Deutsch Intern
Chair for Fundamental Theology and Comparative Religious Studies

A Heterology of Incarnation in Vulnerability Discourse

Vulnerabilities: A Heterology of Incarnation in Vulnerability Discourse

Over the last thirty years, “vulnerability“ has become a key concept in academic research with great social relevance and needs an interdisciplinary network. In medicine and ecology, as well as in studies on poverty, migration and religio-political violence, vulnerability is a decisive topic. But Christian theology, which has included wounds, pain and suffering among its central themes for a long time has hardly participated in these debates until now. Its absence from the discourse generates a serious research deficit that this project presented here counteracts. To this end, it has to transform the theological thematization of wounds into the new discourse and bring the precarious power of “vulnerabilities” into focus.

With respect to method, the project works with the heterology initiated by Michel de Certeau, who launched the internal theological debates on non-theological academic discourse. The analysis of discourse on vulnerability from a theological perspective shows that current research only covers the field of the profane or secular, where action focuses on protection, safety, and decreasing vulnerability. Phenomena like suicide attacks and the ordinary willing­ness of people to sacrifice themselves can be analyzed only if the power effects of the Holy are researched. Georges Bataille’s theory of religion taps this world of the Holy, where people, states, and religions are prepared to make a sacrifice and to risk vulnerability instead of protecting it.

If the research project places the problem of violence regarding vulnerability in the field of tension between the profane and holy, it thus gives the Christian theology of incarnation a completely new relevance. Incarnation is revealed as the praxis of voluntary vulnerability that responds to the requirement to protect others. Not only God in his becoming flesh, but people as well are prepared to risk their own vulnerability to protect and to foster the lives of other people, cultures, and religions. This research project introduces into this area the analyses by Michel de Certeau and  it develops a Christian answer to Judith Butler’s question as to what might be made of grief for a lost human life besides a cry for war. The “heterology of incarnation” makes clear that the risk of one’s own vulnerability, a risk that serves life, is a humanizing process: it occurs where humanity is at stake.


The merging of vulnerability discourse and incarnation theology opens up new territory. It widens and differentiates the research field considerably and promises a major gain in interdisciplinary relevance. The results of the project will be published in a book and in other publications to make them available to the academic public.