Deus (e)X Historia
A Conference Exploring Divinity and Reason in the Production of Knowledge

about the conference

How are the “liberal arts,” cultural spaces, the places of ritual, monumentalization, memory and commemoration implicated in the traffic between religion and secularism, church and state? Religion is now resurgent as a critical factor in global affairs, whether social, economic or political. In order to examine some of the implications and motivations behind these phenomena, the faculty at the History, Theory, Criticism Program at the Department of Architecture at MIT propose a conference entitled deus (e)X historia. The use of the X here is used both phonetically, as in deus ex historia, and symbolically, as in God crossing out History. The conference seeks to examine “God” and the conventions of “rational” historiography as competing principles of causality and eschatology in human affairs and the natural world. We wish to create a conference that reassesses the problematics of religion both within and without academic and aesthetic production. The conference will raise questions about the respective claims to futurity by religion and theology, reason and the critique of reason, the space of government and the public sphere, and the traditions of secular cosmopolitanism.

The disciplines that evolved in the wake of the Enlightenment – the “natural” and “social” sciences – rested their claims to authority on their assertion ofsecular reason. Incorporating the long tradition of skepticism within its fold, reason would replace religion in the ability to determine the future – this was the argument of the European Enlightenment. Even as the “critique of hegemonic reason” has rippled throughout academic disciplines in the twentieth century, this avowed secularism of research and policy has remained intact. Nonetheless, scholars such as Michel de Certeau, amongst many others, have argued that this disavowal of religion notwithstanding, the ethical imperatives of religion and faith have been retained wholesale within the disciplines of “rational” inquiry. 

he history of academic disciplines and departments has echoed the formulation of states of which they are a part. Until the mid-twentieth century, the institutions that constituted the nation based their authority on a nominal claim to a triumph over religion in the conduct of state affairs. Left unacknowledged was the hegemony of particular religious formations in the establishment of each nation. It follows that academic disciplines, as the knowledge-building apparatuses of these states, carried the marks of the history of that tortuous intertwining of religion and state in their institutional structure. From mid-twentieth century onwards, states formed explicitly around religious identity – Israel and Pakistan mark here a beginning of sorts – revealing the underlying religious tensions below the surface of the erstwhile empires, disassembled behind a cosmopolitan façade in the conduct of their affairs. The Iranian revolution, resulting in the establishment of a clerical state, marks a further development along this trajectory. More recently, subaltern movements in Asia or Latin America have used animist or Christian liberation theologies to define their revolts, while evangelism has returned to mark its imprimatur in the United States.

Today, the resurgence of religion has been accompanied by the rollback of the liberal state, on which the force of academic disciplinarity had once rested its authority. In addition, the academy’s own critiques of rationality have often compromised the disciplines’ raisons d’être. The effect has been to significantly temper the force of “critique” in crafting policy for the direction of human affairs or mediating in social or biological ethics. The critique of reason, inaugurated in the Enlightenment by figures such as Kant, decried the inequities of normative state apparatuses in the name of a categorical reason. Today the spaces of government have been evacuated to a futurology commanded by the initiative and institutional power of financial speculation and neo-evangelical dispensations. The welfare state has undergone a contraction in these transformations. These phenomena have weakened the ability of the academic disciplines to propose the terms of institutionalized responsibility towards the poor, or the terms of tolerance for protest against institutionalized discrimination. Religion has stepped up to absorb and waylay both these functions.

All these phenomena suggest the need for a new examination of “god” as a motivating principle operative in human affairs and its relationship to “nature.” We at HTC are offering an interdisciplinary conference to look at these questions. We have invited scholars to investigate architecture, artwork, documents, texts, social events, and the relations among them all, in order to underline and unravel “godly,” divine, or spiritual principles and the unexamined theologies that may be at work in the production of knowledge.

Faculty co-organizers: Arindam Dutta, Mark Jarzombek, Caroline Jones, Erika Naginski, Nasser Rabbat

event sponsors

We are very grateful to our sponsors who made this conference possible:

    • The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts
    • The Friends of HTC
    • Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT
    • School of Architecture and Planning, MIT
    • Department of Architecture, MIT
    • Office of Religious Life, DSL, MIT
    • School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, MIT
    • Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School
    • Council for the Arts , MIT


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