Radical incarnation

Article by Jayne Svenungsson in Studia Theologica

Full title: ‘Radical incarnation: The dangers and promises of Christian universalism in the wake of Badiou’s Saint Paul’

In his 1997 pamphlet Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Alain Badiou pointed to the cynical interaction between the burgeoning identitarian movements and neoliberal capitalism. As a bulwark against these tendencies, he proposed a creative reinterpretation of Christian universalism inspired by the Pauline letters. This article revisits Badiou’s argument in light of recent debates on the limits of identity politics. First, it gives a brief overview of Badiou’s innovative and thought-provoking reading of Paul, which gave significant impulses to the politico-philosophical debate in the subsequent years. Second, it discusses some of the lacunas of Badiou’s interpretation of Christian universalism. More specifically, it ponders whether these lacunas may help to explain why the radical left-wing universalism of the 2000s never really took off, but was instead replaced with radicalized identitarian movements on the political left as well as the political right. Finally, it argues that the Christian tradition of universalism nonetheless has significant insights to offer contemporary political philosophy. However, this will require that it learns from its past sins, notably its tendencies of legitimizing supersessionist patterns throughout history. The clue to such a “post-critical” Christian universalism, it is argued, lies in a radicalized emphasis on the incarnational nature of Christianity.