Fortress Press

Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect, Violence, and Belonging

Rethinking Early Christian Identity

Affect, Violence, and Belonging

Maia Kotrosits (Author)


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Maia Kotrosits challenges the contemporary notion of “early Christian literature,” showing that a number of texts usually so described—New Testament writings including Hebrews, Acts, the Gospel of John, Colossians, and 1 Peter, as well as the letters of Ignatius, the Gospel of Truth, and the Secret Revelation of John—are “not particularly interested” in a distinctive Christian identity or self-definition. Rather, by appealing to the categories of trauma studies and diaspora theory and giving careful attention to the dynamics within each of these texts, she shows that this sample of writings offers complex reckonings with chaotic diasporic conditions and the transgenerational trauma of colonial violence.

The heart of her study is an inquiry into the significance contemporary readers invest in ancient writings as expressions of a coherent identity, asking, “What do we need and want out of history?” Kotrosits interacts with important recent work on identity and sociality in the Roman world and on the dynamics of desire in contemporary biblical scholarship as well. At last, she argues that the writings discussed made possible the rise of Christianity by effecting a “forgetfulness” of imperial trauma—and questions the affective dimensions of contemporary empire-critical scholarship.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451492651
  • eBook ISBN 9781451494266
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 208
  • Publication Date February 1, 2015


“This is an extraordinarily original study. Not only does it have a novel historical thesis on early Christianity to argue, but it is also an innovative experiment in historiographical method.”
—Stephen D. Moore
The Theological School, Drew University

“A must-read, Rethinking Early Christian Identity offers a daring and subtle account of ancient Christian literature—and contemporary engagements with it—that is both incisive and deeply moving. Weaving together theories of affect and diaspora with sensitive close readings of a diverse set of canonical and non-canonical texts, Maia Kotrosits writes of diasporic loss, queer subversion, and the complex entanglements of desire and revulsion present in every category of belonging. By refusing the scholarly fiction of objectivity and juxtaposing current studies of affect, geography, and bodily life with ancient expressions of attachment, detachment, and longing, this startling reinterpretation of early Christian ‘identity’ and ‘empire’ (both of which clearly require scare quotes) challenges scholars, finally, to embrace their own affective attachments. Breathtakingly original and beautifully written.”
Jennifer Knust
Boston University
“In this dynamic and compelling book, Maia Kotrosits overturns any easy assessment of early Christian identity and its distinctiveness. Kotrosits suggests that while the universalizing transcendence that emerges in ancient ‘Christian’ texts may seem timeless, it is actually predicated on the pain, confusion, and melancholic forgetting of diasporic Jewish life in the Roman Empire. Attuned to the affective complexity and social enmeshment of these texts, Kotrosits’s nuanced and theoretically sophisticated readings handily undercut any foundation for Christian supersessionism and imperial universalism. Instead, this book wisely urges empathy with the traumatic losses and anxieties of a conquered and dispersed people.”
Erin Runions
Pomona College