Not available in 2021/22
GV4K6      Half Unit
The Challenge of Political Theology in some Twentieth Century Political Theory

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Paul Kelly CRB 4.18


This course is available on the MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course will address what has come to be known as the problem of Political Theology. Although the idea has gone in and out of fashion throughout the twentieth century it remains a major and underlying challenge to political theory as exemplified most recently in thinkers like Martin Haggelund (2019). Although the course does not explore a single historical tradition of debate we will explore the ways the Political-Theological challenge has shaped the way in which political philosophy and theory has developed. The fundamental issue at the heart of the political theological challenge is the relationship between the claims of politics and the claims of higher authority to determine the scope of the claims of the political. This can take the form of the ways in which fundamental political concepts are shaped by theological ideas or the way in which a higher claim of the good (philosophical, ethical as well as theological) shapes the scope of political thinking and agency. We will explore a number of major texts which can be seen as a response to this challenge in seeking to represent modernist political theory as a passage through contested claims about value, belonging and the nature, purpose and meaning of history. The texts discussed provide different perspectives on the challenge of political theology and different pathways that have been obscured by the dominant voice of liberal political theory as the political disourse of modernity. The course will also offer a chance to consider some of the most important books in twentieth century European political theory at a time when the self-confidence of anglo-american political theory is in decline but where no new candidate discourse appears to be making a claim for hegemony. The course will require students to read across the required texts but will also allow specialisation on an individual thinker of issue in their assessment. The thinkers covered in the course include Schmitt, Heidegger, Popper, Hayek, Rawls, MacIntyre, Cavell and Shklar.


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 exercise in the LT.

Indicative reading

  • Carl Schmitt Political Theology
  • Carl Schmitt The Concept of the Political
  • Martin Heidegger Being and Time
  • Martin Heidegger Basic Writings - selections
  • Karl Popper The Open Society and its Enemies
  • F.A. Hayek The Constitution of Liberty
  • John Rawls Political Liberalism
  • Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue
  • Stanley Cavell The Claim of Reason
  • Judith Shklare The Faces of Injustice


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication