Foucault: Ethics and Identity

What are we doing this week?

  • Hey, this week we're finishing the course. Congratulations for getting this far!
  • We're not coasting in for an easy landing, however; there's lots to cover this week.
  • We will reflect on the key features of Foucault's reading of Christianity...
  • ...and see how he reads the discourse of twentieth century sexual liberation as having deeply Christian roots.
  • We will think about some of the main arguments in the first volume of Foucault's The History of Sexuality.
  • We will show how Foucault's own approach to sexuality is part of a wider political landscape of self-transformation.
  • And we will bring Foucault's self-transformation into conversation with a notion of "cruciform identity" drawn out of the Bible.

The videos

1) Foucault on Christianity

In this video you'll learn:

  • Why Foucault thinks that Christian practice and the modern discourse on sexuality are intimately related.
  • Key elements of Foucault's understanding of Christianity.
  • A dreadful joke never to tell anywhere, under any circumstances, to anyone.

2) The History of Sexuality, volume 1

In this video you'll learn:

  • Why the Victorians weren't as prudish about sex as we usually think.
  • Why Foucault understands the sexual liberation of the twentieth century as a continuation of Christian themes.
  • What Foucault means when he says that sexuality has replaced the soul in the modern age.

3) An ethic of self-transformation

In this video you'll learn:

  • Why Foucault rejects the idea that our sexuality is our essential self.
  • How Foucault sees the discourse around sexuality as about much more than desires and relationships.
  • Foucault's understanding of the politics of a gay lifestyle.

4) Cruciform identity

In this video you'll learn:

  • How to draw out of the Bible an account of identity that can be brought into conversation with Foucault's ethic of self-transformation.
  • How the biblical, cruciform self is radically fractured and open.
  • How this cruciform self shows that Foucault's own position and the account of identity that he rejects share something very important in common.

5) Open and closed identities

In this video you'll learn:

  • How Foucault's distinction between open and closed identities veils a deeper agreement between them.
  • How both open and closed identities are, well... both open and closed.

6) Autonomous and heteronomous identities

In this video you'll learn:

  • Why Foucault cannot know that the self-transformation of the self is not, at the end of the day, heteronomous.
  • Why autonomy and heteronomy are inadequate terms for describing the cruciform self.
  • How absolute personality theism can give Foucault what he is looking for.

Supplied readings

1) "Friendship as a Way of Life", Interview with Foucault, 1981.

  • Foucault sets out his understanding of the politics of the gay lifestyle.

 2) Graham Tomlin, "Paul's Theology of the Cross in the Corinthian Church".

  • A treatment of the theology of the cross in the context of a study drawing out its implications in terms of Luther and Pascal.

Further reading

Jeremy Carrette, Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporeality and Political Spirituality (London: Routledge, 1999).

  • Carrette’s contention is that “After Foucault ‘religion’ is taken out of its privileged realm and brought into the body politic and into the heart of culture”. As Carrette rightly notes, “[t]his reading of religion will always be difficult to anyone hoping to use Foucault to support traditional religious belief and practice”

David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • A reading of Foucault in the context of gay identity and politics.

J. Joyce Schuld, Foucault and Augustine: Reconsidering Power and Love (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).

  • Schuld's stance is discerning and broadly balanced, resolving to the position that “Foucault ought to be read as providing a highly nuanced critique of distinct segments of the contemporary social environment that Christians can then examine with a different sort of attentiveness that is guided by a different set of presuppositions”.

Bible passages

For your further study and meditation, Bible passages particularly relevant to the concerns of this week's material are:

  • Galatians 2:11-21 (esp. v20). Paul's compact statement about identity in Christ.
  • Romans 7:7-25. Another passage highlighting aspects of the complexity of identity in a biblical frame.