Several European philosophers have in recent years turned to the letters of Paul in search of a language to address the question of the political in the contemporary moment. Their question is how to mine the intellectual traditions of the West for resources to remake politics in the wake of certain undeniable post-Enlightenment impasses. Most of these thinkers focus their discussions on the most difficult, enigmatic, and singular of Paul's letters: Romans. They fearlessly deracinate the text from its familiar cultural terrain, cutting across historical distances and past countless shelves of biblical critique without looking back. On one reading, Paul emerges in each of these texts as the unhailed hero of his own story, each story reflecting uncannily their authors' own commitments and absorptions. But, of course, the fascination with Paul is more than a narcissistic indulgence on the part of philosophers dizzy and light-headed from their field's well-documented “turn to religion.” At the same time, the overarching philosophical nostalgia for biblical origins invites a much deeper analysis of the often uninterrogated investments that undergird this particular expression of biblical afterlives. This essay offers some reflections on this philosophical trajectory on its own terms but attempts to consider the effort to reclaim Paul for arguments about universalism and messianism in relation to the emergence of the notion of global Christianity, a term that, with its empirical referent, operates on a wholly different register of engagement and critique. What varieties of work are performed by the categories of “universal” and “global” in these conversations? What political contestations go unnamed and untheorized in the process?
Skip Nav Destination
Elizabeth A. Castelli; The Philosophers' Paul in the Frame of the Global: Some Reflections. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2010; 109 (4): 653–676. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2010-011
Download citation file: