skip to content

Faculty of Divinity


Theology and Theory

Reading Group: Theology and Theory Michaelmas Term 2020

Time: 12.30-13.45 every other Thursday during term

Location: Zoom (link on Moodle)

Convenor: Professor Simeon Zahl

This reading group will meet in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms discuss short texts in recent critical theory from the perspective of Christian theology.

The focus will be on two areas of particular interest for contemporary theology: affect theory and the ‘postcritical turn’. Both developments offer new creative resources for thinking about topics of intrinsic interest to theology: the relationship between emotion, thinking, and behaviour; the relationship between subjectivity and normativity; the ways that texts function as more than just carriers of conceptual information; the necessity of critique (in light of a doctrine of sin and fallenness, and the hidden dynamics of power) but also its limits (in light of the goodness of creation, the possibility of redemption, the special status of the Bible, and eschatological hope).

The reading group will also attend to how developments like affect theory and the ‘postcritical turn’ signal new opportunities for theology to contribute to wider discussions in the humanities and beyond. As will be evident in the readings, in several ways such theory is now exploring dynamics that theology has been reflecting upon for centuries, such that theology has much to offer to this wider academic conversation.

In Michaelmas Term, we will focus on affect theory, including readings from Eve Sedgwick, Sara Ahmed, and Saba Mahmood, as well Kathryn Tanner’s recent account of capitalism as a technology of desire in Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism. In Lent Term we will focus on ‘postcritical’ texts from Eve Sedgwick and Rita Felski, amongst others.

This reading group is conceived especially with postgraduate Christian theologians in mind who may not be familiar with these texts, but anyone with an interest in the relationship between theology, affect theory, and postcritical theory is most welcome to take part. The reading group will be led by Dr Zahl, and will take place every other week during term on Zoom. Texts will be made available via Moodle. If you have any questions please email Dr Zahl (

Michaelmas Term

15 October

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (with Adam Frank), ‘Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Sylvan Tomkins’, in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 93-121

29 October

Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd ed. (Edinbugh University Press, 2014), pp. 1-19, 168-90 (Introduction: ‘Feel Your Way’ and Chapter 8: ‘Feminist Attachments’)

12 November

Saba Mahmood, ‘Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide?’, Critical Theory 35 no. 4 (2009), pp. 836-62

26 November

Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (Yale University Press 2019), pp. 63-101 (Chapter 3: ‘Total Commitment’)

Professor Simeon Zahl (
University Lecturer in Christian Theology
University of Cambridge