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The Ancient Christian Understanding of Slavery and Contemporary Discourse on the Meaning of Being Human
Jennifer Glancy, Le Moyne College

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"Precarity of Use" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "Precarity of Use"
Author: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: Exploring the implications of a distinction Aristotle draws between bios (politically qualified life) and zoe (natural life), Giorgio Agamben develops the notion of bare life, life stripped of political protections. To exemplify the precarity of bare life, Agamben turns not to the ubiquitous figure of the ancient slave but to homo sacer, an obscure figure of Roman law. This despite the fact that the passage in the Politics where Aristotle distinguishes bios from zoe continues with a discussion of natural slavery. Agamben returns to that passage and its treatment of slavery in the final volume of his Homo Sacer project, The Use of Bodies (2016). There, however, rather than deepening his genealogy of bare life, he elaborates “a theory of use.” He stipulates messianic dimensions for this theory. Quoting 1 Cor 7:21, Agamben contends, “The messianic call…consists first of all in the capacity to ‘use’ the factical condition in which each one finds himself.” Agamben speculates that “the use of the body” in slavery “evoke[s] the paradigm of a human activity that is reducible neither to labor, nor to production, nor to praxis.” He imagines an originary “community of life” between master and slave, an elision of the brute force fundamental to despotic relationships. Following Agamben’s philological lead, I investigate Paul’s use of chresis and cognates in passages involving either slaves or invocations of slavery and freedom Agamben’s take on “use” is belied by standard Greek idioms. Moreover, the conception of slavery in terms of mutual use obscures the precarity inherent in the lives of enslaved. Work on this paper was supported by a 2017 Summer Stipend award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Date: 11/12/2017
Primary URL: http://
Primary URL Description: Link on online conference program to the paper I gave based on the work I did with support of 2017 Summer Stipend.
Conference Name: Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Boston Massachussetts

Paul's Hagar As/Against Bare Life (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Paul's Hagar As/Against Bare Life
Author: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: References to slavery in the epistles of the apostle Paul play a climactic role in the oeuvre of influential political philosopher Giorgio Agamben. In order to challenge Agamben’s account of what he terms “anthropogenesis”—the becoming human of the human being—I offer an alternative reading of selected passages in Paul. The nine volumes of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project begin with a distinction Agamben attributes to Aristotle, a distinction between mere biological life (zoe) and politically conditioned life (bios). The passage in the Politics giving rise to this distinction continues with a discussion of natural slavery. It is thus strange that in the first eight Homo Sacer volumes Agamben does not consider the figure of the slave to exemplify what he terms "bare life," precarious life supposedly shorn of bios. Instead, he names the banned man, the obscure homo sacer of Roman law. Against Agamben’s nomination of the banned man as epitome of bare life, I propose instead a banned woman--Paul’s Hagar. By “Paul’s Hagar,” I mean both the Hagar Paul reads in the pages of the Septuagint and the Hagar he writes in his allegory in Galatians (4:21-5:1). Readings of Hagar by feminist and womanist scholars both anticipate Agamben’s account of bare life and expose the reductive limits of that account. My paper primarily focuses on Hagar and bare life. As a coda, I conclude with a brief philological critique of The Use of Bodies, the final Homo Sacer installment. Fixating on Aristotle’s definition of slavery in terms of “use of the body,” Agamben at last considers implications of slavery for conceptions of the human. The useful Onesimus offers a counterweight to Agamben’s claim that for Paul the figure of the slave represents a messianic hope for becoming human (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:21).
Date: 04/05/2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to Columbia University New Testament Seminars
Conference Name: Columbia University New Testament Seminar

Jennifer A. Glancy (Staff/Faculty/Fellow Position)
Name: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: As a 2018 Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, I will work on my book in progress, Ancient Christian Slavery and Twenty-First Century Debates About What Makes Us Human. This project couples analysis of the theme of slavery in selected Christian writings from the first to fourth centuries with assessment of twenty-first century discourses about what it means to be human. From Aristotle's infamous arguments for natural slavery in his “Politics” to Christian theologian Gregory of Nyssa's condemnation of slaveholding as an affront against the God in whose image humans are created, the question of human nature shadows ancient treatments of slavery. By engaging twenty-first century debates about what it means to be human, this project reframes discussion of slavery in the ancient churches. At the same time, a focus on troublesome ways that humanity is called into question in ancient references to slavery exposes limitations in contemporary conceptions of the human.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to 2018 ACLS Fellowship

Hagar as/against Bare Life (Article)
Title: Hagar as/against Bare Life
Author: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: Feminist and womanist theologians and biblical critics have drawn on the story of Hagar to plumb the quality of life for marginalized women, from antiquity to the present. This study advances that conversation by reading Paul’s allegory in Galatians against the more complex representation of Hagar in the Septuagint, Paul’s own scripture. The stripped-down version of Hagar readers encounter in Galatians exemplifies political philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s influential concept of “bare life.” The richer story of Hagar’s life in the Septuagint illuminates what bare life omits, distorts, or gets wrong about being human. Engagement with the story of Hagar—as mediated through feminist and womanist criticism—thus serves as the basis for critique of one of the most widely circulated secular critical theories of the twenty-first century.
Year: 2021
Format: Journal
Publisher: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion

On Agamben's Slave without Slavery (Article)
Title: On Agamben's Slave without Slavery
Author: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: As Giorgio Agamben brings his Homo Sacer project to a close in L'Uso dei corpi (The Use of Bodies), he pitches the slave as paradigm of the human, his archaeology of slavery hinging on select turns of phrase in Aristotle and Paul the Apostle. An assessment of Agamben's argument thus requires close attention to his signature philological moves, an exegesis of his exegeses. Professing to find the archaic nucleus of slavery, the truth of use, in a zone of indifference, Agamben conjures a slave without slavery, an exemplar of inoperativity and a common use of bodies. I offer critiques both of his method of philosophical archaeology and of his anthropology, raising questions about the tension between domination and mutual use, about the limits power imposes on potentiality, and about the paradoxical privilege implied by indifference to freedom. Intent on what he characterizes as the messianic vocation of the slave, Agamben is unable to see that the slave is always more than a slave, or, as one might say in Greek, hyper doulon.
Year: 2020
Access Model: Subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Diacritics
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press