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For a Critical Christian Legacy: Verso's Radical Christianity Reading List

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One of the signal features of our era is the re-emergence of the 'sacred' in all its different guises, from New Age paganism to the emerging religious sensitivity within cultural and political theory.

Verso has published for many years a range of critical accounts of Christianity and the broader issues of religion, belief and faith. Here, in conjunction with the publication of Pier Paolo Pasolini's St Paul, Verso presents a Radical Christianity reading list. 

Christianity played a role of primary importance in the formation of Pasolini's thought, of which he was not at all uncritical, often scathing. Pasolini's St Paul  consists of an unrealized screenplay about the life of St Paul and the first-century Christian communities, which is transposed into the post-WWII twentieth century Europe and America. Pasolini portrays Paul as embodying a tension between 'Church' and 'religion'; between an institution that provides a cynical alibi for the powerful, on the one hand, and a humanistic critical force that has the potential to stand up to power, on the other. Pasolini's script could also be read as an important contribution to the growing debate around St Paul and the turn to religion in philosophy.

In The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, Slavoj Žižek controversially argues that the subversive core of the Christian legacy forms the foundation of a politics of universal emancipation. The revolutionary core of the Christian legacy is too precious to be left to the fundamentalists.

In his presentation of the Gospels, The Gospels: Jesus Christ, Terry Eagleton makes a powerful and provocative argument for Jesus Christ as a social, political and moral radical, a friend of anti-imperialists, outcasts and marginals, a champion of the poor, the sick and immigrants, and as an opponent of the rich, religious hierarchs, and hypocrites everywhere — in other words, as a figure akin to revolutionaries like Robespierre, Marx, and Che Guevara. Quite different from David Cameron’s mushy vision of Christ.

Thomas Muntzer’s Sermon to the Princes, introduced by Wu Ming, is a collection of the 16th century radical pastor’s most compelling sermons attacking the princes and preaching an early form of communism. A leading figure in the radical Reformation, Muntzer’s sermons spoke the truth to the powerful.

A Common Treasury brings together the writings of Gerrard Winstanley and his comrades, known as Diggers, a group of radical communist Christians. Written at the end of the English Civil War, these radical pamphlets stand out as some of the earliest examples of communist thought, as Tony Benn’s introduction is keen to highlight.

In his now classic Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom, Ernst Bloch examines the origins of Christianity in an attempt to find its social roots, pursuing a detailed study of the Bible and its fascination for 'ordinary and unimportant' people. At the Bible's heart he finds a heretical core and the concealed message that, paradoxically, a good Christian must necessarily be a good atheist.

Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology is a much-needed assessment of the dominant cliché of contemporary theory: the return to religion. Arguing that the secular age seems to have been replaced by a new era, where political action flows directly from metaphysical conflict, Critchley raises key questions for the times to come: Should we defend a version of secularism and quietly accept the slide into a form of theism—or is there another way?

In Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England Christopher Hill, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, reconstructs the significance of Antichrist during the revolutionary crises of the early seventeenth century. A key intervention to understanding the subtle and complex relationship between religious belief and revolutionary politics.

Régis Debray’s God: An Itinerary traces the episodes of the genesis of God, His itinerary and the costs of His survival, with an eye on the machinery of its production. Debray contends that, in order to discover how God's fire was transferred from the desert to the prairie, we ought first to bracket the philosophical questions and focus on empirical information. However, he claims that this does not lessen its significance, but rather gives new life to spiritual issues.

In Church Fathers, Independent VirginsJoyce Salisbury explores the too-often overlooked relationship between Church doctrines and the position of women. Through an examination of texts of female and popular authorship, and the extraordinary lives of seven women saints, she presents a markedly different picture of sexual and social roles. For many of these women, celibacy became a form of emancipation.