Christianity, Syriac, Monasticism, Ecumenism, Interfaith, Early Christianity, Late Antiquity, Medieval Christianity, Episcopal Church, Anglicanism
Forsakenness: The Christian Experience of Abandonment by God.
In Progress. Spiritual dryness, desertion, and the sense of abandonment by God are often conflated as simply “the dark night of the soul” when they are actually quite different from the very particular experience that John of the Cross described, and often demand a different response. Surveying a wide range of Christian spiritual writings, from early Syriac writers such as Aphrahat and Simon of Taiboutheh to early modern Reformed theologians such as Gisbertus Voetius and William
Perkins, this project explores a wide variety of experiences of abandonment by God that Christians might encounter, how to discern between them, and how to respond to them. It suggests that there are at least as many ways of experiencing the absence of God as there are of experiencing the presence of God, and seeks to normalizing those as an expected part of the Christian spiritual life.
Possession: Ownership and Theft in the Early Christian Moral Imagination.
In Progress. When modern Christians speak of “sin” or “temptation”, the first thing that generally comes to mind is sex, followed by other physical pleasures such as food. However, in analyzing a wide corpus of early Christian literature to see how often different sins are discussed, all sexual sins combined only rank 17
, and even gluttony is only 14
. By far the most commonly referenced sin is stealing. This project suggests that, given that we live in a country predicated upon theft of land and theft of labor, it is unsurprising that we have a particular blind spot on this point, but that if early Christian texts are read on their own terms, they would show that early Christians were far more concerned about possessions (and the way in which possessions can easily “possess” their possessor) than they were about any of the “sins of the flesh”.
Icons of the Soul: The Ethics of Language in Christian Late Antiquity.
In Progress. As part of the same research project, tabulating how often different sins were mentioned in early Christian literature, it was also striking that 4 of the top 5 sins were all sins of speech or writing (gossip, slander, lying, and complaining). Drawing from Basil of Caesarea’s claim that words are icons of the soul, and that it is possible to perceive a person’s soul in a letter through their use of words, this project asks how such a view of language might shape the way in which Christians conduct themselves in a “post-truth society”, particularly in the public sphere and in their written interactions with one another online. What would it mean to put correct speech back at the center of Christian moral reflection, and treat written and spoken language as an icon of the soul rather than as “just words”?
Articles and Book Chapters
“Instrumentalizing Contemplation: Monasticism as a means to an end in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches,” in
Contemplation in Action
, eds. Charles Stang and Sarabinh Levy-Brightman, forthcoming, Peter Lang. “'I Saw Your Soul in Your Letter: The Internet and the Cappadocian Understanding of Letter Writing,” in
The Open Body: Essays in Anglican Ecclesiology
. eds. Charles Stang and Zachary Guiliano (Peter Lang, 2012), pp. 213-230.