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Arendt and the Theological Significance of Natality



In her 1958 book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt points to the potential of human action to initiate new beginnings, a capacity she calls natality, as the source of political renewal that could save the modern age from ruin. The question of the relationship between natality and theological concepts is one of the most perplexing points of dispute in the Arendt scholarship of the last two decades. The overall function of the concept of natality in Arendt’s thought has been variously categorized as ontological, political, “covertly” theological and “inconspicuously” messianic. This essay addresses the question of whether Arendt’s understanding of the essential natality of human action should be read as straightforwardly philosophical, as secularized theology or as “covert” or “inconspicuous” theology with a focus on how textual and contextual elements might be assessed in a way that does justice to the complexity of Arendt’s thought.