The Power of the Future: Prophetic Politics between Political Crises and Civil Rights

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 11:00am to Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 4:30pm

Venue: Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York 10011 (USA)

Organized by: Nitzan LebovicDaniel Weidner

Research project(s): Prophetic Politics in Transatlantic Transfer

Organized in cooperation with the Zentrum Fur Literatur – Und Kulturforschung (Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin) and the Center for Jewish History, New York

Modern forms of prophetic rhetoric became important models for social and political change. The rise of modern political theology, political messianism, secularization, or the revival of “prophetic charisma” contributed to a different mode of revolutionary or reformative change. This change has been characterized by a tight relation between ethical and epistemological, normative and utopian claims, all of which integrated tropes of prophetic rhetoric. From this perspective, it is not sufficient to talk about religious rhetoric in relation to concepts such as hegemony and control; it is as important to consider its appearance in non-institutional discourses and different expressions of popular resistance, and then not only as mere gestures, but in the form of specific practices.

Our workshop in New York will continue in laying the foundation for a transatlantic cooperation about prophetic politics in the twentieth century. A first workshop was held in Berlin in June 2017, and focused mostly on references to an elitist and theoretical form of political prophecy in the Weimar republic. The second workshop, in New York, will follow the prophetic figure across the ocean, as it moves, with A.J. Heschel, Martin Buber, and Paul Tillich, to the American context. Here, historians believe, prophetic politics became more vernacular and more democratic. The second workshop will examine how and where the radical intellectual figure meets with other traditions of prophetic speech, such as the American Jeremiad, Walt Whitman’s transcendental prophetic plea, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s use of prophetic tropes, and the American-Muslim call for social and political reform.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Daniel Weidner (ZfL) and Nitzan Lebovic (Lehigh University): Introduction

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Brian Britt (Virginia Tech University): Prophetic Perfectionism: The Afterlives of Nat Turner and John Brown

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Sam Brody (The University of Kansas): Prophecy and Powerlessness

3:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Sarah Hammerschlag (The University of Chicago): Believing in the U.S.A.: Derrida, Melville and the Great American Charlatan

4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Zvi Ben-Dor Benite (New York University): The Prophetic Voice: Political-Theological Perspectives

6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Keynote Susannah Heschel (Dartmouth College): Political Prophecy versus Liberation Theology: Ethical and Mystical Dimensions

Thursday, September 14, 2017

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM 
Reading session: Written prophecy

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Saladin Ambar (Rutgers University): Catch on Fire: Malcolm X and the Black Prophetic Tradition

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Vincent Lloyd (Villanova University): Samuel Delany as Prophetic Critic

2:30 PM – 3:30 PM
John Pettegrew (Lehigh University): James Baldwin's "Gospel of Love" in Mid-20th Century Democratic Thought

3:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Concluding discussion