Foucault, Art, and Radical Theology: The Mystery of Things, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Foucault, Art, and Radical Theology

The Mystery of Things, 1st Edition

By Petra Carlsson Redell


150 pages | 3 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138334717
pub: 2018-08-03
eBook (VitalSource) : 9780429445170
pub: 2018-07-27
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Michel Foucault wrote prolifically on many topics including, art, religion, and politics. He also eloquently articulated how power structures are formed and how they also might assist resistance and emancipation. This book uses the hermeneutical lens of Foucault’s writings on art to examine the performative, material, and political aspects of contemporary theology.

The borderland between philosophy, theology, and art is explored through Foucault’s analyses of artists such as Diego Velázquez, Édouard Manet, René Magritte, Paul Rebeyrolle, and Gerard Fromanger. Here special focus is placed on performativity and materiality—or what the book terms the mystery of things. At successive junctures, the book discovers a postrepresentational critique of transcendence; an enigmatic material sacramentality; playful theopolitical accounts of the transformative force of stupidity and nonsense; and political imagery in motion enabling theological interpretations of contemporary collectives such as Pussy Riot and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. In conversation with contemporary thinkers including Catherine Keller, Louise-Marie Chauvet, John Caputo, Daniel Barber, Mark C. Taylor, Jeffrey W. Robbins, and Mattias Martinson, the book outlines this source of inspiration for contemporary radical theology.

This is a book with a fresh and original take on Foucault, art, and theology. As such, it will have great appeal to scholars and academics in theology, religion and the arts, the philosophy of religion, political philosophy, and aesthetics.


Foucault, Art, and Radical Theology gives us not only a compelling interpretation of Foucault, but also a vital conception of a materialist and non-representational theology. Petra Carlsson Redell engages Foucault’s reflections on painting, from Velasquez and Manet to Magritte, Rebeyrolle, and Fromanger, to grasp the complex interaction of bodies and things on a surface of infinite appearances. However, unlike the a/theology of Mark C. Taylor, Carlsson Redell emphasizes the political significance of Foucault’s aesthetics, and how it contributes to a materialist theology that refuses transcendence while still infusing transformative political activism. This is a wonderful book that imagines a new future for theology!’ – Clayton Crockett, University of Central Arkansas. Author of Radical Political Theology

‘In this riotously refreshing theopolitics of material performativity, art, ritual and protest generate an entrancing mystery. With her beautiful writing and her companionable theorizing, Petra Carlsson Redell paints a surface –a brilliantly luminous surface—of theology’s radical and ironic potential for political action.’ – Catherine Keller, George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology, The Theological School, Drew University. Author of Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement

‘In Foucault, Art, and Radical Theology Petra Carlsson Redell deftly articulates Foucault’s renewal of painting’s engagement with surfaces, suggesting that it is time to rethink theology in material terms. "Mysteries" can now be understood as carnal and performative liturgies, not simply as secrets of transcendent realities. Carlsson Redell argues forcefully that contemporary interruptions of conventional religion – like the Russian group Pussy Riot – are not anti-religious but embody new forms of sacramentality.’ – Gary Shapiro, University of Richmond. Author of Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying

‘Petra Carlsson Redell’s study provokes us to realize—some of us for the first time—how often Michel Foucault employed fine-art painting as a vehicle for creative philosophizing. He reflected with profound attention to specific painters’ unique sensibilities as manifested in the purposive quests and obsessions of their works: Velázquez, Manet, Magritte, Rebeyrolle, Fromanger. For him, paintings provide the "erratic space" in which the creative play between words and things, images and ideas, turns self-ironizing and maximally paradoxical. The author traces through the later decades of Foucault’s career, documenting how the philosopher took stock of paintings as implicit philosophies, harbingers of epochal modes of vision in the making. She then demonstrates how this "live" philosophizing via artistic sensibility can potentially inspire new modes of theological reflection that are wholly immanent within worldly life and duly sensitive to the mysteries—visible and invisible, named and unnamable—that abound in our midst. As she puts it in her own words: "Rather than pursuing a theology against the grain of the surrealist play with nonsense and meaninglessness, I have endeavored to infuse theology with the challenges of avant-garde and surrealist thought.’ – Lissa McCullough, Adjunct professor of Philosophy, California State University. Author of The Call to Radical Theology

‘Petra Carlsson Redell’s Foucault, Art, and Radical Theology offers an enlightening review of Michel Foucault’s aesthetic writings in order to draw out the significance of his thought on the whole for radical theological reflection. As each chapter draws richly from the works of various artists, and Foucault’s timely responses to them, we see a narrative unfold on the mystery of surface appearances that actually speaks to the profound depths of human experience. No theologically-minded individual can read this work and walk away unchanged.’ – Colby Dickinson, Loyola University Chicago

Table of Contents


1 The Surface of Appearances: A Mystery of Things

2 Velázquez: The Place of Theology

3 Manet: Material Sacramentality

4 Magritte: The Betrayal of Images

5 Rebeyrolle: Theory as Activism

6 Fromanger: Imagery in Motion

Conclusion: Marvels and Actions

About the Author

Petra Carlsson Redell is an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Stockholm School of Theology, Sweden. She has published multiple times on religion, philosophy and art in journals such as Studia Theologica and The Oxford Journal of Literature & Theology, and in books including Mysticism as Revolt (2014).

About the Series

Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies

The Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies series brings high quality research monograph publishing back into focus for authors, international libraries, and student, academic and research readers. This open-ended monograph series presents cutting-edge research from both established and new authors in the field. With specialist focus yet clear contextual presentation of contemporary research, books in the series take research into important new directions and open the field to new critical debate within the discipline, in areas of related study, and in key areas for contemporary society.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Aesthetics
PHILOSOPHY / Religious
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Christianity / Literature & the Arts
RELIGION / Philosophy
RELIGION / Christian Theology / General
RELIGION / Religion, Politics & State
RELIGION / Theology
RELIGION / Blasphemy, Heresy & Apostasy