Berzon, “Heresiology as Ethnography: Theorising Christian Difference”

Berzon, Todd. 2014. “Heresiology as Ethnography: Theorising Christian Difference,” in Religious Competition in the Third Century C.E.: Jews, Christians, and the Greco-Roman Worlds, ed. Nathaniel P. DesRosiers, Jordan D. Rosenblum, and Lily C. Vuong. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. 180–192.

Excerpt: In the preface to his five-book refutation of heresies, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c. 130-202), enumerate the principle hazard of the heretics. Their scheming argumentation, delusory interpretations, elaborate cosmologies, and falsification of scriptural proof text induces the addled-minded to abandon their training in the true faith and instead embrace the speculative opinions of duplicitous men. Precisely because they “think differently about the same things at different times, they never attain a steadfast knowledge, desiring more to be sophists of words than disciples of truth.” …In elaborating even the most minute of heretical customs and doctrines – from baptismal rituals and elaborate cosmologies to dietary habits and alternative scriptural interpretations – the heresiologists exhibit not only their own ethnographic of the formidable bastion that is the world of Christian heresy, they confront how the procession, production, and ordering of knowledge itself underscores and alters the very foundations of Christianity and the Christian world …


“Ending a Conversation with System R”: Book Review of Nongbri’s “Before Religion.”

Nongbri, Brent. 2013. Before religion : a history of a modern concept. New Haven : Yale University Press.

By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)

On its face, Brent Nongbri’s book, Before Religion, is seemingly not about Christianity, but about religion more generally – or more specifically, about the category of religion more generally. Nongbri’s argument is that religion is not a human universal, but rather construction that has both a history and a genealogy (to the degree that those are two separate things).  To Nongbri, this is important because treating religion as a universal has costs in both how the thought of the analyst ends up structuring whatever object he or she is addressing, and in how work is presumably consumed by readers, many of which will come to the term with a lot of baggage attached.

Nongbri avers that religion as currently understood is marked by a set of invariant features: it is about internal experience, takes the individual as the primary unit, is oriented around ideas and sacred texts, is separate from institutions such as government, is effectively private, and is something that is a response to a universal human need – and is therefore presumably also universally present as well. Finally, religion forms identified bodies – the ‘world religions’ such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity – which are all fungible to the extent that they are formally homologous. Because of this common structure, the relation between religion in the abstract and religions in particular is equivalent to the genus/species formulation, or to put it in a metalanguage borrowed from linguistics, religion is the type, and various ‘religions’ are tokens.

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Maldonado, “What Does Early Christianity Look Like?”

Maldonado, Adrian. 2012. What Does Early Christianity Look Like? Mortuary Archaeology and Conversion in Late Iron Age Scotland. Scottish Journal of Archaeology 32(2).

Abstract: The study of the inhumation cemeteries of Late Iron Age Scotland tends to revolve around the vexed question of whether or not they provide evidence for Christianity. As a result, our approach has been to look for ‘Christian’ practices (lack of grave goods, west-east orientation) that are expectations based on analogy with the more standardised Christianity of the later medieval period. As these burial practices originate in a Late Iron Age context, recent theoretical approaches from the study of late prehistory also need to be applied. It is the emergence of cemeteries that is new in the mid-first millennium AD, and this distinction is still under-theorized. Recent theoretical models seek to understand the significance of place, and how these cemeteries are actively involved in creating that place rather than using a predefined ‘sacred’ place. By tracing their role in shaping and being shaped by their landscapes, before, during and after their use for burial, we can begin to speak more clearly about how we can use mortuary archaeology to study the changes of c. AD 400-600. It is argued that the ambiguity of these sites lies not with the burials themselves, but in our expectations of Christianity and paganism in the Late Iron Age.