Olfaction and Christian Knowing

Susan Ashbrook Harvey

in Scenting Salvation

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2006 | ISBN: 9780520241473
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520931015 | DOI:
Olfaction and Christian Knowing

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  • Religion in the Ancient World


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Late antique Christianity refined a virtue that was both sensorily rich and sensorily self-aware. Liturgical developments, paraliturgical rituals, and the activities of personal piety all served to engage participants in practices that included sensory experience as an essential component. Christians granted value to the senses as channels through which believers could approach and encounter the divine. But more was at stake than engagement of the senses in the process of human–divine interaction. A consensus was apparent that the body of the Christian in its received experiences and enacted responses yielded distinct knowledge of God. The informative capacity of smell was crucial to this understanding, due to the qualities of olfactory experience that caused it to differ in its results from what might be gained through the other senses. The most important contribution that olfactory experience granted late antique Christians was seen to be its capacity to reveal identity.

Keywords: rituals; piety; divine; consensus; human–divine interaction

Chapter.  26035 words. 

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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