Political Theorist Lee Trepanier has a new edited volume focusing on thinking about human responses to disasters and diseases. Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters: Reflections of Political Theory from Antiquity to the Age of COVID (Routledge, 2022) was clearly an opportunity for many of the contributing authors to consider how we should think about ourselves and our physical and spiritual health in context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Section I of the book is focused specifically on considerations around Covid, and how governments, institutions, individuals, religious organizations, and others all responded to the pandemic, and how many of these entities helped to lead citizens and individuals through such threats to our health and wellbeing.
Sections II and III of Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters focus on teachings and considerations by political theorists, both ancient and modern, on how humans can and do respond to disasters, plagues, diseases, and the precariousness of human existence. Contributing authors turn to Thucydides, St. Augustine, Sophocles, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and others to find guidance and ideas about how humans not only respond to disasters and diseases, but also how these experiences may inform thinking about political, social, and religious institutions. Different examples are also considered, from the theological politics of floods in St. Augustine’s work, to the impact on John Locke of living through the plague of London and how this contributed to his thinking about the need for security and stability in political life. These two sections of the book reflect deep and thoughtful considerations of the connection between political theory and the vitality of physical, spiritual, and social life.
Finally, the fourth section of Trepanier’s edited volume focuses on disasters more so than diseases and brings literature more fully into the discussion. These chapters, mostly written by scholars of English and Communications, explore the imagined spaces where real events have been integrated into fiction, to help us wrestle with how to absorb terrible events like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, and to find the human element within our responses to these disasters. These chapters also integrate the role of memory in how we consider and reflect on human and natural disaster and loss of life—how do we consider and re-examine these understandings within our memories and how does this contribute to how we think about the world around us.
Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters leads us through a host of perspectives and contexts to help us understand the world where plagues, disasters, diseases, and pandemics all contribute to our sense of vulnerability and precarity. We may also find some solace and guidance from the various analyses and the thoughtful interpretations of works of political theory, literature, and art.
Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.