‘“Post-Christian Era”? Nonsense!’ declared one of Europe’s foremost theologians, Karl Barth, in August 1948 at the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam. Barth’s criticism notwithstanding, ‘post-Christian’ was a term that rose to prominence in mid-twentieth-century diagnoses of modernity. From the 1930s onwards, growing numbers of Protestant and Catholic thinkers perceived Europe, or more broadly the Western world, as entering a ‘post-Christian’ phase. The post-prefix was deeply ambiguous, however. For some, it conveyed that Europe had broken with its Christian past – a break that could alternatively be interpreted as liberation or estrangement. Others, by contrast, used the post-prefix to argue that various emerging forms of ‘secularism’ were historically indebted to Europe’s Christian past. Thus, Arnold J. Toynbee told an Oxford audience in 1940 that liberalism, communism and fascism were all leaves ‘taken from the book of Christianity’. Surveying the career of ‘post-Christian’ in mid-twentieth-century Germany, France, England and the Netherlands (with a brief excursion to the United States), this chapter argues that the term was able to achieve prominence because the ‘post’ allowed for different kinds of self-positioning vis-à-vis ‘Christianity’ and ‘modern culture’. Interestingly, however, in almost all cases, these positioning strategies drew on historicist resources in portraying the modern ‘age’ or ‘era’ as a new epoch in the development of Western culture.
The introduction guides the reader through the goals of this volume and the methodological approach adopted in its chapters. Rather than offering an all-encompassing history of post-concepts, the volume aims to shed light on the meanings, nature and functions of the post-prefix in a broad array of post-constructions. The approach is threefold. First, the volume historicizes the use of the ‘post’ in the humanities and the social sciences. Second, the volume argues that post-concepts are always critical interventions in complex and often politicized societal and academic debates. As such, they do not typically describe distance or change from a root concept. Rather, they create such distance and change by allowing their users to re-periodize, reject or retool a root concept. Third, the volume facilitates a rapprochement between the social sciences and the humanities, including philosophy and theology. By systematically tracing post-concepts through the social sciences and humanities, the volume excavates a shared history replete with unexpected (biographical) connections, transfers and parallels between disciplines too often studied in isolation from one other. Underpinning the ambitions of this volume is a solid methodological framework comprising five interpretive principles upon which all chapters are based: positioning, performativity, transfer, interconnectedness and conceptual web.
What does it mean to live in an era of ‘posts’? At a time when ‘post-truth’ is on everyone’s lips, this volume seeks to uncover the logic of post-constructions – postmodernism, post-secularism, postfeminism, post-colonialism, post-capitalism, post-structuralism, post-humanism, post-tradition, post-Christian, post-Keynesian and post-ideology – across a wide array of contexts. It shows that ‘post’ does not simply mean ‘after.’ Although post-prefixes sometimes denote a particular periodization, especially in the case of mid-twentieth-century post-concepts, they more often convey critical dissociation from their root concept. In some cases, they even indicate a continuation of the root concept in an altered form. By surveying the range of meanings that post-prefixes convey, as well as how these meanings have changed over time and across multiple and shifting contexts, this volume sheds new light on how post-constructions work and on what purposes they serve. Moreover, by tracing them across the humanities and social sciences, the volume uncovers sometimes unexpected parallels and transfers between fields usually studied in isolation from each other.