Book Review – Trump and Political Theology: Unmaking Truth and Democracy

Trump and Political Theology

Title: Trump and Political Theology
Author: Jack David Eller, PhD
Publisher: GCRR Press (2020)
Reviewer: Ken Howard

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Trump and Political Theology is unique, in that it reflects on the presidency of Donald Trump not simply from the standpoint of politics, but rather through the lens of theology (political theology, to be exact). Political theology has been around since the beginnings of institutional Christianity, but in the last century has focused on determining the theological legitimacy of political powers and institutions. Dr. Eller uses this theopolitical lens to understand the relationship of this particular president to norms, traditions, and institutions. 

With a foreword from FaithX’s very own Research Directory, Dr. Slade, the book’s main author, Dr. Jack David Eller, is a professor emeritus of anthropology, as well as the author of a number of books, including Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives, Inventing American Tradition, and Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate.  He is also a film editor for the Anthropology Review Database

Eller starts Trump and Political Theology by recounting the history of various political theologies in the United States since its founding, exploring common themes about the interplay between religion and politics. From there he considers the ways in which the Trump presidency is and is not an exception to historical and contemporary politics and presidential behavior in America. He concludes that Trump is less of an exception to these trends, but rather an apotheous – a gross exaggeration of trends that  long preceded him. Then he looks at the Trump presidency from the international perspective, with comparisons between contemporary right-wing populist movements around the world and their tendency to sacralize the nation and national identity. Subsequent chapters deal with the history of 20th century authoritarianism and totalitarianism, linkages between race, ethnicity, religion, and Trumpism, cracks in the republican-evangelical alliance, the relationship between misinformation and agnomancy (intentional ignorance), a comparison the power of myth and ritual in both religion and politics, and the populist politician as shaman/trickster/chaotic destroyer-creator.

The intersection of politics and religion can seem like a dangerous place to stand these days. Trump and Political Theology provides a powerful theological lens through which to consider our recent political history.