CFP: Spinoza’s TTP: Politics, Power and the Imagination

March 30, 2021 - March 31, 2021
The Open University

United Kingdom

Selected speakers:

Birkbeck College
University of Aberdeen
Goethe University Frankfurt
Goethe University Frankfurt
McGill University

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Spinoza’s TTP: Politics, Power and the Imagination

30-31 March 2021 – online

Published surreptitiously in 1670, Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise (TTP) transformed early modern Europe, destabilising common ideas about prophecy, miracles and biblical scripture, while making groundbreaking arguments for democracy, free speech and religious toleration. Dismissed by one contemporary as a book ‘forged in hell by the Devil himself’, the TTP continues to exert a fascination for researchers working on Spinoza and politics. In particular, for Spinoza’s understanding of freedom, the imagination and the affects, as well as reappraisals of the TTP’s legacy.

   While work on Spinoza has tended historically to focus on the Ethics, with the TTP given an ancillary role in explaining Spinoza’s intellectual development, in recent years there has been a flourishing interest in the TTP itself and its contribution to political thought. The democratic politics or Hobbesian echoes of its later chapters have been one thread; but scholarship has also dwelled on the text’s engagement with scripture or its refashioning of the Hebrew Republic. For some, the text must be approached in its historical context; for others it heralds a ‘radical Enlightenment’ or our own modernity. Within its understanding of the imagination and its socially salutary effects perhaps lies a more democratic access-point to truths about human conduct than the Ethics.

   But the TTP is a multi-layered text that resists simplified interpretations. Like a garden of forking paths, its critique of theology, imagination and special revelation might lead as much to atheism as to a rational refoundation of religion; its contempt for the vulgus might lead as much to elites deceiving the masses as to an epistemic understanding of democracy. As new work continues to appear, we are interested as much in the challenges and disagreements provoked by the text as conventional approaches themselves. During this workshop we aim to discuss how we can situate Spinoza’s influences and those of his milieu in the contexts of Jewish philosophy, natural law theory, and scriptural exegesis. We will reflect on the consistencies and differences between the Ethics and the TTP regarding the presentation of God and nature and debate how Spinoza’s political psychology relates to the later Political Treatise. But we will also discuss how his account of hope and fear relates to affective phenomena of political movements and focus on ways Spinoza’s politics can be developed in the wake of the Anthropocene, new materialisms, radical democracy and populism.

   As the 350th anniversary of its publication passes, this online conference brings together early career researchers and leading scholars on Spinoza’s politics and philosophy. Held over two days remotely using Microsoft Teams, involving a mixture of keynote presentations, expert- roundtables and panels. For the latter, we welcome abstracts from doctoral students and early career researchers for 15-minute papers. The workshop encourages a range of approaches to the TTP, and its call for contributions is open, without any predetermined panels. It aims to give participants the opportunity to present and discuss their own research approaches and questions.

Prospective conference speakers are invited to email abstracts of around 300-500 words, together with a short bio, to by 12th February 2021. Applicants will be notified by 26th February 2021. We are not necessarily looking for polished research papers but for contributions and engaging responses to our questions that will help to open up new debates, or for work in progress addressing topics aligned with the conference theme. The event will be free, with registration details posted by late February.

Confirmed Speakers:

Prof Susan James (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Prof Beth Lord (University of Aberdeen)

Prof Hasana Sharp (McGill University)

Prof Martin Saar (Goethe University, Frankfurt a.M.)

Dr Mogens Lærke (CNRS, Maison Française d’Oxford / IHRIM, ENS de Lyon)

Conference organisers:

Dan Taylor (Open University) and Marie Wuth (University of Aberdeen)

Supported by the British Society for the History of Philosophy

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