Dr Michael Hoelzl

Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy and Religion

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Research interests

Specific  interests:

Social Ethics, Political Theology, Philosophy of Law and Political Philosophy with an emphasis on Schmittian studies. Further research interests include theories of secularisation and what I have called 'The New Visibility of Religion' (in its legal, sociological and political dimension as well as in popular culture ie. film, art and literature). 

Indicative areas of BA, MA and PhD supervision:

  • Continental Philosophy of Religion
  • Religion and its critics (From Kant to the Contemporary)
  • Christian Social Ethics
  • Ethics of Decisionism (Schmittian Studies)
  • Secularisation theory and new visibility of religion

Other research

Current and previous research projects:

The New Visibility of Religion and its Impact

Guest Editor of Special Edition of the Journal Religion

The New Visibility of Religion thesis has increasingly come to dominate the discourse on religion today. Whether it has been used to demonstrate the enduring importance of religion despite all attempts to explain it away, or, to reinforce a warning of the political and anti-liberal tendencies that religion entails, the term has proved influential for a range of disciplines seeking to understand religion and religiosity in contemporary times.

Apart from the academic difficulties of defining religion, the complexity of the study of new religious phenomena has been enlarged by new forms of social interaction and their rapidly changing nature. Critical discussion of the new visibility of religion therefore requires a full discussion of the insights, limitations, and contested definitions that this new paradigm raises. Traditional parameters, indicators and methodologies used to study religious phenomena seem to be outdated. Innovative analytical tools of critical investigation of religion beyond traditional theories of secularization and religious fundamentalism are needed.

In this special edition new academic fields of the study of religion and theological discourse are introduced by leading experts in their field. The new visibility of religion has not only created a novel awareness of religion today but has also created new areas of the study of religion and the interaction of religion with society and individual social practices. The special issue focuses on three key areas of the study of the new visibility of religion and the impact this new visibility of religion has on our everyday life: 1) Religion in Popular Culture, 2) Post-Humanism and 3) Religion in Contemporary Populist Politics.

Publication: March 2020 (MDPI)

Choice and Decision. Elements of a theory of decisionism

According to Carl Schmitt, decisionism is exactly the opposite of any deliberative politics. Deliberative politics is based on deliberation, rational discussion and the outcome of such a political discussion, in deliberative democracy it is the parliament, as Habermas says, the outcome of the soft force of the stronger argument. All deliberative politics suffers from at least one key deficit: time. To reach at a conclusion by deliberation, including as many people concerned as possible takes time. And time is a scarce resource in times of a crisis, or in Schmitt’s terminology in a state of emergency. It is not surprising that decionist theories prevail in times of a crisis when anxiety dominates the political climate. It is anxiety (Angst) and not fear (Furcht) which creates an atmosphere of insecurity. Angst according to Martin Heidegger is diffuse without an object whereas Furcht is intentional. I know what I fear but in a state of anxiety I cannot name the source of Angst. Decisionism seeks to turn anxiety into fear by political means.
According to Schmitt decisionism comprises four key elements: a)Whenever a state of emergency occurs a deviation from the normal law is required b) it is one person who has to decide whether a state of emergency exists, or not, and if so, the sovereign has to take adequate measure to restore order, public safety and tranquillity and resolve a state of emergency c) the mandate to restore order must be clearly defined by the goal that has to be achieved and d) it must limited by a defined period of time when these extra-legal measure can be used.
In my current research project I attempt to identify the theological foundations of decisionism. At this stage my work revolves around the virtue of ἐπιείκεια translated as reasonableness or aequitas and means the virtue of a rightful deviation of law to encounter a political crisis and the resolve a climate of anxiety.

Main publications

In my most research project I analysed the theological knowledge that is  required for the right exercise of power. My research question was: Is there knowledge of dominion which is beyond the logic of order and obedience. In answering this question I returned to Michael Foucault's concept of pastoral power.


Image result for Theorie vom guten HirtenM. Hoelzl. Theorie vom guten Hirten. Eine kurze Geschichte pastoralen Herrschaftswissens (Muenster, London, New York: LIT, 2017). 324 p. 

Summary: Theory of the Good Shepherd. A Short History of Pastoral Power. In pastoral literature a body of knowledge of how to rule people beyond the logic of order and obedience can be found. The book is the first systematic analysis of this specific knowledge of pastoral power [pastorales Herrschaftswissen] from its origin in Gregory’s I. Regula Pastoralis to its political secularisation in modernity. In this discourse analysis it is argued, that the year 1777 in which pastoral theology was institutionalised in the political context of Josephinian state absolutism and Catholic Enlightenment, marks a turning point in the understanding of the right exercise of pastoral power that set a paradigm for contemporary concepts of political authority.

Past research projects:

Schmitt Studies

Over the last years I have worked on the early work of Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship and his latest book on Political Theology. From this research two translations of C. Schmitt’s into English for the first time have been published, together with a number of peer reviewed articles discussion the concept of reasonableness and state of emergency provisions.




Dictatorship ebook by Carl  Schmitt

Carl Schmitt. Dictatorship: From the Beginning of the Modern Concept of Sovereignty to the Proletarian Class-Struggle. Translated, edited and introduced by Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Cambridge: Polity, 2014) xxxvii + 308p.

Summary: This is the first English translation of Die Diktatur, Carl Schmitt's most erudite book and arguably a paradigm for his entire work. Written shortly after the Russian Revolution and the First World War, Schmitt analyses the problem of the state of emergency and the power of the Reichspräsident in declaring it. Dictatorship, Schmitt argues, is a necessary legal institution in constitutional law and has been wrongly portrayed as the arbitrary rule of a so-called dictator.

The significance of this first English translation has been emphasised by G. Fusco: ‘The translation by Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward has made it possible for the Anglophone world to access what remains, within twentieth century legal and political literature, a “classic” work, which continues to attract scholarly attention, and to generate significant critical contributions around it’.[1]

[1] G. Fusco. Modern Law Review. 79/4 (2016) 738.

Image result for political Theology II

Carl Schmitt. Political Theology II. The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology.  Translated and introduced by Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Cambridge: Polity, 2008). xi+224p. 

Summary: This is the first English translation of Political Theology II, Carl Schmitt's last book. Part polemic, part self-vindication for his involvement in the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), this is Schmitt's most theological reflection on Christianity and its concept of sovereignty and the values of post Second World War liberal democracy. 

New Visibility of Religion

Are we experiencing  a re-emergence or a new visibility of religion in the public sphere today? How has secularization theory changed to accommodate to new religious phenomena? These were the central question this research project addressed in the context of a dour year international research project funded by the British Academy.

Main Publications:

The New Visibility of Religion. Edited, introduced and annotated by Michael Hoelzl, Graham Ward (London: Continuum, 2008). 219p.

Since the late 1980s sociologists have been drawing our attention to an international surge in the public visibility of religion. This has increasingly challenged two central aspects of modern western European culture: first, the assumption that as we became more modern we would become more secularised and religion would disappear; and secondly, that religion and politics should occupy radically differentiated spheres in which private conviction did not exert itself within the public realm. The new visibility of religion is not simply a matter of what Keppel famously called 'The Revenge of God', that is, the resurgence of Christian, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism. Religion is permeating western culture in many different forms from contemporary continental philosophy, the arts and the media, to the rhetoric of international politicians. 


This collection of essays brings together a unique collection of voices from theology, aesthetics, social and political science, philosophy and cultural theory in an exploration of four major aspects of this new visibility of religion: the revision of the secularisation thesis, the relationship between religion and violence, the new re-enchantment of reality and the return of metaphysics. The exploration is conducted through essays by and interviews with figures at the forefront of reflecting upon this major cultural shift and its implications. It is distinctively multidisciplinary, examining the phenomenon of the rise of religion in Western Europe from a number of interrelated perspectives.


Michael Hoelzl (ed). Rainer Bucher. Hitler's Theology

Hitler's Theology investigates the use of theological motifs in Adolf Hitler's public speeches and writings, and offers an answer to the question of why Hitler and his theo-political ideology were so attractive and successful presenting an alternative to the discontents of modernity. The book gives a systematic reconstruction of Hitler's use of theological concepts like providence, belief or the almighty God. 

Rainer Bucher argues that Hitler's (ab)use of theological ideas is one of the main reasons why and how Hitler gained so much acquiescence and support for his diabolic enterprise. This fascinating study concludes by contextualizing Hitler's theology in terms of a wider theory of modernity and in particular by analyzing the churches' struggle with modernity. Finally, the author evaluates the use of theology from a practical theological perspective.


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display