Foucault, Religion and Governmentality

Mervyn F Bendle


Michel Foucault's analysis of governmentality and biopolitics has had a major impact on current theories of the state and public policy, especially in areas relating to corporeality, the body and the self (Gordon and Miller 1991; Ransom 1997; Moss 1998). This essay discusses these concepts in the context of Foucault's later work on religion, showing how vital this work was for this type of analysis. It proceeds by reviewing some notable recent contributions to the understanding of Foucault and religion, noting their strengths but also seeking to redress a subtle bias in their work towards an over-emphasis of the social constructionist and discourse-analytic reading of Foucault's position. An alternative reading is offered that foregrounds the notion of 'limit experiences' in this area of Foucault's work and stresses the scope and power of his critique of the role religion plays in the emergence of contemporary forms of governmentality. It develops this argument in connection with a consideration of Foucault's unpublished fourth volume of his History of Sexuality, 'Confessions of the Flesh', and a review of relevant Foucaultian concepts.

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