What is a theological concept? Part 1: Introduction

In this new series of posts I want to ask a question that is simple enough to pose: “what is a theological concept?” The question comes out of lines of inquiry I opened up in Difficult Atheism but wasn’t able to bring to a conclusion, as well as from reflections I have been pursuing since its publication.

As I set out on this series, I understand the question “what is a theological concept” to comprise four main areas of inquiry:

  • When a given philosopher employs a term from the lexical field of theology (say “miracle” in Badiou’s work), how are we to decide whether his use of the term is theological or not? The etymology would suggest that it is; the context of Badiou’s philosophy would suggest that it isn’t. What other factors should be taken into account, in addition to etymology and context? What systematic methodology that we can bring to such instances, one that would take into account all (or nearly all) possible cases rather than approaching each case of suspected theology in a haphazard way or with bespoke criteria intended to ensure a predetermined response?
  • What is it that makes a particular term, or a particular gesture or intuition, a ‘theological’ one?
  • What is ‘theology’ anyway, for the purposes of this question? How is it to be defined and understood, such that a given concept can be qualified as ‘theological’?
  • If a given concept arose within a religious or theological context, on what basis do we assume it to be a ‘theological’ concept? Take ‘miracle’ again, for example, or creation ex nihilo. What makes those notions theological? Is it always about an appeal to an instance of transcendence? What are the exceptions to that rather sweeping rule (i.e. transcendence that is not theological, and theology that is not transcendent)? Do religion and theology hold the copyright on everything they invent?

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