Rulers of the Air: Demonic Bodies and the Making of the Ancient Christian Cosmos Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Proctor, Travis
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation uses demonology as a lens through which to explore early Christian theorizations of the body’s entanglement with nonhuman entities. Through four case studies on Christian demonologies in the first three centuries of the Common Era, I demonstrate that early Christians held to a wide variety of views on the demonic body. Early texts such as the Gospel of Mark and Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrnaeans, for example, portray demons as “incorporeal.” Writings from Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage, however, depict the demonic body in ways that stress its corpulence. Despite these demonological discrepancies, in each case differences in demonic corporeality run parallel to divergences in Christian characterizations of the ideal Christian body. The hybridity of the demonic body, then, reflects broader multiplicities in Christian modes of corporeality. This suggests that the bodies of demons served as fruitful sites of negotiation and invention for Christians as they fashioned the contours of human corporeality within and among other cosmic forces. The propinquity between demonic and human corporealities, moreover, materialized in the ritual activities of early Christians. I point out that ideas regarding demonic bodies informed early Christian rites such as exorcism, the Eucharist, ritual contemplation, and baptism. In such a way, demonic bodies came to play a central role in the ritualization of Christian corporeality as an embodied repudiation of its demonic assailants. In this way, the contours of the demonic body both reflected and reproduced Christian corporeal ideologies. The tandem construction of demonic and human corporeality demonstrates how early Christian authors constructed the bodies that populated their cosmos – human, demon, and otherwise – as part of broader cosmic networks. Configurations of the human body, on the one hand, took shape in light of the many bodies and objects adjacent to it. Similarly, the cosmos and its denizens were fashioned relative to ideals regarding the makeup and performance of Christian embodiment. By tracing this close interconnection, my project serves the broader purposes of re-centering the nonhuman in our study of early Christianity while enriching the cosmic contexts in which the Christian body took shape.
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  • In Copyright
  • Reed, Annette
  • Ehrman, Bart D.
  • Clark, Elizabeth
  • Rives, James
  • Plese, Zlatko
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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