Political Atheism: On Political Theology and the Modern State

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


The modern state is defined by its sovereignty. But the idea of state sovereignty remains strange and paradoxical: on the one hand, it is identified with the various institutions that make up the practical existence of the modern state and, on the other hand, it supposedly transcends and determines them. Carl Schmitt’s 1922 Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty traced the origins of this paradox to the theological origins and structure of the idea of state sovereignty, which continues to distort our conception of the modern state. However, Schmitt remained enthralled by this idea and it is therefore necessary to read Schmitt against Schmitt, in order to extricate his analysis of the historical origins and conceptual structure of our idea of the modern state from his adherence to this political theology. In order to do this, I recover the obscured origins of his concept of political theology in the works of Mikhail Bakunin and deploy this to (re-)invert Schmitt’s political theology and develop a profane account of political theology and its entwinement with the earthly existence of the modern state.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventPolitical Theology Today: A Virtual Workshop Series marking the 2022 Centenary of Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology - Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 20 Oct 202010 Feb 2021


ConferencePolitical Theology Today
LocationCopenhagen Business School


  • Political theology
  • Carl Schmitt
  • Sovereignty
  • Mikhail Bakunin
  • Religion
  • Secularization
  • State

Cite this