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The 'Returns to Religion': Messianism, Christianity and the Revolutionary Tradition. Part I: 'Wakefulness to the Future'

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The central strength of the Hegelian dialectical tradition is that reason is not divorced from its own internal limits in the name of a reason free from ideological mediation and constraint. This article holds onto this insight in the examination of the recent (and widespread) returns to religious categories in political philosophy and political theory (in particular Agamben, Badiou, Negri and Žižek). In this respect the article follows a two-fold logic. In the spirit of Hegel and Marx, it seeks to recover what is 'rational in religion'; and, at the same time, examines the continuing entanglements of politics (and specifically revolutionary thinking) with religious categories. That this is an atheistic and materialist project is not in a sense strange or anomalous. On the contrary, it is precisely the 'secularisation' of Judeo-Christian categories in Kant, Hegel and Marx's respective theorisation of history, that provides the dialectic ground of the atheistic recovery and invocation of Judeo-Christian thought (in particular messianism, renunciation, and fidelity) in recent political philosophy. Consequently the discussion of religion, or 'religion beyond religion', here, has very little to do with the spread of obscurantism and anti-rationalism in the global upsurge of reactionary Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms, neo-Pagan mysticisms, and other retreats from the real, or with the left-liberal denunciation of religion in the recent writings of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Rather, 'religion' here, in its Judeo-Christian legacy, is that which embodies the memory or prospect of a universal emancipatory politics.

Affiliations: 1: University of Wolverhampton;, Email:


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