This article examines the work Giorgio Agamben and other contemporary philosophers who profane theological and messianic discourses in their post-secular and post-political projects. These theorists examine, among other things, monastic discipline and rules, the life and witness of St. Francis, and the messianic discourses of St. Paul for their material and political potential in developing a post-secular politics. Their work does not seek simply to invert the theological so as to secularize it, but rather to move beyond it. Accompanying this philosophical turn to a post-secular retrieval and reshaping of theological discourses is a search for a new kind of community beyond the politics of the modern nation-state, and in Agamben’s case, even beyond law itself. The communities these theorists imagine often bear a strong resemblance to the ecclesiastical structures and community they seek to replace.
AgambenThe Time that Remains p. 145. See Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1999) p. 463; Gesammelte Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag 1982) 5:578.
Michael Hardt and Antonio NegriEmpire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press2000) p. 413. It is helpful to situate this book and Agamben’s The Coming Community alongside a number of other recent philosophical works on this topic of community as the search for community by contemporary philosophy and literary theorists goes beyond the Marxist theorists examined in this paper. Agamben’s The Coming Community and Hardt and Negri’s Empire along with Multitude are most profitably read alongside Maurice Blanchtot’s The Unavowable Community (French 1983; English 1988) and Jean Luc Nancy’s The Inoperative Community (French 1998 English 1991). Nancy for example is in search of a community that grounds the ‘I in a pre-existent we’.
Hardt and NegriMultitude pp. 189–227. Ola Sigurdson notes that this chapter ‘consists of a discussion of the “social body” that reminds the theologically literate of the theological discussion of the same theme initiated by the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac’s Corpus mysticum (1944)’. See Ola Sigurdson ‘Beyond Secularism? Towards a Post-Secular Political Theory’ Modern Theology 26:2 (2010) pp. 177–196 at p. 183.
Talal AsadFormations of the Secular: Christianity Islam Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press2003) p. 200. See also Vincent P. Pecora Secularization and Cultural Criticism: Religion Nation & Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2006) p. 41.
AgambenThe Time that Remains pp. 31–33. For a perceptive analysis of the messianic ecclesia see Gordon Zerbe ‘On the Exigency of a Messianic Ecclesiology: An Engagement with the Philosophical Readers of Paul’ in Harink Paul Philosophy and the Theopolitical Vision pp. 254–281.
AgambenThe Time that Remains p. 122. The full passage is as follows: ‘You yourselves are our letter written on our hearts to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ prepared by us written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts’ (2 Cor. 3:2–3). See also 2 Cor. 3:6 ‘[God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life’.