Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

The Figure of the Apostle Paul in Contemporary Philosophy (Heidegger, Badiou, Agamben, Zizek)

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

The Figure of the Apostle Paul in Contemporary Philosophy (Heidegger, Badiou, Agamben, Zizek)

Article excerpt


The wider context of my paper1 examines the importance of the figure of the Apostle Paul in the philosophy of M. Heidegger2 and in the works of three contemporary, antipostmodern philosophers:3 Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Zizek. Within their works, they aim at reconciling the categories of being, truth, history, and the subject in a new way. They try to find answers to contemporary questions and problems with the help of the figure of Saint Paul. The fundamental questions of my research are: why do the authors included in this research all turn to the Apostle Paul? Why is Saint Paul so relevant in the present, and why do these authors attribute philosophical proximity to this remote figure?

My thesis is that Heidegger and these contemporary philosophers do not turn to the Apostle Paul guided primarily or exclusively by theological interests or perspectives, yet they pose a great challenge to the religious thought.

On the one hand, we must say that Heidegger's return to Saint Paul had a philosophical-phenomenological aim: he had seen in Paul's letters a kind of proto-phenomenology. Heidegger reached back to the figure of Paul for the analysis of the inseparability of time and being. Heidegger's lecture on the phenomenology of religion is part of his series of lectures from his early Freiburg period, in which he worked on the hermeneutical turn of phenomenology. Its key feature is the notion of "actualizationhistorical understanding" (vollzugsgechichtliche Verstehen), which is related to the problematic of the actualization-aspect of understanding, the discovery of actualization-sense (besides the husserlian content- and reference-sense). This turn emerges from the encounter with the Aristotelian and principally Christian (Pauline) notion of kairos. With the term Vollzug, Heidegger opens a new way of thinking together time and being. His phenomenological research resorts to the Paulian texts in order to highlight his own fundamental intention: the deeper understanding of the structure of life. In order to achieve this phenomenological goal, Heidegger's analysis is not restricted to the explanation of Paul's Epistles. Instead, it moves in the direction of the reductio ad essentiam, through which the essence of these concepts can be found in the structure of life experience. For Heidegger, early Christianity becomes a preferred phenomenon for highlighting the carrying structures of the temporality of factic life. He carries out a series of bracketings in order to carry out the leap from the real intent of Paulian expression, i.e. the carrying out of faith, to the basic theme of phenomenology, the temporal structure hidden at the ground of factic life experience. However, we can put here a legitimate question: in how far can the theological content be effaced thusly from these texts, whose experiential basis is interpreted by Heidegger, with good reason, as a carrying out of faith, as an event of recognition inscribed in time, and as the embodiment of the eschatological openness awaiting the second coming of Christ; respectively, can that which remains after the deduction of these contents be viewed at all as a philosophically relevant structure of being-time?4

On the other hand, Badiou, Agamben and Zizek rely on Paul when confronting the postmodernism and when examining what constitutes the political.5 Frederiek Depoortere6 distinguishes between two trends in the contemporary philosophical reading of Paul:

The first trend goes back to the German-Jewish philosopher of religion Jacob Taubes, who, in the months before his death in 1987, gave a series of lectures in which he argued for the apocalyptic-revolutionary potential of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Taubes considered these lectures as his "spiritual testament"7. According to Éva Kocziszky, "Taubes was the first to enter into debate with the Protestant interpretation of Paul, considered as one-sided, and to take issue with the image that Paul only teaches the intimacy of faith, otherwise calling for mere submission to authority in the political dimension. …

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