Prophetic discourse and postmodernism: Towards a critical theory of religion

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Charles Winguist


Religion, Critical theory, Postmodern

Subject Categories



The dissertation presents a "critical theory of religion" which demonstrates that there has been an alteration of relations between "critique" and "religion" in the "postmodern" cultural situation. Chapter I delineates the notion of the postmodern as a cultural context for contemporary theoretical writing. The Marxism of Fredric Jameson provides a test-case for the question as to how critical theory engages the postmodern. Chapter II elaborates Jameson's theory of religion in the context of an argument that Marxist critique and religion display a new configuration in postmodernity. Chapter III probes the differences between Jameson and classical Marxism on the questions of science and utopia, which have been understood as central to the question of religion in the Marxist context. In Chapter IV Jameson's notion of "prophetic discourse" emerges as exemplary of the sense of a co-implication between Marxism and religion. Chapter V confronts Jameson with alternative views of postmodernism and religion which call into question the central terms of his project. The concluding chapter returns to the issues of religion, Marxism, and utopia, developing the ethico-political consequences of the positions held by Jameson and alternative theorists. The progression of themes thus develops a critical theory of religion with ethico-political interest.

The inquiry proceeds through a reading of Jameson's texts in juxtaposition with alternative approaches to Marxism, postmodernism, and religion. A "thickly described" nexus of textual positions is thus elaborated as an enactment of the view that "culture" consists of a conversational polyphony of voices.

The conversation on Marxism and religion demonstrates the substantive result that the discursive status of these cultural texts (Marxism and religion) should be approached as neither mutually exclusive nor identical, but complexly intertwined in a fashion that calls into question any attempt to eliminate religion from Marxism and Marxism from religion. The substantive question of relations between Marxism and religion is also seen as an occasion for a characterization of the formal modality of postmodern cultural criticism. The "mixing" of Marxism and religion in the reading of Jameson and his conversational partners is construed as a critical perspective which revisions the modern sense of a necessary opposition between critical theory and religion. The undermining of this opposition in turn demonstrates a defamiliarizing vocation for postmodern cultural criticism.


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