Ancient Christian Ecopoetics
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Ancient Christian Ecopoetics
Cosmologies, Saints, Things

Virginia Burrus

296 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 illus.
Cloth 2018 | ISBN 9780812250794 | $65.00s | Outside the Americas £52.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
View table of contents and excerpt

Awarded the Borsch-Rast Book Prize, granted by the Graduate Theological Union

"An erudite study of the theology of holy things in the late ancient Christianity . . . [T]his book is a fascinating and welcome contribution to the field of late antique Christianity . . . indispensable for scholars of asceticism in the late Christianity."—Reading Religion

"A brilliant and original book. In its reach, in its synthetic analysis, in its fluid, dynamic thought, Virginia Burrus creates something conceptually and imaginatively audacious. No one has attempted such a project before, not like this and not with such sophistication."—Douglas Christie, Loyola Marymount University

In our age of ecological crisis, what insights—if any—can we expect to find by looking to our past? Perhaps, suggests Virginia Burrus, early Christianity might yield usable insights. Turning aside from the familiar specter of Christianity's human-centered theology of dominion, Burrus directs our attention to aspects of ancient Christian thought and practice that remain strange and alien. Drawn to excess and transgression, in search of transformation, early Christians creatively reimagined the universe and the human, cultivating relationships with a wide range of other beings—animal, vegetable, and mineral; angelic and demonic; divine and earthly; large and small.

In Ancient Christian Ecopoetics, Burrus facilitates a provocative encounter between early Christian theology and contemporary ecological thought. In the first section, she explores how the mysterious figure of khora, drawn from Plato's Timaeus, haunts Christian and Jewish accounts of a creation envisioned as varyingly monstrous, unstable, and unknowable. In the second section, she explores how hagiographical literature queers notions of nature and places the very category of the human into question, in part by foregrounding the saint's animality, in part by writing the saint into the landscape. The third section considers material objects, as small as portable relics and icons, as large as church and monastery complexes. Ancient Christians considered all of these animate beings, simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, protective and in need of protection, lovable and loving. Viewed through the shifting lenses of an ancient ecopoetics, Burrus demonstrates how humans both loomed large and shrank to invisibility, absorbed in the rapture of a strange and animate ecology.

Virginia Burrus is the Bishop W. Earl Ledden Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. She is author of Saving Shame: Martyrs, Saints, and Other Abject Subjects and The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography, both available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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