What is the relation between religion, violence and community? How is it possible to think of being in common from a decolonial perspective? Is it possible to think of a non-violent religiosity attentive to a non-colonial communal being? The conference „Politics of Dis-Enclosure. Religion – Community – Violence“, organized by the Research Centre “Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society” and supported by the Faculty of Philosophy and Education, sought to address these important questions through the thought and approach of the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy.
The conference took place from 26–27 April 2023 and hosted six international scholars including Prof. Achille Mbembe. It was held on the first day at the Dean’s Hall of the Catholic Theology Faculty at the University of Vienna and on the second day at the Abbey of Melk.
The history of the realisation of this conference stretches back a few years. In fact, it was already planned for 2020 and was conceived as a meeting and debate between Jean-Luc Nancy and Achille Mbembe. Unfortunately, two events came between this idea and its realisation: the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of Jean-Luc Nancy. For this reason, it was then decided not to abandon the idea of the conference, but rather to restructure it and consider it as a conference in memory of Nancy, or rather as a conference that could build on his thought and show its fruitfulness.
The conference was centred around the concept of „dis-enclosure“, coined by Nancy in his 2005 book La Déclosion, Déconstruction du christianisme I. Generally speaking, the term stands for the tense relationship between openness and inclusion, the always ambivalent relationship with the – external as well as internal – Other.
The six speakers engaged with this concept and tried to elaborate on it in a ‚performative‘ way, i.e. by showing concrete ways in which it is possible to put dis-enclosure into practice: Achille Mbembe, one of the most renowned thinkers in the field of postcolonial discourse, Louise du Toit, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, Nabil Echchaibi, Associate Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado, Petra Carlsson, Professor at the Stockholm School of Theology, Hans Schelkshorn, Professor of Intercultural Philosophy at the University of Vienna and Anke Graneß, Intercultural History of Philosophy Professor at the University of Hildesheim and Director of the Project “History of Philosophies in Global Perspectives”.
The first day
The opening lecture of the conference was delivered by the historian and philosopher Achille Mbembe. In his presentation he explored how, in the face of still-prevailing global injustices and the looming climate crisis, we are challenged to redefine our relationship with planet Earth and with both human and non-human forms of life. He presented his new book La communauté terrestre, which raises questions about rethinking the meaning of community from an ecological and political perspective. A community that is not only specifically human, but above all terrestrial, in order to rethink a ‚we‘ in a non-anthropocentric way. Several questions from the audience of more than 50 people followed Mbembe’s talk.
The two subsequent presentations by Professor Louise du Toit and Nabil Echchaibi focused more on the horrific history of slavery and colonialism and the reflection of this still all to present wound in the thinking of African-American, African and Afro-Caribbean thinkers.
While Prof. du Toit raised critical questions about Mbembe’s thought from a feminist perspective – namely, to what extent the figure of the „black man“ excludes specifically female experiences and approaches – Nabil Echchaibi focused on thinkers such as the poet Edouard Glissant and reflections on the historical and ongoing dehumanisation and enclosure of people in the Global South.
The idea of both lectures was to find lines of flight to think out of certain enclosures in order to dis-enclose them. In Echchaibi’s lecture, the main concern was to understand Islamic fugitivity in its positive ways of expression, while Du Toit’s tried to understand how a female African philosophy, such as that found in Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, Sylvia Wynter’s On Being Human as Praxis and Jolyn Phillips‘ Bientang, can be used to break out of the enclosure of a Eurocentric philosophy.
The second day
The second day of the conference, which took place in the Abbey of Melk, was opened by the Swedish professor and theologian Petra Carlsson, who dedicated her talk to the Northern European Sámi people and the history of their „exploration“ by European ethnologists, focusing on how the members of this ethnic group today deal with this subjugation to the objectifying gaze of the Other: the Sámi are increasingly tired of being subjected to the grip of the outside and are appearing more and more as subjects who represent their own interests and defend their lifestyle and culture.
Again, the search for lines of flight, through the study of media and new forms of expression, and for an understanding of indigenous cultures that does not overwrite or appropriate them was a central concern. The concept of Nomadism, which is central to Sámi culture, was also at the heart of her presentation. Understanding Sámi nomadism can be seen as a way of accepting the inalienable nomadic nature of the human being.
Prof. Hans Schelkshorn then took a self-critical look at Europe and asked whether Aimé Césaire’s verdict that Europe is „indefensible“ on an intellectual level must have the last word or whether – with the help of and dialogue with non-European and post-colonial traditions of thought – a saving „deconstruction“ of certain intellectual moments of the so-called „Occident“ is possible.
Schelkshorn therefore asked whether decolonizing moments can be found within European thought-traditions. The aim was to shed light on a possible non-colonial Europe, not limited to its predatory and colonial aspects. Once again, his presentation shed light on how to understand a line of flight that would open up Europe from its being as a sealed-off enclosure on its own continent.
At the end of the conference, Anke Graneß from the University of Hildesheim took up the theme of „non-European thought“ and showed the extent to which the thought traditions of other parts of the world were left out of the classical European historiography of philosophy or marginalised as intellectual products of so-called „primitive“ peoples who were not to be taken seriously. She thus picked up on a theme that was already present in the first lecture of the conference and that can be seen as the connecting thread of the two days: There can only be a chance for global justice if our thinking radically opens up and finally starts listening to the repressed voices that have been muted in the course of a centuries long history of violence.
Her project at the University of Hildesheim that tries to index and study in detail all non-European philosophies turns out to be an excellent strategy to understand how to decolonise our present, academic as well as non-academic, world.
The two days were important to understand how religious studies, theology, philosophy and media studies can adopt a decolonising approach. This was done by employing the method of dis-enclosure announced by Nancy in his book, a concept taken from the Christian-Pauline tradition, and put into practice at this conference.
Disclosure, then, is an act that must be constantly put into practice through the continuous disclosure of new horizons and lines of flight. In this way we can understand our own nature as human beings, as passers-by in our fugitivity.
Article’s photo by Noemi Call
RaT-Blog Nr. 11/2023