Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality
Book by Jeremy R. Carrette; Routledge, 2000
I am not where you are lying in wait for me, but over here, laughing at you? .Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write. Foucault (1969a) The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 17
Foucault wrote to be free but everywhere he is in chains. The slow process of locating, defining and appropriating him has turned man into icon and complex texts into soundbites. If Foucault was previously 'over there' laughing at those who put his papers in order (those who had tried to define and position him), he would now be in hysterics at the limits imposed on his texts. In the light of such a situation it is perhaps time to ask a whole new set of questions about the politics of reading Foucault. How can we, for example, read his texts outside the disciplinary regimes that have so far appropriated his work? How can we let his writings find a voice, a texture and a complexity outside the packaged and predictable interpretations of previous readings? How can we release him from the chains of commodified knowledges which highlight, reify and stereotype the complex folds of a thinker? How can we take his work out of the reductive introductions, the shortsighted dismissals, the obscure categories, the normalising labels and the rash generalisations? How can we begin to make his work as complex as the life of the man? How can we extend, elaborate and elucidate what has been hidden and marginalised in his work? How can we learn to read the richness of Foucault's texts from the outside?
By raising these questions I am not suggesting that there is 'real' Foucault to be discovered in some original free-floating space, but rather suggesting that it is necessary to find an interdisciplinary and historically located reading which seeks to appreciate the breadth and complexity of his work. The questions I am posing become even more significant in the light of the publication of Dits et écrits (and the English translations arising from that work) and the publication of the Collège de France lectures. There is now a possibility to appreciate the intricate developments and subtle nuances of Foucault's writing in a new light. Foucault scholarship, it would seem, is about to enter a second wave of examination from the initial explosion of interest. As Arnold Davidson makes clear, the publication of Dits et écrits in 1994 'requires us to rethink the place of Foucault in twentieth-century intellectual life, allows us to rediscover the scope and importance of his work, and, above all, to recognise his continued philosophical force'.
To begin an examination of the religious nature of Foucault's writing may appear to some to be yet another disciplinary appropriation, but this work is not so much about applying Foucault to themes in religion or theology as an attempt to examine the religious tropes of his writing in order to explore how he reflected upon and examined religious and theological ideas. This work seeks to enter the richness of Foucault's texts, to retrieve and fold texts together, in order to discover a 'religious question' at the heart of his work. In this sense I am seeking to appreciate the diversity of his work by opening the space for thinking about a forgotten strand of his writing.
Those with an allegiance to the history or disciplinary parameters of philosophical analysis and those who have no appreciation of the interdisciplinary work of religion and cultural studies, which incorporates French literary ideas, continental philosophy, queer theory and feminism, will find this work grinds against their sanitised worlds. For I am not seeking to locate Foucault in the historical context of philosophy or theology-a task completed in the fragments of other studies. 2 This work does not seek to force Foucault into any disciplinary straitjacket but rather reads him 'across disciplines' by closely following the contours of his varied and dynamic work. My reading of Foucault seeks in this sense to follow his disruptive spirit rather than locate him in any single disciplinary context-something which will be of irritation to those in the Anglo-American tradition which attempts to force Foucault into restrictive disciplinary frames. This tension has been identified by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who states:
I would like to suggest that the United States approach to Foucault, on either side of the debate, is generally within the same side of a clash of epistemes. Both Gutting on the one hand and Dreyfus and Rabinow on the other like Foucault and want to save him for philosophy. But if an episteme can be taken, loosely, to be one level of social pouvoir savoir, then these colleagues seem to inhabit a rather different one from Foucault's.. One feels the tension of making Foucault fit for the consumption of American students and colleagues; the will to regularize him, normalize him, disciplinarize him. While I acknowledge the importance of mapping the intellectual trajectories of Foucault's thinking in, for example, philosophy and the history of science, I do not seek to restrict or limit Foucault to any specific disciplinary frame in the exploration of the question of 'religion'-not least because, as Asad and King have illustrated, the concept of 'religion' is itself a Western discursive construct bound up with a series of power relations.