Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Stuart Thomson: The Scholar’s Journey: A Christian-Philosophical Topos of Conversion

Plato’s Apology (21a-22e) see Socrates undertaking a literal and metaphorical journey seeking wisdom. This is Plato’s aetiology of Socrates’ distinctive style of philosophy; by the first century AD, this narrative becomes the paradigm for a topos of philosophical conversion. This paper will explore how early Christian apologists used this topos as a method of literary self-construction, to legitimate both their scriptures and their own writing to an elite educated audience.
This paper will explore the trope as a point of commonality between pagan, Christian and Jewish conceptions of identity as commitment to a community formed around shared conviction. Where the novelty of the Christian usage lies is in its application of the trope as a marker of religious, rather than intellectual, identity. This sets Christianity apart from and in competition with both pagan religious practices and the philosophical schools by applying the language of the latter to the practice of the former.
By applying a philosophical narrative to the realm of religious experience, the trope stands in tension with prevalent narrative of religious conversion. Rather than a response to a divine call (as in the Gospel narratives, or in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses), or the redirection of worship from false to true objects (as in the Pauline epistles), conversion becomes the cumulative accretion of wisdom by negation of false options. In turn, however, this allows Christian texts, both those read and those written by the apologists, to be presented as serious philosophical literature, approachable through generic frames already familiar to Greek litterateurs.

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