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Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason 2nd Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1405136846
ISBN-10: 1405136847
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for the First edition

"Milbank's work is a tour de force of systematic theology. It would be churlish not to acknowledge its provocation and brilliance."
Times Higher Education Supplement<!--end-->


"The thesis is relatively simple, its orchestration is stunning in scope as well as in harmonies."
Modern Theology


"John Milbank’s sprawling, ambitious and intellectually demanding book is in a class of its own."
Studies in Christian Ethics


"John Milbank has written a masterful review of the development of modern social thought that at the same time offers a criticism of its dominant paradigms and suggests inherent limits on its accomplishments."
Journal of Religion

Praise for the Second Edition

Theology and Social Theory has proven to be a bombshell… We are, therefore, extremely fortunate to have this second edition with Milbank’s dazzling new ‘Preface’. Re-reading this book is always a pleasure, because it is filled with surprises that force thought.”
Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University


"When the first edition was published the reaction was one of shock. Now, fifteen years on, the shock has worn off; more and more people are questioning the universal competency of secular reason. But this make all the more important the publication of this second edition. Milbank develops an alternative which has been steadily developing and enriching in the intervening years."
Charles Taylor, McGill University

"[Theology and Social Theory] remains a dense, challenging and elusive masterpiece of a book, which has lost none of its power to intrigue and repel in equal measure."
Times Literary Supplement, Sept 2006

"This second edition is a vital aid to any reader who wishes to understand more fully how Theology and Social Theory relates to Milbank's continued publications and radically orthodox sensibilities."
Theological Book Review

"An influential and important book … instructive for students in that it analyses and challenges contemporary assumptions about society and religion." Teaching Theology & Religion

From the Back Cover

In modern times, the social sciences have sought to explain religion from a neutral, secular vantage-point. In response, theology has tried to legitimate itself by building upon social scientific conclusions. In this acclaimed book, John Milbank suggests that both enterprises are compromised by the theological and anti-theological assumptions built into the social sciences themselves.

This new edition of Theology and Social Theory brings John Milbank’s classic work fully into line with his most recent views and is laid out in an easier-to-read format. It features a substantial new preface in which Milbank answers his critics by defending and further elaborating his metahistorical vision.

Provocative and well-argued, this updated classic from one of the world’s leading theologians offers a comprehensive treatment of the relation between theology and social theory, all the way from Plato to Deleuze.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (February 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405136847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405136846
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Theology and Social Theory boldly argues that political economics, sociology and other forms of classical social theory are far from scientific. Many will not consider this news. Milbank's reasons are, however, novel. He persuasively contends that these social "sciences" are riddled through and through with theological premises and heretical ones at that! Milbank demonstrates that the social sciences provide theoretical groundwork for secular (read anti-Christian) praxis. Social scientific definitions of religion, for example, restrict religion to a purely private realm and thereby create autonomous space for unjust economic and social practices. Defanging Christianity by inventing "religion" makes room for secularity. Milbank's conclusion: theologians who take their cue from social theory fall captive to false theological claims and so sell their souls for a mess of pottage. Agree or not, Milbank must be read
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Milbank appears to have struck a nerve. A glance at the user profile of the writer below will you give you a sense of where this guy is coming from. In effect this "review" is a fairly desperate attempt to circle the wagons around the dogmas of the left-academic establishment. The point that is missed here (and it's one of the keys to Milbank's argument) is that these folks do indeed have not just "assumptions" but dogmas, comprising in effect a secular, materialist religion, one that sees nothing at work in the world except amoral "power relations." (The only thing that matters in the end is who has the power.) That there are still people out there who can be moved to a spirited defense of this point of view, which has served as the ideological foundation of so many of the horrors of the 20th century, is more than a little depressing.
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Format: Paperback
Milbank begins, "Once there was no secular..." and goes on to argue convincingly that the entire idea of a secular sphere is a creation of secular reason (social theory). The secular is a sphere of violence, present in antiquity, interupted by Christianity, and then through the Church's failure to imagine and practice peace, unleashed in a more pure form. Secular theory and practice are, ontologically violent and are born of the pagan stories of violent creation and stand in contrast to the Christian creation story of peaceful emanation.
The boldness of Milbank's thesis is matched by his thorough analysis of and engagment with secular social theorists from Machiavelli to Deleuze. Milbank dedicates most of the book to a re-narration of the history of secular social theory from the perspective of Christian theology. This serves to unmask the secular as one way of living in the world and not inevitably the way things are. Milbank calls for theology to stop deferring to secular social theory and to recognize itself as an alternative to the secular, as the social theory for "the other city," the city of God. An impressive and inspiring book.
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Milbank's work is dense, frustrating, painfully difficult, and nothing less than brilliant. Not only does he persuasively demythologize modernity's own demythologization of Christianity, he levels the great icons of the post/modern age in the process! As the cover states, this book is a 'tour de force' of the highest degree, and truly epic in proportions. As one completes the final page (not a small feat indeed!) one is left with the sentiment that western history might just need to be rewritten.
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Format: Paperback
This is a large work that I would only recommended to scholars and graduate students that have done quite a bit of reading in social theory prior to cracking open this book. I found myself that I enjoyed those chapters more in which I was more familar with the texts and ideas being studied. Other parts of the book left me wanting to do more background reading. It is obvious that Milbank has an incredibly erudite knowledge of both theology and social theory, and it seems to me that this a text that can be quite easily misunderstood. For the patient, however, I believe that its contents are a powerful message for Christian theology that just now seems to be able to see itself as philosphically on par with the Enlightenment tradition and its successors beyond apologetics. Milbank's critique the servility of theology behind the profane narratives of humanity and history and ends his work with the articulation of a Neo-Platonist, Christian alternative. Of course, it pisses some people off, since it refuses to bow to popular assertions such as "Christianity is a tool for supporting and promoting patriarchal domination," and other such tripe.
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Milbank's Theology and Social Theory is a large and complex text that put Milbank and subsequent Radical Orthodoxy on the theological map. Its second edition (reviewed here) has a helpful and clarifying introduction to this trajectory. (Theology and Social Theory was first published in 1990; its 2nd ed. in 2006). Critical and sweeping, the argument and subsequent effect of this book in theology make it essentially a postmodern theological polemic.

As the subtitle suggests, Milbank's book attempts to move "beyond" secular reason. His indictment of secularity and its modern forms of social and philosophical thought - as well as all theological traditions that borrow or depend on them - is that they are varieties of paganism.

Milbank's critique and argument are mainly against all forms of modern theology: its underpinnings in classic liberalism and Kantian epistemology, as well as all forms of liberation theology, with their indebtedness to Hegelian/Marxist perspectives on history and existentialism (which Milbank speaks much less of).

Milbank's chief intellectual opponents, alluded to amidst his sweeping critiques, are Kant (his critique of metaphysics, unknowable ding-an-sich, and autonomous subject), Hegel/Marx (phenomenology and dialecticism), and the autonomy of naturalism and secular reason at the heart of modern social theory. Milbank methodologically rejects (while borrowing from) all forms of dialecticism, positivism, or autonomous claims of rationality or universality in accessing "truth." He argues these methodological assumptions and corresponding presuppositions as arbitrary and deconstructable, arguing they erect circular and self-referential (he quips tautological) theories.
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