RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013

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148 Eschatology and World Politics
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Rory Rowan (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Ross Adams (University College London, UK)
Chair(s) Rory Rowan (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Timetable Thursday 29 August 2013, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room RGS-IBG Tea Room
Session abstract This session seeks to examine the influence of apocalyptic and eschatological conceptions of historical time on world politics and the various ways that these understandings of history are and have been ‘spatialised’ in both spatial imaginaries and political practices.
There has been much discussion in recent years about the ‘return of religion’ with the growth of world religions and their rising influence on world politics, from the sway of the Christian Right in the United States to the impact of militant Islam in a number of areas. We aim to investigate what role eschatological thought has played in shaping the spatial imaginaries of religious groups and their influence on world politics.

At the same time representing historical change in terms of apocalyptic events has become a dominant trope in popular mediums such as film, literature, video games and comic books. We believe that these representations act as an important register for understanding the relationship between eschatological thought and world politics and the way in which geopolitical imaginaries both shape, and are shaped in turn by, the threat of political and environmental catastrophe.
Following the argument made by Carl Schmitt and others that key modern political concepts represents secularized versions of theological concepts, we seek to examine the shadow eschatological thought casts on the fundamental categories of modern (geo)political thought and the ways in which world politics have been conceived. Whilst the process of secularization by which Christian, but also Jewish and Islamic, theological concepts have been transformed in to secular concepts in modern political thought has been remarked upon in the field of ‘political theology’ the implicit and explicit relationship between such ideas and the political organization of space and geopolitical imaginaries has yet to be fully explored. We believe that political theology is an area of thought that deserves serious attention from the perspective of Geography and spatial thinking more broadly.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2013@rgs.org
‘Vialidad’ and the Fulfillment of Utopia: Political Theology of the Urban
Ross Adams (University College London, UK)
From his earliest work in the 1850’s, civil engineer and urban planner Ildefonso Cerdá developed a concept that would occupy the center of his theory of urbanización and which drove his famous project, the ‘Reform and Extension of Barcelona’ of 1859. This concept was what he called vialidad, or roughly ‘circulation’. While his positivist, liberal conception of the city was one which reduced it to the convenience of dwellings and a network of infrastructure connecting them, the dominant of the two principles is that of circulation (or vialidad). Through this notion, Cerdá imagined the achievement of an earthly form of transcendence which no longer described an act of passage from one world to another, but rather a means of connecting the individual with an immanent universality bound up in the sentient link between the single, private dwelling and the totality of an urbanized society. Through vialidad, Cerdá envisioned a world civilized by and united in the freedom of unencumbered circulation; in a word, an urbanized world bearing no exterior to itself. This paper will examine Cerdá’s notion of vialidad as a signature of a certain secularization of eschatology through the construction of a concrete spatial order. The urban—as opposed to the city—is the modern vehicle of earthly salvation set in perpetual motion (urbanization), which promises to deliver society not only from the oppression of politics, but from the political and historical burden of topos itself.
Apocalypse Ciao! The End Times of Environmentalism
Gerald Aiken (Durham University, UK)
Defining apocalyptic, eschatological, and millenarian concepts is notoriously difficult. These categories are not mutually exclusive, but overlap in different ways, according to different people. Of more certainty is the rise in the ‘secularised theological concept’, in the attempt to understand the social: both temporally and spatially. Simon Critchley (2012) for instance outlines the ‘political theology’ of Carl Schmitt (1985), and the ‘secular theology’ of John Gray (2002, 2007), arguing both are united in assuming the important and neglected role of secularised theological concepts in the social realm, even in their divergent positions. This paper looks to investigate one such secularised theological concept: that of the millenarian apocalyptic. Doing so adds nuanced theoretical understanding of environmental movements, their aims and activities. It will investigate and explore the connections between ‘traditional’ readings of the apocalypse with current environmental groups and movements. It adopts Norman Cohn’s (1970 [1957]) five-fold definition of millenarian thinking, where salvation is only possible if it is: collective, terrestrial, imminent, total, and miraculous. The paper then proceeds by tracing out evidence of these beliefs, practices, activities and even faith in such occurrences, within current UK environmental activism. This is based on first-hand, empirical research with such environmental activist groups. The paper concludes with an assessment of the value secularised theological categories provide in understanding social phenomena such as the environmental movement, compared to alternative insights from fields such as behavioural psychology or moral philosophy.
Protection - Evil = Obedience: An Examination of the Rationality of State Sovereignty
Mika Luoma-aho (University of Lapland, Finland)
This paper does two things: it provides (1) an epistemological foundation to (2) a logical problem concerning political geography. Firstly: it conceptualises political institutions and power relations as propositions in our noetic structure, i.e. as parts of the sum total of beliefs we hold. This exercise introduces something I call “the ontopolitical set,” which contains five essential propositions about human political geography:
1. Evil exists in the world
2. States exist in the world
3. States identify certain territories with certain populations
4. The most important function of states is to “protect” its correspondent populations, "citizens", from the world's “evil.”
5. Duty of the "citizens" is to support the most important function of their state by relating to it in a manner of “obedience.”
Most people accept the above propositions most of the time, without inference or argument, as matters of geographical "fact". Problems arise, however, if most people most of the time abandon belief in at least “one” of the above propositions.
But does this matter? I think it does because the legitimacy of the territorial sovereignty of the state hinges on that people believe “all” the propositions of the ontopolitical set in a properly basic way, i.e. as self-evident and incorrigible geographical "facts". If one proposition fails, either necessarily or contingently, the legitimacy of the territorial state -- or in the contingent case: the territorial state in question -- over the human being is based on a fatal contradiction and can no longer be rationally sustained. In other words: the political map of the Enlightenment could based on something else than reason and we might have to look elsewhere to "ground" the political form of the territorial state.
Modernity, Eschatology and Global Order: Carl Schmitt’s Spatial Histories
Rory Rowan (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
This paper outlines a research project for exploring the relationship between historical and spatial imaginaries in twentieth century European political thought and the influence this relationship exerted on concepts of world order. It pursues the idea that important European debates in the early twentieth century about the philosophy of history, secularization and the ‘legitimacy of the modern age’, long overlooked in Geography, profoundly shaped global spatial imaginaries and the development of theories of world order in the post-war period. The main focus of the paper will fall on the work of Carl Schmitt, examining how his understanding of global spatial order was shaped by an eschatological philosophy of history. It will argue that Schmitt not only understood global political order to be grounded in spatial division, but further, that he considered spatial differentiation to restrain the acceleration of historical time and hold the inevitable apocalyptic end of history at bay. The obscure biblical figure of the Katechon will be shown to occupy an important point of conceptual intersection between his eschatological historical imaginary and his reactionary geopolitical vision. It will argue that despite the seemingly arcane nature of Schmitt’s arguments about global spatial order they took shape in relation to broader debates about the philosophy of history that have influenced conceptions of world order in Europe and the United States, notably through the influence of émigré intellectuals such as Hans Morgenthau, right through the post-war period until the present.