WoNJAR Introducing: Joanna Pedder

The WoNJAR co-founders have decided to kick this blog off with a short series of “introducing” posts so that give us the chance to talk about who we are and what we research. Its Joanna’s turn today.

Perhaps I should mention my own background and relationship with religion. For the earliest years of my life, I learned that religion was something to decide for myself. It was then a strange experience, as a 10-year-old in Australia, when I attended a church for the first time, as my dad begin to engage with Christianity (my mum, like her parents, remains very much an atheist). While we lived there, my dad befriended a Baha’i family, who invited us to the Temple in Sydney – my first experience of visiting a non-Christian place of worship. ‘Religion’ took to a background place for me when I was back in the U.K. during my high schooling and I decided that I was an atheist. Yet I became very interested in philosophy and I always enjoyed the ethical debates in my Religious Studies classes, so I continued this class into my A-Levels. I moved to a Catholic Sixth Form college, however, and I found myself in many debates as an atheist (one of the more vocal) with others in the class (not excluding the Priest who was my teacher).

Bizarrely, I did not originally apply to do my BA in Theology and Religious Studies, so my route was somewhat accidental onto the course. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my course, where I generally pursued modules with a stronger philosophical bent, so it was the right course for me. While I’d continually flirted with the prospect of doing an MA, I didn’t really have my heart set on any particular field in the study of religion until I studied a module in my final UG year called “Religion, Politics and the Future”, a module which challenged and shifted some of my own political perceptions. Despite writing a dissertation I thoroughly enjoyed on meta-ethics and the Hebrew Bible, I had found a passion for political theology in that module. My interests required a move to the University of Manchester for my MA, so I took a somewhat Kierkegaardian ‘leap of faith’ to give me the best grounding to pursue research in my chosen field.

During my MA ‘Religion and Politics’ module I was introduced to conservative dimensions of political theology: Thomas Hobbes and Carl Schmitt. It was reading Schmitt which led me to my current interest in conservatism and its intersection with Catholicism. Although I am not politically conservative (currently I am a member of the U.K. Labour Party), what intrigues me is the defence of Catholicism as a public entity against liberalism and privatisation of belief i.e. the values which I had been raised in. Hence for me, there is a personal philosophical and political connection in my studies, indeed, my own perception of what ‘atheism’ means has evolved substantially since I was 12 years old. Recently I finished a research essay on Schmitt’s 1923 tract Roman Catholicism and Political Form, with a focus on his engagement with Renouveau Catholique literature, a genre containing mystical dimensions aplenty. Politically I have an admiration of miracles in the leftist and emancipatory sense a la Žižek (who I am politically sympathetic with).  However, after studying the conservative interest in the miraculous, I have seen how they’ve become symbolic of divine authority and demonstrative of the ‘anti-technocratic’, thus forming a theological basis for decisionism, a characteristic of conservative/fascist thought. Studying conservatism has honed my own politics – I now refer to myself as an “auratic leftist” (anti-technocratic leftism). Embarking on my current dissertation research into “Arcane, Esoteric and Mystical Intersections with Conservative Political Theory”, I’m sure the personal politico-philosophical challenges will remain as integral to me as the academic.

Find Joanna on Twitter @JoannaPedder

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