26.-27. Juni 2017 Internationale Konferenz “The Crisis of Representation”

The international conference on “The Crisis of Representation. Neoliberalism, Ethno-nationalism, Religious Conservativism and the Crisis of Representation in Politics, Religion and Culture – an Interdisciplinary Conference”, which was organized by the research platform RaT, took place from June 26th to June 27th, 2017 at Melk Abbey. Six lecturers from the University of Vienna and researchers from the US, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium and Germany participated in it. The interdisciplinary discussion of the broad topic that is the crisis of representation in the different areas of economy, politics, society, religion and culture originated in the collaboration of the research platform RaT with the US-American philosopher Carl Raschke from the University of Denver.
The conference inquired into the question of the reasons and the meaning of the contemporary crisis of representational systems as well as into the adequate analytical categories in order to reflect on the balance and the collapse of these systems. The crisis of representative democracy through the phenomenon of ethnonationalism was discussed by Hans Schelkshorn in his analysis of the ideological matrix of new rightist parties and their instrumentalization of a distorted picture of Christian identity. In the context of the political, Oliver Marchart confronted the demonstrated impossibility of a total representation with the concept of negative representation. The idea of the suspension of sovereignty in democracy transformed into the idea of an ethics of democracy. Philip Goodchild brought up the topic of economic crises and their connection to the extensive and systematic loss of faith that has taken place in global Capitalism. He succeeded in presenting the function of the expectation for the future as a structural analogy between functioning capitalism and faith. Here he took a closer look at the significance of religions for a possible rupture of the self-destructive capitalist circle of fear through the renewed establishment of “faith in faith” as well as of faith in future welfare. Furthermore, the transformation of religion through globalization was linked to the phenomenon of the crisis of the concept of culture by Olivier Roy. The standardization of life and the ensuing replacement of all implicit contents of religion and culture through explicit rules characterize fundamentalisms and lead to the crisis of culture as such and to the necessity of calling into question the relation between religion and culture once again. Kurt Appel and Marcello Neri especially widened the understanding of the crisis of representation by one facet, the crisis of public space as one of the most central achievements of modernity. Two phenomena – the privatization of public space through its economization and the becoming public of the private – were pointed out as reasons for the danger of the annihilation of identity and of virtualization set as absolute. In view of this danger Europe’s Project simultaneously is presented with the opportunity to find a new vision of the coexistence of Christianity, Islam and the secular world in a common public space. The potentials of the religions in view of a new order of the public space were considered with regards to a possible culture of affectivity and of recognition of vulnerability.

During the study day, he shared aspects of his current research on the secularism debate with the participants. His talk focused on alternative perspectives or rather paradigm shifts as to the standard theory on secularism and on how religion and modern secular rationality could be put in a different relation to each other aloof from assumptions in sociology of religion that have been overcome. Instead of deducing a total loss of meaning as a consequence for religion from the historical process of modernization, it could be more fructuous to see modernity not so much as a history of decline in which narratives lose every meaning but to understand it as cultural innovation allowing for the reconstruction and productive rethinking of the contingence in the genesis and development of religion. Moreover, religion was highlighted as a counterweight to the exclusion of the dead out of the public space. With a different regard to the crisis of public space Marcello Neri emphasized the possibility of new performative forms of representation beyond the function of public space as hierarchically structured mode of subjectivization and referred particularly to the potentials of art. Furthermore, Rüdiger Lohlker illustrated the concrete case of representation without representation in Saudi Arabian politics and Wahhabism and discussed it as an important phenomenon of globalization. Thereby Lohlker examined special warfare techniques and asked which forms of representation – especially in relation to the role of civil population – were at work in those. The connection between representation, media and virtualization was resumed by Carl Raschke. Starting from Agamben’s thesis on the replacement of the role of glory as operating mode of sovereignty through the media in the 21st century he developed a theory of the media introducing the concept of tawdry. The crisis of representation triggered by the increasing and decoupled virtualization of the present raised the question of the possibility of new forms of sovereignty beyond representation and its invalidation. Furthermore, based on the reflection on the Biblical motive of the exodus Peter Zeillinger introduced the idea of representation as blank position, which finds its urgent actuality in the event-like breach of the representational form of sovereign power. Finally, the contributions to the conference were summarized by Daniel Minch, Joshua Ramos and Roger Green and perspectives that remained open with regards to the topic of the “Crisis of Representation” were taken into consideration, whereby a political theology of economics and a philosophical analysis of neoliberalism seemed indispensable.