Intro Programme Abstracts
Social Aspects of Hell: A cross-cultural approach


Danuta Shanzer (University of Illinois):
Avarice, the Church, and Hell in Late Antiquity

This is a conference about "social aspects of Hell," so I hope you will not be disappointed if I fail to regale you with visions or tours of Hell, discussed in a purely literary way or else narrowly related to the author of such texts (if known).

1. I will try to take my social assignment seriously and enodate the tortured relationship between a vice, an earthly institution, and the construction of punishment and purgation in the hereafter. Here's how I got started. I became interested in Jack Goody's controversial thesis about the economic strategies of the early church. The Cambridge anthropologist had suggested that some of the Church's apparently counter-intuitive policies about marriage and inheritance were best explained as strategies to keep wealth in its own coffers: discouragement of re-marriage, elimination of close-kin marriage and the levirate and sororate, encouragement of virginity and clerical celibacy, elimination of adoption.

2. All could be seen as designed to create a class of people who would will to the Church. Goody's thesis was largely dismissed on various grounds: he made errors, his demography was wrong, he used only prescriptive sources, and above all that there was no "Church" to have an "agenda." There was something in his work to irritate everyone! But I was intrigued.

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2005: University of Thessaly - Dpt. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology