15. Discussing Paul with Judith Butler: Agency, Subjectivity, and Power

Critical Theory and Early Christianity - Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler - Matthew G. Whitlock

Valérie Nicolet [+-]
Institut protestant de théologie, faculté de Paris
Since 2013, Valérie Nicolet is “maître de conférences” at the Institut protestant de théologie, faculté de Paris, where she teaches New Testament and Ancient Greek. In her research, she focuses on the Pauline letters. At the moment, she is working on the rhetorical construction of the law in Galatians. Her scholarship highlights interdisciplinary approaches, more prominently with philosophy, and recently, with queer theory. She has published a book on the construction of the self in Romans (Constructing the Self: Thinking with Paul and Michel Foucault, Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2012).


It might no longer be needed to explain why one can (and maybe should) read Paul, a first century Jewish Hellenistic “author” (perhaps epistolary writer would be a better way of describing him), in conversation with Judith Butler, a 21st century American theorist. In recent years, there has been a somewhat steady interest in establishing a dialogue between Paul and some critical theorists. If one is interested in agency, in the way subjectivity is constructed by Paul, and in power and in discipline, then reading with recent critical theorists makes sense. In this chapter, I am choosing to focus on the Epistle to the Galatians and on Paul’s language about brotherhood, family, and adoption as it appears in particular in Gal 3:195:1. In these chapters Paul’s language about kinship is tightly enmeshed with language about the nomos, the law. What interests me in this section is, on the one hand, how Paul’s language about family constructs the law as a power that Paul’s addressees need to learn to use. On the other hand, I also want to see how language about kinship and the law intersect in this section and establish disciplinary strategies in order to construct the ethos of the Galatian community. I will use Judith Butler’s works on the body (Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter) as theoretical tools to help me articulate how these disciplinary strategies worked on Paul’s addressees, and in particular how they affect some of the invisible bodies in Paul’s congregations (namely women, slaves, and children). Here some work with parenetical material in 1 Corinthians and in deutero/trito-Pauline literature (1 Cor 11:3-16; 1 Cor 14:34-35; Eph 6:1-9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2:8-3:1. 6:1-2; Tit 2:1-10) will also be useful, in order to think intersectionally about these questions.

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Anderson, Valérie. 15. Discussing Paul with Judith Butler: Agency, Subjectivity, and Power. Critical Theory and Early Christianity - Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2021. ISBN 9781781794135. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=30158. Date accessed: 10 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30158. Oct 2021

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