David Galston, Archives and the Event of God: The Impact of Michel Foucault on Philosophical Theology (Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2011).
Reviewed by J. Carl Gregg
The Rev. J. Carl Gregg is the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, and a Doctor of Ministry candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He is also a featured blogger at Patheos (http://www.patheos.com/community/carlgregg/).
Galston categorizes his work as “philosophical hermeneutics” (ix). As part of the acknowledgements, Galston expresses gratitude to Don Cupitt, and Cupitt’s influence on this book is evident in the many references to him in both the body of the text and the footnotes. In the Introduction, Galston begins with the question of “What Is Philosophical Theology?” Then he quickly proceeds to his specific interest of what Foucault has to teach the field of philosophical theology. However, his concern is not what Foucault did or did not say about religion (which was not much overall); instead, he explores what it might have looked like if Foucault had written about religion. To this end, Galston seeks to apply basic Foucauldian moves, especially from The Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish, to imagine what it might look like to think theologically “in a Foucauldian way” (11-12). He also names three scholars who have previously sought to “think with Foucault” regarding religion: James William Bernauer’s Michel Foucault’s Force of Flight (theological ethics), Marc P. Lalonde’s “Power/Knowledge and Liberation” (liberation theology), and Thomas R. Flynn’s numerous essays (theology) (13).
The first seven chapters are introductory and lay the groundwork for the later chapters. Thus, those already familiar with Foucault’s work may want to skip directly to chapter 8, where Galston’s most original and constructive work begins. In Chapter 8, “The Archive and Theology,” Galston begins in earnest to apply Foucault’s concept of “archive” to theology. In his words, he begins “philosophically ‘thinking’ the concept of God in the archivist way” (95). Foucault, as a post-structructuralist, holds that “language creates (rather than identifies) a hermeneutical structure. Thus, to undertake the study of language historically, to enter its sense within a given discursive strata . . . is to encounter the epistemological creations of language. Foucault called such strata or epistemic layers of language ‘archives.’ He examined these archives through his unique projects of archaeology and genealogy” (7). Accordingly, Galston explores “Archaeological Theology” in Chapter 9 and “Genealogical Theology” in Chapter 10. In summary, Galston writes of “two questions for consideration in the context of the philosophical study of theology. One is the archaeology question about the epistemological condition of thinking theologically in the archive. This can be called the question of displaying the archive. The second question concerns the genealogical practice of being in the archive. This can be called the question of dwelling” (134). As a helpful referent for both archaeological and genealogical theology, he uses the umbrella term “archival theology” (111).
In Chapter 9, Galston also helpfully compares and contrasts his project with forerunners such as Feuerbach. Perhaps the most important difference is the shift to a thoroughgoing anti-essentialism, letting go of any correspondence theory of truth. Instead, in the spirit of post-structuralism, “The God concept is comprehended as a side effect of the linguistic event . . .” (113). Or as Galston later writes, “The question is not whether God exists but what function the God-form plays and how that form is involved in archive productivity” (125).
Since this review is part of the church and postmodern culture: conversation blog — and since the first volume of similarly-titled book series was James K. A. Smith’s Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, And Foucault to Church — I want to at least briefly address the implications of “taking Foucault to church” in light of Galston’s archival theology. To do so, I will turn to the final chapter, “Displaying and Dwelling in the Archive.”
First, Galston repeatedly defines his work in contrast to the “dominant apologetic tradition.” Therefore, one hope of archival theology is freedom from the defensive posture of apologetics. Second, Galston does not shy away from the nihilistic implications of his work; instead, he points us to the ways that archival theology can inspire -- in the midst of nihilism -- a freedom for “dwelling transgressively in the archive.” Third, realizing one’s role in production of the “God-form” can lead to a sense of personal responsibility. In contrast to apologetic theology, which can retreat into blaming prejudices (whether for slavery or against women or homosexuals) on the Bible or tradition, archival theology recognizes that the “side effects” of one’s theology are not inevitable, but are the social products of individuals and communities. To close with the intentionally and rightly open-ended final section of Galston’s concluding sentence, “[archival theology is] about taking the space liberated from apology and, in transgression, delivering that space to awareness that eludes the weight of resolution” (147).