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Populism as Political Theology: An Anthropological Perspective

April 23 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

This lecture is part of IRCPL’s Rethinking Public Religion in Africa and South Asia Project, funded by the Henry R. Luce Foundation.

The current global populist wave is often narrated as a ‘crisis of representation.’ This means not just that some segments of the electorate don’t feel adequately represented, but that they reject representation as such in favour of an immediate presencing of the collective body of the people. This hunger for immediate participation, this assertion of the collective flesh, is then in its turn typically dismissed as regressively theological: at best a dubious aestheticization of politics, at worst a slide into fascism.

But is this a false choice? Can the populist critique of representation yield a different take on contemporary politics? This talk is an invitation to reanimate the grounds of critical theory via anthropological understandings of shared substance and ‘occult’ motifs of efficacious resonance.

This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for African Studies, the South Asia Institute, the Department of Anthropology, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.

William Mazzarella, Neukom Family Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College, University of Chicago

William T.S. Mazzarella writes and teaches on the political anthropology of mass publicity, critical theory, affect and aesthetics, ritual and performance, and the occult shadow of the modern. His books include Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India (Duke, 2003) and Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity (Duke, 2013). He is also the co-editor, with Raminder Kaur, of Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction (Indiana, 2009), and the editor of K D Katrak: Collected Poems (Poetrywala, 2016). His most recent book, The Mana of Mass Society (Chicago, 2017), brings classic anthropological writings on magical efficacy and charismatic agency into conversation with critical-theoretical takes on marketing, aesthetics, and the commodity image.


Sheldon Scheps Memorial Library
Schermerhorn Extension, Room 457 1200 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027
New York, NY 10027 US
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