical engagement of ecological emergency, climate disruption and the corrosions of contemporary American democracy. In response to these challenges, which threaten human and other forms of life, this project seeks to develop a political theology of “elemental democracy”. It will do this by integrating aspects of the pragmatist and process lineages in American religious naturalism with innovations in contemporary democratic theory and practice. Contextually the project explores the interrelatedness of resurgent religious appeals to immanence, the historic crossing of the human species from a biocultural to a geological form of moral agency, the moral phenomenology of climate crisis, and the theopolitical implications of having made the Earth imago homo. Critically the project interrogates the theopolitical roots and symbolic formatting of the extractive political economy that drives ecological emergency, especially as this is manifest through the history of American exceptionalism. Constructively the project integrates an immanental theology with a horizontal politics to form a political theology of “elemental democracy”. This political theology contributes to life’s enhancement by prefiguring the principles and practices of a more socially just, economically equitable, and ecologically responsible future for life—in our state of ecological emergency, the good of the future of life demands a radicalization of democracy, rather than a sovereign exception to it.