The long shadow of Saint Paul: recovering the narrative of Europe’s greatest teacher as a model for contemporary educators

Year: 2015

Author: Victory, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Philosopher, Alain Badiou (2003), has retrieved the letters of St Paul from theologians and New Testament scholars, to advocate for Paul as the poet-thinker of the event, described as that which has brought a new truth to all. Badiou has positioned these 2,000-year-old documents as foundation narratives for contemporary western society, with the potential to influence contemporary debates also extant in Australia, on citizenship and belonging; national and international responsibilities; security and freedom. This paper argues that those same narratives contain key lessons for Australian educators.

There is not a commonly held view that Saint Paul was an educator, but as Badiou has demonstrated there is much about Paul’s letters that remains unexplored from a materialist perspective. Applying a narrative inquiry methodology, following the work of Clandinin and Connelly (2000) and their three dimensional model, (Temporal, Personal and Social, and Place), to Paul’s letters to Thessaloniki, Galatia, Philippi and Corinth, a narrative of Paul as educator is established. In the narrative we witness education as dialogue, education with an ontological dimension, education as continuity between past, present and future, education as role modelling and uniquely to Paul, education as the practice of love. It is argued that Paul’s approach to educating multi-faith, multi-lingual, socially stratified and gender driven societies provides a model for contemporary educators.

Paul’s educational approach is best understood through the lens of the pragmatism of Dewey (c.f. 1938), the emancipatory compact of Freire (1970) and the elegant, relationship centred approach of Biesta (2013). For these writers, as for Paul, education is a social experience, learning with and through interaction with others. If as educators we accept the challenge of Dewey, Freire and Biesta to create dialogue that builds and reinforces democratic society then there are lessons to be learned from the narrative of Paul, who transformed social practice, religious beliefs and community attitudes across different language and cultural groups in a manner that continues to influence western society two millennium later.

Badiou, A 2003, Saint Paul: the foundation of universalism, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Biesta, GJJ 2013, The Beautiful Risk of Education, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder.

Clandinin, JD & Connelly, FM 2000, Narrative inquiry: experience and story in qualitative research, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Dewey, J 1938, Experience and education, Collier Books Edition, Collier Books, New York.

Freire, P 1970, Pedagogy of the oppresssed, Revised edn, Penguin Books, London.