Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam

By Thomas Sizgorich | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

IN MANY WAYS, this book ends where it began. It began, in Chapter 1, with John Chrysostom’s anxieties concerning what he understood as the perilous transgression by members of his community of the behavioral standards that marked one as a genuine Christian. In response to this anxiety, I suggested, Chrysostom urged his parishioners to make certain behavioral boundaries a matter of their daily practice and a component of their social relations with their fellow Christians. In essence, they were to exercise surveillance over one another, and to “command and forbid” any member of their community whom they suspected of transgressing those boundaries by becoming too intimate with the Jews or by participating in what Chrysostom understood as specifically Jewish rites, festivals, and other forms of religious observance.

The anxiety Chrysostom attempted to address in this way was one we have encountered as the basis of various acts of intercommunal aggression and violence within the late antique world. This anxiety may be traced to the need felt by human subjects in various social and cultural circumstances to maintain a stable sense of individual and communal identity within unstable social spaces. This phenomenon is much commented upon in recent anthropological and sociological literature, and I have drawn upon a cross-section of this literature to theorize the social dynamics that seem to have resided at the root of the intercommunal violence associated with the post-Constantinian Roman world. In particular, the insights of Fredrik Barth have led me to examine the issue of communal boundaries and their role in lending experiential weight to the communal identities of persons living and acting as part of

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