Abortion and consumption : toward a political reading of Epiphanius of Salamis' "Gnostics"

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor's Name

Erik Larson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Lesley A. Northup

Third Advisor's Name

Terry Rey

Date of Defense



Using Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory I examined fourth-century, state-sponsored orthodoxy and gnostic heterodoxy as agents in the religious field engaged in competition over the production and administration of religious capital. This established, I employed Maurice Bloch’s schema of “rebounding violence” to address both orthodox and heterodox understandings of the Christian myth. The analysis revealed how the myth was utilized by both groups: The orthodoxy, in its literal understanding of the myth, employed the idiom of rebounding violence, thus legitimating not only its place in the social order but also its political and ideological expansionism. The heterodox response to this was the abortion of the second phase of rebounding violence, outward consumption. I took as a case study the eucharistic rituals of the Egyptian Gnostics described by Epiphanius of Salamis. The examination yielded a new understanding of this type of gnosis in terms of reproductive denial as the ultimate act of political protest, a revolt against all the powers of the world, earthly and celestial.



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