Anarchist Studies Network

A PSA Specialist Group for the Study of Anarchism.


ASN members secure £250k research grant from the ESRC. See here

Rowman & Littlefield Int publish two book series by ASN members Saul Newman and Ruth Kinna

Academics and Students Interested in Religious Anarchism (ASIRA)

“Religious Anarchisms” Sessions at 1st ASN Conference

"Religious Anarchism: New Perspectives"

The papers presented at the conference have now been published, along with a few more papers, in an edited volume titled Religious Anarchism: New Perspectives. The book can be found online, whether on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing website, the Amazon website, or elsewhere.

Sessions' Report

Nine papers were presented in the Religious Anarchisms sessions. The topics covered were very diverse, from the study and discussion of hitherto unknown or understudied Christian anarchists (such as Dutch Christian anarchists, the Nazarenes, or Abiezer Coppe), through papers reflecting on Dalit theology from a Christian anarchist perspective, on Romans 13's implications, and on Kierkegaard's position on the state, to a paper on Daoist thinker Wu Nengzi, another paper surveying Islamic anarchism and yet another narrating a post-structuralist path to Islamic anarchism. The quality of the presentations was consistently excellent, all the sessions were well attended, and the audience was always clearly engaged by the presentations.

These sessions allowed many of us to meet one another for the first time, and started a number of conversations which will hopefully be pursued further in the future. We are also currently in contact with a publisher about the possibility of publishing the proceedings in an edited volume. The sessions were therefore a resounding success. We also all very much enjoyed the rest of the conference, and hope that a similar event can be put together again in the future.

Paper Abstracts

If you are interested in reading a copy of these papers, please contact the individual authors. In any case, there are plans afoot to publish the papers in an edited volume. More on this soon.

Religious Dissenters and Anarchists in Turn of the Century Hungary

Dr. Bojan Aleksov, University College London

Neo-protestant Nazarenes in turn of the century Hungary present a clear case were a religious movement has been resistant to adaptation to political impetuses of other radical movements and ideologies despite their similar social constituency. Hobsbawm defined religious millenarian movement as a profound and total rejection of the present, evil world, and a passionate longing for another and better one; an ideology of the chiliastic type (the second coming), and finally a fundamental vagueness about the actual way in which the new society will be brought about. The last feature is determining since this vagueness prevents followers of millenarian ideologies to become makers of revolution. I argue that it is hard to accept that the Nazarene community organization and ways were characterized by vagueness. In fact, in the turn of the century Hungary both political activism and religious movements were understandable responses to one’s own or society’s pressing needs. Revolutionaries such as Várkonyi or Tolstoyans such as Schmitt explained the origins of injustice in social and power relations and offered class struggle or utopian communities as a solution. By contrast, the Nazarenes answered the problem of class exploitation and social marginalization through their community of spiritual equals. Theirs was also an egalitarian community, but one based on religious rather than class or political consciousness. But while the followers of both strove for personal reassertion and emancipation their paths and methods used radically differed. The Nazarene faith was based on pietistic quietism that wants to change the world by one’s own inner change. While on the conversion path many could be led with similar aspirations as political revolutionaries or rebels, once they became Nazarenes, they believed that only spiritual salvation could provide the basis for the egalitarian society they sought. That is why they left the rest of the world to its own devices except for a token reminding the others of their millennial program such was the case of their refusal to bear arms and take oaths.

Last but not least this analysis seeks to escape a value judgment typical for the study of grassroots religious movements such as the Nazarenes, which are usually divided into those “backward-looking” and the others “forward-looking”. The Nazarene example shows that there is no clear-cut division. Makovicky’s criticism of the Nazarenes condemned their eschatological beliefs, which prompted them to reject the idea of progress and changes in this world in general. For this world, the Nazarenes believed, would be destroyed by God with fire just like God destroyed the previous one with flood. But the vision of the Nazarenes was pulling them both backward and forward. Their communal morals and rules longing to re-establish the golden age of harmony coupled with the adoption of certain practices of community networking and organization, which were pooling them towards a new society. With all the change it brought about the conversion to Nazarenes was a legitimate option for the poor and deprived and a way forward. Their large following at the time testifies to this conclusion while their rapid decline poses more questions.

The International Fraternity which never was - Dutch Christian anarchism between optimism and near-defeat 1893-1906

drs. André de Raaij, Academy for Ambulant Sciences

In the final decades of the nineteenth century Dutch theologians got acquainted with what was generally called the social question – the situation of the proletariat. It was being discussed at a very high level in latitudianarian circles in the Dutch Reformed Church and other protestant denominations with their paper De Hervorming [Reformation]. The latitudinarian theologians are henceforth to be called modernists [Modernen]. Most dominees were politically attached to the leftwing-liberals also called vrijzinnigen [latitudinarians]. Some however chose for a more radical approach, in the spirit of Leo Tolstoy. In 1893 the idea of christian anarchism was introduced by not-yet rev. Louis Bähler. In 1897 the christian anarchist tendency attached to the modernist organisation broke away, starting its own paper Vrede [Peace] and an organisation of their own, the Internationale Broederschap [International Fraternity] in 1899. At least the paper was started before Domela Nieuwenhuis decided to choose for the anarchist tendency in the workers’ movement (1898), so christian anarchism in the Netherlands can rightly be called a tendency in its own right, at least as old as secular anarchism.

The spirit in which these initiatives were taken may be called optimistic if not a bit exalted. High hope was given to the colony in Blaricum which should be an example of living the real christian life. It was a saddening failure from the start. And the International Fraternity, besides being not very fraternal, never became international either. Christian anarchism itself however wielded an influence which went far beyond disappointing membership numbers and the violent ending of the colony of Blaricum. In 1906 the actual organisation was discarded. Taking stock of the general influence of the movement which hardly was a movement the optimistic mood actually was justified but the main protagonists never reached this conclusion.

A Theology of Revolution: Abiezer Coppe and the Uses of Tradition

Dr. Peter Pick, Sussex University

My paper will place Abiezer Coppe in his historical and social context and outline some strategies he employs to justify his theological positions and actions. My focus is on his use of the Bible as both supporting text and template for action. It becomes a storehouse of subject positions and narrative resources which are used to support highly heterodox doctrines and activities. Thus Coppe exposes and exploits inherent contradictions both within the text and the orthodox interpretative positions on it and in the uses made of Biblical texts to support authority in contemporary political discourse.

That both sides in the English Civil War used Biblical precedent and religious doctrine as a support for their conflicting positions opened the text to further strategic reading, and Coppe’s education and training equipped him to understand the unstable and contingent nature of the text itself, a text full of conflicting opinions and different viewpoints which was subject both to the vagaries of translation and to more than 1,000 years of interpretation and commentary and yet was held to represent – indeed to be – unchanging and eternal truth.

In contrast to the assumptions and accommodations of orthodoxy Coppe stresses God’s unlimited and arbitrary power and adopts Pelagian and Joachite positions. In his hands the Bible becomes a weapon against all authority, an unstable document of multi-valent interpretation in a time of profound political and religious instability.

The need for subversive foreignness in liberation theologies: Jesus as an anarchist for the Dalits in India

Dr. Keith Hebden, Church of England and editor of A Pinch of Salt

Military, administrative, and cultural colonialism reinforced the development of the nation state in India. More than fifty years after independence, reservation policies have failed to uplift whole communities and have added to the suspicion between different castes groups as represented by politicians and cultural nationalism has become a key tool in the justification of kinds of prejudice and socio-religious oppression. The reaction among Ambedkarist Dalits has been to claim that Buddhism is the true national religion of India. The reaction from Churches has been to deny their colonial heritage and ignore or adopt Hindu prejudices against Muslims while claiming to be both Christian and patriotically Indian.

Despite an overall trend toward accepting the colonial ideologies of the myth of redemptive violence and the idolisation of the state and its consort religion, there have been voices of dissent throughout colonial and post-colonial developments. Among the missionaries, there have been voices of dissent that have offered radical pre-cursors to Liberation theology. Gandhi and Ambedkar both wrote in terms of an anarchist ideal. Tribal and Dalit literature and religious practices are practicing and prefiguring non-hierarchical communistic and anti-authoritarian values. Among high caste anti-imperial dissenters, a few have followed the Gandhian model of non-violent resistance to its logical conclusion. Others have followed the western anarchist models more explicitly.

Dalit theologians follow themes and motifs of classical Latin American liberation theology. However, they have not engaged with the current criticism of these motifs, particularly the reliance on western systematic categories and on the violence inherent in the Exodus motif. Dalit theology has also unquestioningly followed the popular Dalit critiques of M. K. Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar, over-simplifying both. However, where Dalit theologians have done exegesis of the gospels or used religious and cultural readings of community they have shown how radical a Dalit theology could be.

Dominant modes of dissent stay within the statist paradigm and therefore perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence. The rise of Hindu nationalism illustrates the effect of patriotism on the religious diversity that preceded it and on social cohesion. A Dalit reading of Jesus offers an alternative paradigm that challenges nationalism and resonates with both indigenous communities and high-caste dissent. A hermeneutic of resistance portrays Jesus as a Dalit-foreigner in such a way that he comments on and works outside the boundaries of state. Because Dalits find themselves outside the boundaries, a theology that disowns the state is in solidarity with their condition. Subversive foreignness works outside the imaginings of the elite, refusing the statist script of the oppressor.

Kierkegaard and a Christian Politics of Indifference

Richard Davis, University of Edinburgh

This paper will consider the political and social thought of Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and discuss whether he can be considered an anarchist. I will argue that Kierkegaard's anti-Constantinian theological writings promote an indifference to politics that typifies a version of Christian Anarchism. This indifference is found in Jesus's own position toward the political structures and can be seen as a model for church-state relations. Indifference is here considered a more radical standpoint than love or hatred of the state, typified by more militant anarchists. This stance is anarchist and radical when derived, as it is in Kierkegaard with radical obedience to God.

Responding to the State: Romans 13, “render unto Caesar” and the Question of Civil Disobedience

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, University of Kent

The two Bible passages most frequently cited against Christian anarchism are Paul’s contentions in Romans 13 and Jesus’ recommendation about “rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Surely, the argument goes, these two passages conclusively prove, once and for all, the Christian anarchist fallacy to be mistaken. A closer look at Romans 13, however, suggests that Paul is in fact interpreting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – perhaps the founding Bible passage for Christian anarchism – and simply applying the turning of the other cheek to the state, therefore that Paul is not actually contradicting Christian anarchism but in fact articulating the peculiarity of its forgiving response to the state. Similarly, a closer look at Jesus’ saying suggests that very few things actually do belong to Caesar, and that it is just as – if not a lot more – important to also render unto God what belongs to God. Christian anarchists also take note of Jesus’ bizarre instruction, in Matthew 17, to seek the coin for the temple tax in the mouth of a fish, because the reason Jesus gives for doing so is to avoid causing offence. For Christian anarchists, therefore, none of these passages defeats their radical political interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. To the contrary, they confirm it and further elaborate it. At the same time, the question of the limits of acceptability of any civil disobedience remains somewhat unresolved: while a few Christian anarchists see civil disobedience as problematic, many others consider it unavoidable in certain circumstances. Above all, however, all Christian anarchists stress that obeying or disobeying the state is irrelevant next to the primary commitment of obedience to God.

Anarchism or Nihilism: The Buddhist-Influenced Thought of Wu Nengzi

Prof. John Rapp, Beloit College

In this essay I will examine the thought of the obscure 9th century Buddhist-influenced Daoist thinker who wrote under the pseudonym Wu Nengzi (“Master of No Abilities”). Wu Nengzi’s short tract has never been fully translated into English and is very little studied by Chinese or Western scholars. First I will compare Wu Nengzi’s thought to earlier Daoist anarchist writings, including the outer chapters of the Zhuang Zi (c. 3rd century B.C.E.) and the works of Ruan Ji and Bao Jingyan of the 3rd-4th centuries C.E. Wu starts out in a similar vein to these other Daoist anarchists, railing both against currently existing states and the leading justifications of rule of his day, whether Confucian-based claims of the need for rulers to inculcate moral virtue in their subjects or Legalist claims of the need to restore order by means of a harsh system of rewards and punishments. In the end, however, Wu Nengzi’s thought seems to degenerate into a passive acceptance of rule based on a Buddhist stress on wu (nothingness). Since all supposed material reality really “rests upon nothing,” Wu Nengzi concludes, how can we say that any government tyrannizes the people or that the people are really suffering? To Hsiao K’ung-ch’uan, this conclusion shows that Chinese Daoist anarchism in the end is a doctrine of pure negation and thus of pure despair. I will argue in this essay, however, that only by changing the emphasis from dao, which one can interpret as an undifferentiated whole, to wu, or nothingness, did Wu Nengzi’s anarchism degenerate into nihilism. By embracing the world, if refusing to divide it into different parts, Daoist anarchism is indeed a thorough-going radical doctrine that has positive lessons for Western anarchists. On the other hand, Wu’s thought should help point to the dangers for any contemporary anarchism influenced by post-modernist denials of the existence of overarching “meta-narratives” of justice or oppression. Such anarchism may similarly degenerate into a nihilistic doctrine that gives no guidance for political actions and may even lay the groundwork for fascism. In the end, Wu Nengzi shows us, the danger of religious-based anarchism may be less the supposition of a supernatural authority and more the denial of any overarching unity of existence.

Paths to becoming a Muslim Anarchist

Mohamed Jean Veneuse, Queen's University

My manuscript will discuss the creation and development of an Islamic Poststructuralist Anarchistic interpretation. There are three points, for now, of intersection, by which I mean- Anarchistic tendencies in Islam(s) and Islamic tendencies in Anarchism(s) - and that exist in both these lifestyles.

I ‘speak’ in the manuscript of three specific intersections and reasoning(s). Reasoning(s) that I believe have allowed others like me to become both Muslims and Post-Anarchists. Reasoning(s) that have led me, an Anarcha-Muslim to become Anti-Capitalist. Reasoning(s) that have led me, an Anarcha-Muslim to become Anti-Authoritarian. Reasoning(s) that have led me, an Anarcha-Muslim to look for an ‘Us’. An ‘Us’ not built upon some kind of abstract superficial unity where Muslims and Anarchists become one or get along because we may have common enemies i.e. authority and capitalism(s). Rather an ‘Us’ that is built upon new lines of alliance, new forms of co-operation, and new ways of living, which lead these disparate communities to come together to create and bear witness to their own creation, the birth of a new community; the coming community.

A community that is free only in so far as it strives to embrace both the similarities between these two lifestyles while, hand in hand, appreciating and negotiating the differences between them. A community that neither seeks to privilege Anarchism(s) over Islam(s) nor Islam(s) over Anarchism(s), but that seeks to have them both in name and action uttered as equals and in the same breath, and without them being governed by a single binding logic. An ‘Us’ as they begin to teach and learn from one another about how they may discover one another endlessly, thereby adding strength towards each another for one another.

Imagining an Islamic anarchism

Anthony Fiscella, independent researcher, Malmö

The concept of anarchism in Islam is extremely new. Despite the presence of historical figures such as Isabelle Eberhardt who grew up anarchist and converted into a libertarian Muslim lifestyle more than a century ago, the terms barely seem to have crossed paths before the 1980s (and haven't become in vogue -if one can even say that now- until the last few years). What has been written so far about anarchism in Islam? What has existed in terms of anarchist elements in Islamic history? What are some of the challenges that we face when attempting to understand various anarchistic tendencies that manifest in a Muslim context? From the Najdiyya Kharijites to Qaddafi's Green Book and from Taqwacore punks to the Five Percenters there are various ways of looking at what one might consider "anarchist". This presentation will take a brief look at some of the most notable cases while bearing in mind the influence of the perspectives of those who have studied them.

Original Call for Papers

Religious anarchism, especially Christian anarchism, has been around for at least as long as “secular” anarchism. The academic literature tells us that Leo Tolstoy is its most famous proponent, but there are many others, such as Jacques Ellul or the Catholic Workers. There are also anarchists in other religious traditions, but these are almost completely omitted by anarchist literature.

One of the aims of this panel is to bring together enough religious anarchists – or people interested in it – in order to begin a conversation and an exchange of ideas on the topic. This would also work towards establishing the religious anarchist voice within anarchist academic writings. It is therefore both about bringing religious anarchists together as about placing religious anarchism on the broader map of anarchist thought and practice.

Although the literature tends to focus more on Christian anarchism, this predominance need not be repeated here – indeed, the more anarchists from other traditions, the better.

Contributions are also welcome from “practitioners” as much as from theorists. Both on the internet and in the streets, a number of people and groups have been discussing and exemplifying religious anarchism. Papers exploring this activity are welcome.

Also, although not the primary focus of the panel(s), papers on the often uneasy relation between religion and anarchism are also welcome.

Finally, please note that this list of subtopics is not exhaustive. If you are considering presenting a paper on an area of religious anarchism not discussed above, please do not hesitate to contact the convenor.

For further information or to submit titles or abstracts of proposed contributions, please contact Alex (the convenor) on: ajmec_at_kent_dot_ac_dot_uk.