Workshop on ‘Prefigurative Politics’ as a Lens for Researching Religious Practices

The exploratory workshop on the concept of prefigurative politics that was scheduled for Friday 26 November has been postponed towards spring 2022 (see below). Instead – or rather anticipating that event, the organisers have planned a short online event on Friday 26 November at 12:00-13:30. At this event, Professor dr Peter-Ben Smit (VU/UU) will present a paper, “Prefigurative Politics as a Key to (Christian) Theology”, and there will be time for discussion. Anyone who wants to join can contact Peter-Ben Smit ( to get the Zoom details.

This paper argues that ‘prefigurative politics,’ as it has been developed as a concept in contemporary political philosophy can provide a hermeneutical key for understanding the character and dynamics of the Christian tradition, which can be demonstrated with reference to the Gospel of Mark. In this ‘oldest biography of Jesus,’ the early Jesus movement can well be understood from the vantage point of prefigurative politics. Apparent tensions, such as between present and future, but also the relationship between means and end in the constitution of a community and the character of miracles, can thus be read in a fresh way. This sheds light both on these themes themselves and on the relationship of the early Jesus movement to the politics of its day and age. Experimental in character, the paper intends to challenge and engender discussion about the potential for ‘prefigurative politics’ as a lens for interpreting religion at large.

Workshop in spring 2022

In spring 2022 (date t.b.a.), Professor dr Peter-Ben Smit (VU/UU), Professor dr Mariecke van den Berg (VU/RU) and dr Mathijs van de Sande (RU) organise an exploratory workshop on the concept of prefigurative politics. It aims to probe the potential of the concept of, and theory belonging to, the notion of ‘prefigurative politics’ for research into theology and religion. This represents an innovation in both the field of religious studies and theology and in that of political philosophy, the field from which the notion of ‘prefigurative politics’ stems, given that the bridge that this workshop seeks to build does not exist yet: political philosophers employing a ‘prefigurative’ approach are not concerned with religion or theology and vice versa.

Prefigurative politics, ‘an experimental political practice in which the ends of one’s actions are mirrored in the means applied in their realisation’, is a relatively recent model, used in the analysis of contemporary movements such ‘Occupy’. First developed in the 1970s, the concept facilitates overcoming dichotomies such as that between means and end (the end is present in the means), and between a future ideal and the present: the future is already there in the present through its prefigurative performance in communal practices. The potential of the concept of ‘prefigurative politics’ to dismantle dichotomies makes it a promising approach for rethinking a number of dichotomies that are related to theology and religious studies.

This workshop has been funded by NOSTER. It takes place in Utrecht in early 2022 (date t.b.a.). For more information, please contact Peter-Ben Smit (