Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Anselm Min

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Ingolf Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Shane Akerman


Carl Schmitt, Erik Peterson, Jurgen Moltmann, Nationalism, Political Theology, Trinity

Subject Categories

Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


This dissertation proposes that the doctrine of the Trinity, in the field of political theology today, should be taken as a critique of the idolatry of nationalism and should point us toward a new theological politics that is informed by the proper worship of the triune God, especially in the Church’s sacred liturgy. Existing proposals regarding the relation between trinitarian and political theology can be sorted into two basic camps, separated by alternative understandings of the meaning of political theology as primarily either descriptive or prescriptive. Representative of the descriptive sort is Agamben’s genealogical analysis of the link between trinitarian oikonomia and modern bureaucracy and democracy; representative of the prescriptive sort is the correlation between perichoresis and egalitarian, participatory democracy described by social trinitarians. What these proposals treat, however, is not the doctrine of the Trinity in its traditional form, but a secularized or otherwise politicized version of the doctrine. In other words, they offer an account of trinitarian theology as determined by political theology, rather than an account of political theology as determined by trinitarian theology. Both proposals rush to link theology to politics, circumventing necessary mediations. Thus, their theological analysis suffers from thin conceptions of trinitarian theology, and their political analysis is left only to advocate for vague political values. I argue that the task of political theology involves a “comparative phenomenology.” Theology is operative not just in a political concept’s history, but in its ongoing application. That is, modern political concepts are not merely derivative of older theological concepts, but remain deeply theological in themselves. Following also the methodology articulated by Clodovis Boff one must also say that political theology guides Christian political praxis in the light of Christian theology, serving as a mediating theory between theology proper and political praxis. In light of this task, political theology is to be seen as residing at the intersection of two essential moments, which Boff describes as hermeneutic and socio-analytic mediations. This dissertation proceeds along this route: First I offer a “hermeneutic mediation,” by which the doctrine of the Trinity is articulated clearly in historical and dogmatic context. Second, I offer a “socio-analytic mediation,” in which I determine that the “new nationalism” growing around the world in this early part of the twenty-first century is a determinative feature of contemporary politics. Trinitarian theology, therefore, must be brought to speak to this global resurgence of nationalism. I argue that while theology is a discourse about the highest good, which is God, every political community must itself be oriented toward a good. Thus every theology implies a politics, and every politics contains a theology. The nation, therefore, functions as a “god” in the public theology of the nation-state, just as the Trinity is a description of the particular identity of the Christian God, and a summary of the Christian proclamation. Trinitarian theology thus stands in distinction to the implicit theology of the nation-state. Political theology, in light of the doctrine of the Trinity, offers a critique of the nation-state as idolatrous and necessitates the creation of alternative political practices, shaped by the pedagogy of the Church, and oriented toward God as their highest end. Because the doctrine of the Trinity articulates a particular vision of God as the highest good, and because it summarizes the whole Christian metanarrative, it itself conditions the creation of a new community—the Church—which lives according to this narrative and worships this God as its highest good. The doctrine of the Trinity therefore conditions all Christian politics. It is political in that it points toward a decidedly Christian politics. Both the Church and the nation-state operate according to distinct theologies. While Christians are obliged to seek the welfare of the state in which they find themselves through cooperation with other non-Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity reminds the Church of her charge to also be distinct. A trinitarian political theology must be a distinctly Christian political theology, because the doctrine of the Trinity is not subject to any process of secularization. Following the lead of Erik Peterson, I argue that the Church is truly public ( öffentlich ), and manifests her truly political nature, in the celebration of the liturgy. The Mass is the act of sacrifice that creates a new community of transnational solidarity, the Church. And the Mass is trinitarian at its core because it is truly the sacrifice of the Son, offered truly to the Father, by the power and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In contrast to the nation-state, whose sacrificial violence reinstantiates the borders, the sacrifice of Christ, “tears down the wall of separation,” and makes one Body of all nations.