Had the politics of the first few centuries of the Common Era been somewhat different, Gnosticism might now be the dominant religion of the West. In reality, Gnosticism is principally of interest to Christian heresiologists and those concerned with anti-Semitic or anti-Judaic sentiments. As a religious category, it is often poorly defined and only partially understood. This presentation seeks to provide a more complete understanding of what Gnosticism is, who Gnostics are, and what distinguishes Gnostic traditions from those of Christianity. Christian doctrines are in some respects reactions to Gnostic ideas, while many Gnostic sects defined themselves partially through rejection of Christian and Jewish theology. A basic account of the history, geography, and demography of Gnostic groups combined with an analysis of major trends in Gnostic theology can provide an understanding of this otherwise obscure religion and its complex interactions with early Christianity. Through studying Hans Jonas’s classic exegesis of Gnosticism, The Gnostic Religion , with reference to other more recent works by Elaine Pagels and translations of original Gnostic texts, one begins to recognize that traditions focusing on “gnosis”, or knowledge, as a salvific principle constitute an original body of religious traditions that are distinct from Christianity.
Matthew Mullin, ’04 Elk Grove , IL
Majors: Philosophy and Religion
Sponsor: Joseph Molleur