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Charisma in the Age of Trumpism

Instructor(s): William Mazzarella
Spring 2023

Everyone knows what ‘charisma’ feels like – but who can explain it? Today, the word is everywhere. It describes politicians and leaders, celebrities and crooks. It’s light and it’s dark – how are we supposed to tell the difference? It’s secular and it’s theological. Liberal political theory struggles with its implications, tending to dismiss it as the sort of unreason ill befitting a mature democracy. And yet those same political theorists are only too happy to ascribe it, condescendingly, to those ‘other polities’ in the Global South, the ones that anthropologists have traditionally tried to theorize. In the age of Trumpism, this kind of boundary drawing between the politics of the West and those of the rest, always dubious, is no longer credible. So what tools do we have for making sense of charisma in the present? Is it, as some insist, a fuzzy stand-in for a serious concept, or can we do serious work with it? In this seminar, we’ll engage Max Weber’s seminal work on charismatic authority. But we will not presume that the matter begins or ends there. Instead, we will trace genealogies backwards and forwards from Weber’s canonical intervention, exploring theological, ethnological, literary, and psychoanalytic perspectives.

ANTH 53817 | CCCT 53817