Aesthetics and the Critique of Political Theology

The project Aesthetics and the Critique of Political Theology examines works of art and modes of aesthetic reflection as vehicles for critique of political theology and draws connections among European political-theological traditions, the critical work of Frankfurt and twentieth-century French and Italian thinkers, and Latin American aesthetic practices and political upheavals.

In addition to fostering faculty and graduate student exchanges, the new cooperation is developing bilingual graduate and undergraduate courses on political theology in Latin American and European contexts that will be offered as part of Northwestern's Critical Theory Certificate Program.

The group works closely together with the Mellon projects Circulating Anarchisms and Marxisms in the Andes at Northwestern and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima, and Technologies of Critique, led by Paul North at Yale and Willy Thayer at the Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación, Chile.

Complementary workshops, lectures, seminars, and roundtables are organized and offered in conjunction with:


Peter Fenves is Professor of German, Comparative Literary Studies, Jewish Studies and Critical Theory at NU. He has published widely on critical theory and political theory, including his monograph, The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford University Press, 2010).


Eduardo Sabrovsky is Professor at the Instituto de Humanidades, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile. His research and teaching focus on political theology and Chilean politics. His publications include De lo extraordinario: Nominalismo y Modernidad, which examines the political-theological problem of “the exception,” and Chile, tiempos interesantes, an analysis of the current Chilean situation.  

Visiting Pre-Doctoral Fellow

Rodrigo Farías Rivas studied Psychology and Philosophy at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He’s a Clinical Psychologist and graduated from Philosophy with a thesis dealing with the possibility of a theoretical continuity between Wittgenstein and Lacan. In 2016 he began his doctoral studies in the joint Ph.D. Programme in Philosophy offered by Diego Portales University in Chile and Leiden University in the Netherlands, with a research project dealing with Nietzsche and Lacan. More precisely, Rodrigo is currently interested in conceiving a feasible concurrence between nihilism as a historical logic of denaturalization and jouissance as the ultimate force driving unconscious subjectivity. Rodrigo can be contacted at

Rodrigo was in residence at Northwestern from late March through early July 2018. During his stay he assisted Professor Fenves in the development of project syllabi, participated in seminars, worked on his dissertation prospectus, and provided pre-publication assistance to Critical Times.

Background Reading

Dotti, Jorge. "From Karl to Carl: Schmitt as a Reader of Marx." In The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, edited by Chantal Mouffe, 92–117. London: Verso, 1999.

Hemming, Laurence Paul. "Heidegger’s Claim 'Carl Schmitt Thinks as a Liberal'." Journal for Cultural Research 20, no. 3 (2016): 286–294.

Mastnak, Tomaž. "Hobbes in Kiel, 1938: From Ferdinand Tönnies to Carl Schmitt." History of European Ideas 41, no. 7 (2015): 966–991.

———. "Schmitt's Behemoth." Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 13, nos. 2–3 (2010): 275–296.

Mertel, Kurt C.M. "Two Ways of Being a Left-Heideggerian: The Crossroads between Political and Social Ontology." Philosophy and Social Criticism 43, no. 9 (2017): 966–984.

Mouffe, Chantal. "Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy." In The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, 38–53.

Pourciau, Sarah. "Bodily Negation: Carl Schmitt on the Meaning of Meaning." MLN 120, no. 5 (December 2005): 1066–1090.

Sabrovsky, Eduardo. "Carl Schmitt, enemigo de sí mismo." Revista de Filosofia 29, no. 47 (2017): 551–574.

Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology, translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Strauss, Leo. "Notes on Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political." In Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, translated by George Schwab, 97–122. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Zarka, Yves Charles. "Le mythe contre la raison: Carl Schmitt ou la triple trahison de Hobbes." In Carl Schmitt ou le mythe du politique, edited by Yves Charles Zarka, 47–70. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.

Zizek, Slavoj. "Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-Politics," In The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, 18–37.

News & Events

  • July 6, 2018 | Northwestern
    Rodrigo Farías Rivas completed his spring 2018 residence as a Visiting Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern. During Rodrigo's stay, he assisted Fenves in the development of his collaborative syllabus with Sabrovsky, participated in seminars and reading groups, and worked on his dissertation prospectus, while also facilitating the visit of Aïcha Liviana Messina from Chile and providing pre-publication assistance to Critical Times. Thank you, Rodrigo, and best of luck with your doctoral work!

  • April 2018 | Northwestern
    Aïcha Liviana Messina (Instituto de Filosofía, Universidad Diego Portales) visited Northwestern to give a colloquium on the theme of ethics and critique in and beyond the work of Maurice Blanchot. Professor Messina is expected to be a visiting scholar at Northwestern in the fall of 2019, opening up possibilties for her to interact with and contribute to the Aesthetics and the Critique of Political Theology project.

  • January 2018
    Javier Burdman is translating Professor Sabrovsky's De lo extraordinario. A first draft of the translation will be completed in February. Javier is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders" of the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. He recently completed his PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University, with a dissertation titled "Politics after Totalitarianism: Rethinking Evil, Action, and Judgment in Kant, Arendt, and Lyotard." His essays on Kant and Arendt have been published in diacriticsEuropean Journal of Political Theory, and Constellations. His current project examines the relationship between disagreement and universality in the work of Jean-François Lyotard.

  • November 14-23, 2017 | Northwestern
    Sabrovsky stayed on at Northwestern after the conclusion of the "Transformations of Critical Theory" workshop to work with Fenves on their project. During his stay, he conducted, with Fenves, a follow-up workshop devoted specifically to the themes of their sub-project, a workshop that brought together graduate students and advanced undergraduates from a variety of disciplines, including Religious Studies, Philosophy, German, Political Science (political theory), and Comparative Literary Studies. Sabrovsky also attended two sessions of Fenves’ graduate seminar, conducting one of them around the theme of political theology in Benjamin and Derrida.

  • November 10–13, 2017 | Northwestern
    Professor Sabrovsky participated in "Transformations of Critical Theory," the inaugural workshop of the Critical Theory in the Global South Project. On November 13, he and Professor Fenves led a teach-in for graduate students on the theme "Carl Schmitt: As his Own Most Enemy."

    Professor Sabrovsky convenes the "Carl Schmitt: As his Own Most Enemy" teach-in.

    Professor Fenves responds to Professor Sabrovsky.

  • November 2017
    The translation of Professor Sabrovsky’s book, De lo extraordinario, is underway. Javier Burdman, doctoral candidate in Political Science at Northwestern, is undertaking the translation, and Fenves will provide an "Introduction for the English-Language Edition."

  • Fall 2017 | Northwestern and Universidad Diego Portales
    Fenves and Sabrovsky conducted linked fall-quarter graduate seminars at their respective institutions on the relation between Benjamin and Derrida, with particular emphasis on the latter’s reading of the former’s "Critique of Violence."

  • March 20–24, 2017 | Santiago, Chile
    Professor Fenves visited the Instituto de Humanidades at Universidad Diego Portales (UDP) in Chile to initiate the Mellon collaboration with Professor Sabrovsky.

    Professor Fenves at UDP