April D. DeConick

 

On her book The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today

Cover Interview of May 16, 2017

A close-up

The first page starts with my encounter as an 18-year old college student with the Gospel of Thomas and its unconventional Jesus – an encounter that was utterly transforming for me. It completely rewrote my life, turning me from nursing and the sciences to the humanities, where I would pursue the study of religion and early Christianity in particular.

The last page of the book calls us to consider the implications of the Gnostic God in the modern religious discourse of pluralism and religious tolerance. I write: “Gnostic spirituality encourages us to seek the transcendent, the God Beyond All Gods, as the source of our being. But because transtheism focuses on an ultimate reality that has not been captured successfully in the religions we have created, it gives us a new way to think about ourselves in relationship with one another and to our religions. At the very least it gives us pause to ask why we think our own religion is better than someone else’s, or to wonder why religion perpetuates sexism, racism, and violence alongside more charitable structures” (p. 351).

But my favorite part of the book in terms of my own enlightenment is a section in the chapter “The Pi of Politics” called “Culture and Counterculture in Rome” (p. 280-284). It was when I wrote this section that I realized why Catholicism had triumphed and gnostic groups had not (this is a longstanding question in the field). The answer was not about theology (whose was best) or institutionalization (who did and did not build churches) or conversion (why people converted). It was about which Christians were able to adjust and accommodate their beliefs and practices to Roman sensibilities about religion, a process I am calling the Romanization of Christianity. The Catholics were more successful in this process than gnostic groups who maintained their counterculture orientation and criticism of dominant religious practices.

I am so fascinated with this idea that I am already writing another book provisionally entitled, Deviant Christians: How the Romanization of Christianity Shaped Heresy and the Rise of Catholicism.