Alana Vincent

Associate Professor for Jewish Philosophy, Religion, and Imagination, University of Chester, UK

Resident at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
April‒July 2019

Research topic at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
»Religious Positioning, Worldbuilding, and the Political Imagination«

Project outline:
Strange as the claim may appear on its face, the narrative structure of dystopias is inherently, deceptively optimistic. This optimism is usually conveyed even before a reader opens the book, by means of marketing which clearly labels the story as a dystopia: readers are forewarned upon their first encounter with the political structure of the narrative that it is abnormal. The theme of the current wave of dystopian fiction is the struggle back towards normalcy, and that struggle is usually successful.
This culture of relentless optimism functions as a form of religious positioning; it derives, in part, from the Christian theodicy of felix culpa. What I am suggesting in this project is that felix culpa no longer functions as a theodicy—a limited intervention into a specific philosophical or theological debate about the origin and purpose of evil in a world purportedly managed by a good and just creator—but is, instead, a powerful metanarrative, a story-form which structures our expectations of reality, whether or not we subscribe to the particular theological system from whence it originated. Approaching the problem of optimism through the lens of dystopian fiction thus shines a clear light on how religious positioning functions in the sphere of literature and the imagination.
What is at stake in identifying this relentless political optimism as a specifically theological metanarrative, with a traceable religious genealogy, is that it highlights its contingency: humans are not by nature incapable of considering the serious, lasting, painful consequences of our political action, but we have constructed our cultural imaginary precisely to insulate us from any obligation to do so. By curtailing our engagement with past disasters, such as the Holocaust, beyond a strictly regimented memory culture which is itself interpreted through a religious metanarrative that constrains the possibilities of the future, we have systematically deprived ourselves of language for describing, much less addressing the dilemmas of our present. This project, then, constitutes an attempt to restore language by de-naturalising the religiously inflected metanarrative which governs cultural production. (Alana Vincent)

Research partner:
Alana Vincent follows an invitation of Nina Fischer (project coordinator of the LOEWE-Forschungsschwerpunkt »Religiöse Positionierung«), Christian Wiese (Professor of Jewish Philosophy of Religion at Goethe University), and the University's research center »Religiöse Positionierung. Modalitäten und Konstellationen in jüdischen, christlichen und islamischen Kontexten« (»Religious Positioning: Modalities and Constellations in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Contexts«).

Scholarly profile of Alana Vincent

Alana Vincent is Associate Professor for Jewish Philosophy, Religion, and the Imagination at the University of Chester. She received her PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2010 with a comparative study of the memory practices connected to the First World War and the Holocaust in Canada. She currently works in Continental Philosophy of Religion and Modern Jewish Thought, with an emphasis on the role that the imaginative space of »secular« culture (literature, art, film) plays in facilitating dialogue between Judaism and Christianity.

Further information about Alana Vincent can be found here.

Main areas of research:
Religion and the arts, Jewish-Christian dialogue, Post-Holocaust thought, Cultural memory

Selected publications:
  1. »Dissenting from Redemption: Judaism and Political Theology«, in: European Judaism, 17/1 (2017).
  2. »The Work of Creation: Image, Idolatry, and Jewish Discourse in Theology and the Arts«, in: Literature & Theology, 30/4 (2016).
  3. (Ed. with Elena Namli and Jayne Svenungsson) Jewish Thought, Utopia, and Revolution, Amsterdam: Rodopi 2014.
  4. Making Memory: Jewish and Christian Explorations in Monument, Narrative and Liturgy, Eugene OR: Pickwick Press 2013.