Expansion of human power spurs ‘Before Authority’ conference

What do we talk about when we talk about power? How do we balance the perils and possibilities of exercising power?

An upcoming conference will tackle these questions and the complicated interactions between power, authority and religion by bringing together theologians and ethicists engaged with social and political theory for two days of discussion at the Divinity School.

“Before Authority: Renegotiating Power and Religion,” which takes place Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12, “aims to explore the massive increase of human power in our age in and through technologies, markets, and political and religious forces,” said William Schweiker, the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the College, and one of the conference presenters.

Josh Daniel, a PhD candidate in the Divinity School and a conference co-organizer, said the idea stemmed from a desire to delve more deeply into the moral questions associated with the expansion of human power. An explosion of technology has increased the capacities of human beings to change their world in irreversible ways. Yet that capacity for damage has coincided with the growth of social movements that seek to empower marginalized groups.

“Both problems seem to have conflicting solutions,” Daniel observed. “There are certain forms of discourse [that make it] sound like the solution to everything is to keep empowering people. But that’s problematic, because certain forms of power involve irreversible damage to our world.”

Conference attendees will examine a wide range of questions related to power, authority and religion. Robin Lovin of Southern Methodist University will examine new political and social realities through the prism of Christian realism. Kathryn Tanner of Yale University will take up Christian ambivalence toward power by exploring good and bad forms of power in the Christian tradition. Vincent Lloyd of Syracuse University will discuss the political theology of Huey P. Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panthers. A full list of attendees and paper titles is available on the conference website.

“Before Authority: Renegotiating Power and Authority” is free and open to the public, and takes place in the Swift Hall third floor lecture room.

The conference is sponsored by the Religion and Ethics Workshop, the Theology Workshop, the Divinity Students Association, and the Department of Political Science.