Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"God and the Senses" at Society of Biblical Literature

So I found out (a couple days ago now) that my paper proposal for the Society of Biblical Literature's Group, Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, has been accepted.  Here is my title and abstract:

“God and the Senses:  Smelling, Tasting, and Touching God in Early Christianity”

The study of ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought, writings, and practices has typically focused on divine visions and auditions, how seeing and hearing God is portrayed or represented or the practical steps involved to see or hear God in a ritual context, whether esoteric or in broader liturgical contexts.  While justified by many of the writings themselves, this focus nonetheless overlooks that much ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought and practice engaged all five senses.  In this paper, I propose to investigate how early Christian writings variously spoke of encountering God not only by sight and hearing, but also by smelling, tasting, and touching. 

Firstly, this paper will programmatically establish that the engagement of all five senses or senses other than just sight and hearing are used to represent the divine encounter, and that this usage was widespread:  while found in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish sources, this paper will focus on early Christian works chosen to illustrate variety and widespread dissemination (e.g., Gospel of Philip, Origen’s Homilies on the Song of Songs, and Augustine’s Confessions).

Secondly, this paper will consider the implications of these engagements for how ancient Christians understood the relationship between God and humans, in terms of soteriology, transformation, and the possibilities and limits of such divine-human encounters.

Thirdly, this paper will consider what insight this might give into ancient Christian practices, whether esoteric practices or mystical interpretations of exoteric practices, such as baptism or the Eucharist, that are used to create such an encounter or that are reinterpreted in light of such an encounter.
As those who follow my blog may realize, the germ for these ideas came out of a series of blog posts I have been doing (for a long time now) called "God and the Senses."  It is a testament to the importance of using digital outputs, such as blogs, to get some ideas out there, let them germinate and develop, and now I can present some of my maturated findings in a more disciplined manner.  See you in November!

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