Venturing into dangerous territory here. There is this term which has become embedded in a kind of academic dogma to such an extent that it can be used as an epithet.
A few years back, during a break-out session at the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference in Sydney, we were supposed to discuss gendered power and what it meant for socialists. I suggested that we unpack "masculinity" for its associations with power, whereupon I was passed quietly over. A woman sitting next to me brought it up again.
"I'd like to talk about constructions of masculinity, too," she said.
She was shut down like a Republican government.
"We aren't going to entertain essentialism here," said the facilitator.
I've been trying ever since to get a handle on what exactly essentialism is, but the difficulty is that its none of several formal definitions match all the ways in which it is employed in (almost exclusively academic) discourse.
Here are the definitions I can find:
"Essentialism is the view that, for any specific entity (such as an animal, a group of people, a physical object, a concept), there is a set of attributes which are necessary to its identity and function. In Western thought the concept is found in the work of Plato and Aristotle." -Wikipedia"
"the practice of regarding something (as a presumed human trait) as having innate existence or universal validity rather than as being a social, ideological, or intellectual construct." -Merriam-Webster
"an educational theory that ideas and skills basic to a culture should be taught to all alike by time-tested methods" - Merriam-Webster
"a philosophical theory ascribing ultimate reality to essence embodied in a thing perceptible to the senses" - Merriam-Webster
"the practice of regarding something (as a presumed human trait) as having innate existence or universal validity rather than as being a social, ideological, or intellectual construct" -Merriam-Webster
In academia, however, it has become part of a debate among various constructivist feminists and gender theorists, and here is where it gets confusing, because it is portrayed as a debate between two camps - objectivists, who are (eww) essentialists and constructivists, who are presumably not.
In this milieu, there are several ways in which the term is used. It might be used to describe biological determinism. "Men are naturally masculine," masculinity being an essence that precedes the existence of men. The term might refer to false generalizations/false universalizations, like "Women are bad drivers." Or it may refer to more specific claims that attempt to avoid over-generalization by adding more categories, i.e., "Middle-aged, Southern, white males tend to be racist." While this attempts a bit of de-generalization by adding more disembodied categories to the claim, it still fails to take exceptions into account.
Oh, but this is not all.
Note that Aristotle and Plato had a hand in the old "essence precedes existence" conundrum, and so subsequent philosophers have also found this question irresistible. Wittgenstein and Kripke, among others, draw our attention to the "attribute, identity, function" formula. And certainly, I can say that this calendar hanging next to me has certain essential attributes that lend it its function and without which it would not be identifiable as a calendar. What our modern thinkers have pointed out, however, is that I can describe the calendar in various ways, and each way represents a bias. I can describe its visual attributes, or its gross material attributes, or its molecular attributes, and while each can be correct, each way of describing it posits a different essence to the same identity. So in the act of describing, we privilege one essence over another, which may seem to call the whole idea of an essence into question. On the other hand, there is a calendar here; it is a real thing independent of my way of recognizing it, and without certain essential features it will certainly cease to be a calendar. So we can add nominal essentialism to the other uses of the term.
My first issue with all this is simple. No actual person, apart from their imaginings in the cloistered intellectual bubble of a modern university or enough independent wealth to afford nothing else to do, can actually perform the actions necessary to live based on the solipsistic pretension of radical doubt that provides the basis of radical constructivism. When she or he drives a car, that person still checks for oncoming traffic when they cross an intersection - never displaying the feigned gullibility that traffic and oncoming vehicles are no more than cultural/mental constructs. They know damn well that momentum equals mass times velocity, and that to behave otherwise can have deadly consequences.
In feminism, the issue of transgender has sharpened a debate that is often framed as essentialist versus constructivist, with the essentialists (who insist that woman is both a biological and political category) even being further castigated as transphobic, an accusation that is comparable in its intent to calling someone a racist, for example; that is, it is employed not for descriptive purpose, but to mobilize outrage. One can be "transphobic" not merely by exhibiting fear of hatred of persons who are identified as transgendered (a category we will come back to later), but by refusing to assent, for example, to the statement, "Transgendered women are women."
I'll say more about this further down; but the point at the outset is that these variable and distinctly different uses of the term make it essentially useless (pun intended). In each case, a description of the specific fallacy or conundrum would be more helpful that this protean term, especially since it has become a kind of arcane epithet to silence one's debate antagonists in the most specialized niches of the ever-more-segmented Academy.
As Isabelle Stengers points out, "'essentialist hunting' . . . is an inexhaustible source for academic publications and the production of ever more critical stances (is not 'feminism' itself essentialist? and so on). Worse, it entails a tolerant attitude when third world ecofeminist fighters, such as Vandana Shiva, appear not to possess the code - we (who know and could criticize her as an essentialist) have to be indulgent."
When I say above that the employment of the term "essentialism" is at variance with its definitions, I am thinking of a friend I knew back in Durham who claimed "there is no such thing as a man or a woman." She was a radical constructivist, meaning she not only accepted (as I do) that the expectations of men and women which translate into social norms are culturally constructed, but that the whole idea of male and female is a kind of trick the mind plays on us, which is implanted by culture. She was a radical anti-essentialist, and accused me of essentialism for using the terms "men" and "women." I had quaffed the essentialist Kool-aid, it seems.There is an error in the generalization of being too categorical. But it does apply in some times and places. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, as the saying goes. Essentialism is sometimes critiqued by those who suggest that because a characteristic of an implied essence has exceptions it is always false. Race is an example. We know that race is a social construct, and that - using DNA analysis as one lens (which is not by any means the whole story, and is misused by reactionaries as readily as progressives) - an African American and a European American, identified by certain phenotypic features, may have more in common in their mapped genes that two European Americans and two African Americans. But I use the specific nationality to make a point about disembedded pseudo-analysis, like pointing to 'genes,' which few people outside of specialized biologists actually know much about anyway, to make a point about cultural prejudices. First of all, politics is significantly about power, and the politics of resistance is generally about resistance to oppressive power, so the prejudice of a white person against a black person is not the central issue. Someone may not like my beard, but if they don't have the power to do anything about it, I'll say que sera sera and move along, thank you. It may be essentialist in one regard to claim that there is black and white in the US, but most black folks can attest from experience that (1) white power (however constructed) is a real and dangerous and ubiquitous thing, and (2) an African American who is politically active against this form of power would be foolish to say there is no such thing as race because it is a social construction. African American, and a host of other categories who on the wrong end of political power gradients, require solidarity precisely around this 'racial' category as a political identity, because that identity is inescapable within that division of power. Moreover, most times in most places, a black person can identify another black person, as white people can, and so forth, based on phenotypic features first, then also on several cultural cues. That there are always exceptions does not change this fact. When we see someone casually, we assess them based on categories, and if there are disruptions to those categories as we learn more about that person, we refine that assessment. If I think this person is African American, but she suddenly speaks and I hear a West Indian or Nigerian accent, then I shift my assessment accordingly. So in this case, the category essentialism is pretty much superfluous.
And the question of race brings us right into the thick of the problem with essentialism, as a term. Race is a social construction, and a fairly recent one in the scope of history, one that has also been accompanied by a great deal of pseudoscientific bullshit that posits some biological essence from which all sorts of non-biological extrapolations are made. On the one hand, we can mobilize DNA studies that show how many genetic characteristics are distributed across the imaginary lines of race, and from that make the claim that there is no such thing as race. We have leapt here into making "socially constructed" synonymous with "unreal." Yet African Americans, as our example of a historically constructed "identity," claim this identity, and those who are politically active insist on it as a racial-political category, because to deny it - using DNA analysis, for example is to surrender an important descriptor within an analysis of social power. Some of a more nationalist bent actually call "African America" an internal peripheral nation suffering a form of national oppression, and so they do away with the hyphen (as I have).
The constructivist critique of essentialism runs into a bit of a problem with defining essentialism, because this approach often employs a relentless skepticism against definitions in general; but also because the constructivist philosophical objection to essentialism begins by casting doubt on identities (speaking here of cultural, "racial," gendered, etc., identities). The constructivists deny that there is a clear essence for any of these identities because there are fuzzy boundaries and internal destabilizations, and because any "identity" is in a process of evolution. Again, my own reaction to this argument is that exceptions and challenges to constructed "identities" (a notion that shifts us from collective to "individual") is (1) simply rewording what has already been said in another lexicon, and (2) failing to recognize how challenges and exceptions - by being challenges and exceptions - actually validate and reinscribe the boundaries and differentiations that constitute a "kind." You cannot rebel against the norms for "manhood" or "womanhood," for example, unless those norms exist and are recognizable. To acknowledge their existence and recognize them is not synonymous with either participating in their enforcement or validating those norms scientifically or morally.
The real knock-down-drag-out debates around "essentialism" are among those who identify as feminists and-or the allies of various strands of feminism. This debate has become particularly sharp between constructivsts and radical feminists.
Let's take a moment to itemize some of the issues that are raised by this debate before we begin to compare the arguments and counter-arguments. I'll begin by stating my own position on the issue of constructivsm versus objectivism. It mirrors my position on nature-nurture; that is, this is a false dichotomy (as is the closely related nature-culture dichotomy). Radical constructivism is a reaction against the radical objectivism of modern scientism (a Foucauldian term for the tendency to believe that the scientific method is an ultimate truth claim). Descartes unwittingly set us up for this with his separation of the subjective and objective, and Bacon epistemologically consolidated it by de-animating [objectifying] nature. I give a great deal of space to the gendered origins of both these developments in my book, but the shorter point here is that these supposed things can only be separated in our analytical imaginations. Certainly, we all originate from and depend upon material substrates that exist prior to and apart from our consciousness of them; and just as certainly, we are incapable of comprehending them without the limited mediation of both our senses and the shifting, culturally-determined, semiotic grid of our epistemes (another Foucauldian notion). The idea that these two aspects of being can be teased apart - or worse, placed in a hierarchy against one another - is fundamentally fallacious. Some of the constructivists have bent the stick the other way from the objectivists, when what they needed was a different stick. It's not either-or, but both-and.
Here is where I differ from a constructivist like my friend who claimed there is no such thing as men and women. As categories, this difference is not only widely accepted, it is accepted on the grounds of observable difference that exists prior to the imposition of cultural constructs, even though the names "men" and "women" are certainly words (a cultural production) that represent a kind of taxonomy (yet again a cultural production). Around half of humanity is one or the other, even though there are a few individual human beings who are physiologically intersexed. This does not negate the categories any more than defining human beings generally and taxonomically as bipeds makes a person with one leg any less a human. It is a statement of fact, as close as we can get to what a fact is, that most of us are born with the physiologic attributes of either a biological male or female. Males have testes and a penis with an indwelling urethra; and females have wombs, vaginas, and a parallel urethra. These are not only essential attributes for being male or female (even if certain variances render this or that person generatively incapable), every one of us was born as a result of this difference. Each of us came into the world through a womb.
This is the source of a Monty Python skit (From now on, I want you all to call me Loretta.") in which a man who has come to feel he is a woman says, "I want to have babies." Whereupon, his colleague states the obvious" "You can't have babies; you don't have a womb." But it is also the basis of the chief complaint radical feminists have with the constructivists who claim that a transgender man (with fully functioning male parts), for example, can be a woman trapped in a man's body. Or vice-versa. The rad-fems point out that if gender, which they call a division of social power superimposed on biological difference, is constructed socially, yet biological sexual dimorphism exists prior to and independent of social construction, then the difference is real between men and women, but these superimpositions represent a kind of class oppression, the domination of women (as a class) by men (as a class). The constructivsts, they say, are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to claim that cultural construction is determinative of gender (a term now drained of its political significance), with which rad-fems agree - though they say difference ought not translate into hierarchy! - then the claim by a biological male that he can be a "woman" cannot have the status of Nature (I was born this way, female in mind, male in body), since all the secondary characteristics of women, subsequent to biological sex, are artifacts of a social system (one that rad-fems point out is structured specifically around the domination of women by men). What makes one "feel" like a woman, especially with regard to mannerisms, clothing, interests, etc., is part of an oppressive social structure fundamentally based on the domination of one sex by the other. Moreover, the rad-fems point out, a transgendered male-to-female may be made, through dress, hormone intake, and even surgery (all cultural interventions) like a woman, but this does not make this person (the issue of pronouns is HOT in this debate!) a woman. A woman, they point out, has a womb. She menstruates. She can nurse children. If she lives long enough, she will experience menopause. She is different from a man (with testes that produce male gametes); and that difference is the basis of the experience of the overwhelming majority of women who experience this social oppression of women almost from birth. So even if a transexual makes the change, male-to-faux-female, that person has not experienced what a woman experiences and so cannot be the same kind of political subject as a woman. In fact, this person has spent most of a life socialized under a regime of male privilege.
(Again, a man - who is classified as a biped - with one leg is still a man. A woman who is infertile is still a woman. There are multiple criteria for many "kind" categories, and every single criteria does not have to be met for us to recognize that "kind." And there are some unusual human beings who are intersexed, neither man nor woman.)
When I was in Haiti as part of the invasion force in 1994, I was placed under the operational control of a 37 year old Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel. Several years later, I learned that he had begun to live his life as a woman and had applied for sexual reassignment surgery (which does not make males into females or vice-versa, but only rearranges things to appear so). I don't pretend to know what led him to these decisions, and I certainly would under no circumstances treat him or speak of him abusively. This was obviously a major and complicated issue in his/her own life. But what I can say, from my own experience - similar to his as a white male in the US Army Special Forces - is that for the first forty years of his life, he was socialized as and enjoyed all the privileges of an American white male.
According to the rad-fems, "he" is not a biological woman (which, if believing there is such thing as man and woman makes one essentialist, makes them essentialists), and because he has not grown up and lived most of his formative years as an actual woman, experiencing the actual forms of oppression felt by women-as-women, "he" is not only unlike a woman as a biological subject, he is unlike a woman as a political subject.
I am sympathetic to the rad-fem argument, and as far as this goes, it makes sense to me, in particular because I am convinced by arguments against biological determinism, as well as convinced that nature and nurture cannot be effectively separated. That is, I believe men and women to be valid categories of physiological difference at the same time that I am unconvinced that these physiological differences account for constructions of masculinity and femininity (social expectations, cultural norms). What makes a woman "feel like a woman," apart from, say, menstrual cramps or the sensations associated with nursing, are manifestations of intense socialization and gender policing. There can be no natural (read: biological) basis for a male wanting to wear a cocktail dress, because cocktail dresses are historically contingent and culturally produced. That is not to say that the experiences of males who "feel female" or have a desire to "be" female are invalid. Nature does not trump nurture or vice-versa. Transsexuals deserve as much understanding and compassion and acceptance as any other of God's children. Transsexuals are adapting to gender regimes, for reasons to complex to fully understand (just as we all are!). Andrea Dworkin, one of the founding mothers of radical feminism, was very sympathetic to transsexuals. (By the same token, I would like to castigate a couple of transexual MTFs I have met who are part of a creepy, pornified subculture that refers to biological women as "fish." That's messed up, y'all.)
One of the aspects of the radical feminist movement (a trend among several), which is regrettable in my view (and I am very sympathetic to radical feminism in most regards), is that it has carried over a tendency from it marxist progenitors - that of reducing everyone to a political subject. This has a tendency to divide the world between antagonists. The bourgeoisie versus the proletariat, men versus women (no, rad-fems do not hate men!), politically conscious women versus victims or traitors. The reason this movement never gained a great deal of traction among women generally is twofold: first, it is an anti-liberal movement (and with this I am very much in solidarity), and most men and women in this culture are the captives of a liberal episteme; secondly, the movement is still a bit uncomfortable with all the complexities of women's actual lives vis-a-vis men. Most women are attached deeply to fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, grandsons, male friends, etc.; and so the rad-fem structural analysis of male power - which is largely correct - raises more questions than it answers for women who are unable and-or unwilling to divest themselves of attachment to males who fail to pass political litmus tests. As with marxism, this had created a profound in-group, almost bunker mentality, and with it, a tendency to regard disagreement as subversion or attack. When I think of the women I actually spend a great deal of time with, none of them is in a position, nor would they have the inclination, to "join the war." And that in spite of agreeing with much of what rad-fems have to say.
This hardening of position is partly responsible for the intense bitterness which has come to characterize the essentialism debate, which has centered now on the "question" of transsexualism. The debate doesn't move. That said, the other half of the responsibility lies with the constructivists, who protest to much in their rejection of modernity (embracing "post-modernity"), because they themselves have uncritically adopted key aspects of the liberal episteme. And they, too, have hardened their position around the political fictions of "choice" and "rights."
For the record, few of the women I actually know would "join with" the constructivists, either. First of all, their language is so dense and unapproachable that it serves at one level the same purpose medical language does - to show who is in and who is out. (My gall bladder doesn't hurt; I have 'biliary colic.') ('performativity') Second of all, the kind of 'performative, transgressive' individualized politics some constructivists advocate is not within the 'art of the possible' for most women. Transgressions of many norms can threaten the average woman's livelihood, as just one example. Transgression, in gender politics as in other forms of transgression, not only re-inscribes the boundaries transgressed, the ability to commit transgressions is a function of social privilege.
There are, of course, nuances and variations on these admittedly somewhat stylized positions; but again I am not convinced that people haven't taken sides across a line of demarcation for a false dichotomy. My own bias toward the rad-fems, in spite of my differences with them, is an expression of my own preoccupation with the issue of social power. By that, I do not mean figurative power, the kind that we hear about from self-help authors, pop psychologists, and hucksters . . . "empowerment." This is a personalized notion that effaces any meaningful definition of power as the ability to impose one's will on others. "Pantene, because I'm worth it." And it is, therefore, firmly situated within the epistemes of liberal individualism and metropolitan consumerism. By power, I mean the ability to impose one's will on others.
This is the same criticism (if one counts it as criticism) that might be leveled at those constructivists who imply that one can perform one's way into a new 'identity.'
With all that said, I am neither a radical feminist (that does mean something other than the epithet by the same name thrown around by anti-feminists), nor am I a constructivist feminist . . . in fact, some people say I can't be feminist at all, even if I am largely sympathetic to feminism (which I am), because I am a male. Whatever. What I am is a Christian, and a Roman Catholic one at that, even if my beliefs about sex and gender are, shall we say, heterodox within the church (it's a really big tent, that church). And while I have at least touched on the reasons I find the 'essentialist hunting' of some postmodern feminists (who on account of their tacit acceptance of the deracinated and disembodied liberal individual are not post-anything imo) to be fallacious, there are those who proudly claim the label 'essentialist,' who hearken simultaneously back to both Plato and ancient patriarchies, and who are themselves influential Roman Catholics (and other Christian confessions). These folks believe there is some cosmic version of masculinity and femininity, and that the differences (which they claim are therefore "natural") between men and women are but expressions of these ethereal forces. Their social constructions are in many respects inevitable. So we have gendered mojo that was out there floating even before the advent of sexual procreation some 1.2 billion years past began to give it form.
This is ideology dressed up as mysticism (I have no problem with mysticism per se), doing what ideology does best: it simultaneously conceals and reproduces power. Power again. I know, I'm obsessed. The advantage of this kind of magical thinking is that it requires no intellectual rigor, it can sound really deep, and it maps onto the expanding New Age menu of spiritualities as easily as it does Catholic doctrine. I think it was Jessica Benjamin who once wrote that we need to avoid the reactive valorization of the feminine when critiquing masculinism. The ' Divine Feminine,' for example. And we wouldn't have this idea had it not been for men who ran things making God masculine. At any rate, Christian and-or Catholic doctrine lays claim to this gendered essentialism. Of course, it characterizes gender essentialism as 'complementary.' This is a softened (read: prevaricatingly oblique) version of 'man is the head of woman.'
I'm not saying, either, that there is no such thing as gender complementarity, or even that complementarity is necessarily hierarchical. Every stable human society known has elements of gender complementarity; and I don't doubt that there can be a division of labor that makes sense between men and women generally that has nothing to do with power. In a gathering culture, for example, nursing mothers may be restricted by necessity from certain activities, and it is unsurprising that those tasks might have fallen to men, with women picking up the slack doing tasks that are unrestricted by nursing. In some cultures, men and women participated in the harvest, each using a different tool for a different part of the total task; but neither tool nor task conferred greater or lesser value. But this is not the kind of complementarity that church-men are talking about. Somehow, no matter how many paeans these men sing to the beauty and dignity of women's roles, they always seem to hang onto an ultimate male prerogative. And the essence - that masculine essence - well, that was and is the thing with them.
Ideology. Conceals the power, and serves to reproduce it.
These thoughts are loosely put together, so I will follow what I have so far with an excerpt from my book, explaining myself as best I can, an I will leave it to others to decide whether I'm any kind of essentialist at all. (There are some redundancies. I tend to think about the same things over and over until I figure out the next question or someone points it out to me.)
EXCERPT (pp. 33-5, Borderline)
The term masculinity (and masculinities) is going to reoccur in this book. Before we continue, then, we need a shared understanding of the term, and why I use the singular and the plural. I am appropriating the term, along with its complement, femininity (and femininities), from the academic field of “gender studies.” Understandings of masculinity and femininity differ from time to time and place to place. If i say, “He is very masculine,” you and i know who he is and we share some notion of what “masculine” means. It is a concrete statement about an actual person. When we add the “-ity” suffix to make “masculinity,” we abstract a general idea about the meaning of masculine from its concrete instantiations. We emancipate the phenomenon from actual space-time.
There is an advantage to this, and a danger.
The advantage is that we can criticize the idea apart from its specific context. The danger is confusing these abstractions with embodied reality. “Poverty,” for example, is a useful notion in discourse about economic conditions, but superimposed on an actual person who is poor in a particular way, it can become a distortion that leads us to treat actual persons as categories like “clients” or “problems” or “resources.”
Th objective of studying masculinity and femininity for our purposes is to de-naturalize them. “Naturalization” treats the existing order of things as if it were decreed by nature. We are familiar with the conventional wisdom that “men are naturally more aggressive than women.” This appeal to “the natural” attempts to place relations of power beyond critical analysis.
“It’s just nature, so there’s nothing we can do about it” implies something akin to natural law.
The point of cataloguing various types of masculinity is to make it possible to pull specific kinds of masculinity and specific aspects of various masculinities into critical range. A natural law—the Second law of Thermodynamics, for example—does not operate differently in either time or place. However, what is masculine in twenty-first-century Houston is different from what was masculine in, say, third-century rural Persia. “Nature” cannot explain this difference.
Masculinity implies gender. The binary of masculine-feminine is constitutive of gender, which is more than biological sexual differentiations. Gender, as we will use it here, is a social system that divides social activities between the two biologically normative sexes.2 Social gender, with which we are concerned here, and which exists in all known societies without exception, marks the complementary difference between the tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, and even language that are typically associated with men and women. Certain medieval European women had a different kind of scythe than their men, for example, with which to do different forms of work, but this difference did not automatically confer hierarchy or relative value, even though it did function complementarily as a division of labor. Both men and women were doing work essential to their community’s subsistence, for which both received recognition and esteem.
Gender in the social sense, however, most often does combine hierarchy with complementarity, which is where this book will place a special emphasis, because men are overwhelmingly on the top of that hierarchy and women on the bottom. Men use that power, often violently, to maintain the hierarchy across generations.The tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, and language of men constitute a masculine sphere in a given society. Masculinity is where the social and psychological are merged as an episteme—a way of knowing that is shared within a culture.3 A masculinity is both an archetype and an attitude.4 Men adopt what they feel is the appropriate attitude to live into an archetype. Not every man can live into the prevailing masculine archetypes, so he sometimes does so vicariously and symbolically. Think here about modern American football. Not every American male can be an NFL player, but a man can participate in the ideal as a fan, thereby valorizing the archetype. That football culture then leads many men to use football as an analogy for work, life, relationships, politics, war, etc.
Masculine ideals differ among different peoples in different times, and so one particular masculine ideal cannot tell us everything about actual men in every time and place. It does, however, give us an insight into the dominant men in that very particular culture and time. The works of Homer, for example, give us some insight into how an ideal masculinity was constructed for men of the dominant class in Greece in the eighth century BC.
Our set of socially shared certainties, or epistemes—like those of every epoch and place—structure the world to make it apprehensible. Ways of knowing give us a sense of order and security. Notions like masculinity are enmeshed within a larger worldview, and any disruption of one notion—like masculinity—has the potential to disrupt the entire episteme, because the various facets of any episteme are interlocking or mutually defied. disruption of one facet contributes to a sense of insecurity, which can lead to fear, which can lead to anger and reaction or, conversely, to a revised episteme, a revision in the set of socially shared certainties. If disruptions in masculinity can disrupt the rest of an episteme, then likewise, any disruption elsewhere in the episteme might create a crisis of masculinity. Revolutions are disruptions of the status quo, and they are always characterized to some degree by an epistemic crisis—a crisis of doubt about socially shared certainties, therefore a crisis characterized by uncertainty and fear. The theological conviction undergirding this entire book is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the decisive revolution of all time—God’s revolution—which inaugurated a political life of a new sort called the kingdom of heaven. This revolution engendered the epistemic crisis that we are still living through, because it puts the episteme of “the world” in doubt.