The Origins of Christianity Within, and Without, “Religion”: A Case Study

William E. Arnal and Russell T. McCutcheon

in The Sacred Is the Profane

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199757114
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979530 | DOI:
The Origins of Christianity Within, and Without, “Religion”: A Case Study

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This chapter applies our thesis about the problems with “religion” as a category to a specific dataset: the origins of Christianity and the writings of the New Testament. The chapter argues that, although the idea of the New Testament materials as “religious” helps broaden the study of Christian origins, it ultimately fails to offer sufficient conceptual traction to make sense of the data. Looking more specifically at the appearance of characters with “superhuman” attributes in this material, the chapter argues that sometimes literary characters (God, Jesus, etc.) are flagged as “odd” or “special.” The supposedly superhuman character thus arises not from any intrinsic characteristic, but from the extrinsic and very broad human tendency to distinguish between realities deemed to be factual, those deemed to be fictitious, and those deemed to be speculative or doubtful. It is the latter sort of marking that creates the “special” characters we often deem to be self-evidently “religious.”

Keywords: Christian origins; New Testament; Jesus; gospels; counterintuitive; belief; ritual; textualization; counterintuitiveness; imagination

Chapter.  18461 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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