Howard, Mimi: Paul and the Problem of Dialogic Relation in Post-War German Thought

This paper examines a set of thinkers—Reinhart Koselleck, Jacob Taubes, and Martin Buber— who turned to Paul in considering the problem of dialogic relations. These conversations took shape in amidst a flurry of historico-theological studies offering a “New Perspective” on Paul; one which would emphasize his Jewish background, and the ways in which that background might inform our understandings of law’s universality (i.e., questions of when and to whom the law applies). This scholarly development was met with a resurgence of interest in Paul from the standpoint of modern Jewish thought. Though these engagements with the founder of Christianity could be cast in an ecumenical light, as the attempt to foster, after the Shoah, concord between Abrahamic faiths, the use of Paul was in fact far more polemical. These thinkers were more invested in the idea of Paul himself, the model he provided for relating to the world and others, than they were in exhibiting the non-sectarianism of his writings. In this regard, post-war considerations of Paul responded directly to ideas put forth by Weimar-era crisis theology, and most famously Karl Barth, who had used Paul to combat the flawed political judgements so often offered up by liberal theology. The post-war deployment of Paul was deeply informed by re- working and reinterpreting this antagonism and has, today, given rise to the ‘return to Paul’ that we find in the works of contemporary continental philosophers like Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek. It was only by passing through the wellsprings of post-war debates that Paul has come to be seen as providing a solution to thorny questions around political identity and community.