Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Albert Hernández, Ph.D.


Care of the soul, Foucault, Gnostic, Martyrdom, Nag Hammadi


Michel Foucault argues that modern scholars have inaccurately conceptualized ancient Greco-Roman philosophies as the pursuit of abstract knowledge. He proposes instead conceiving of these philosophies more broadly as sets of practices that focused on “the care of the self/soul.” Such care involved exercises (“technologies of the self”) effecting both identity formation and spiritual transformation. It is possible to re-conceptualize the history of the early Christianities in these terms as well, particularly in examining the discourses circulating in the second and third centuries of the Common Era. Juxtaposition and close reading of texts from this period reveal that competing visions of the care of the soul informed by Stoic ideals were circulating among Christians. Specifically, these conflicting perspectives revolved around, on one hand, a dominant, “proto-orthodox” discourse glorifying martyrdom and, on the other, disruptions to this discourse by those misleadingly subsumed under the umbrella term, “Gnostic.” Chapter one explores the value of applying Foucault's framework to the history of the early Christianities. Chapter two explains the way in which martyrdom functions as care of the soul, or therapy of the emotions, in texts ascribed to Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Chapter three demonstrates the way other early Christian texts disrupt this discourse of a “suffering self” while simultaneously laying out other views of self-care. Specific texts for examination include two texts from Nag Hammadi--Apocalypse of Peter and Testimony of Truth, two fragments preserved by Clement of Alexandria--one attributed to Basilides and one to Valentinus, and the Gospel of Judas. Chapter four discusses how Mary Magdalene and Perpetua are represented in terms of the care of the soul in, respectively, the Gospel of Mary and the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity and what is at stake for women's leadership roles in each of these portrayals. Viewing the early debates in this way--as conflicts regarding issues of self-identity and spiritual development--rather than as debates about knowledge per se (doctrines defined in essentialist terms) provides a means of moving beyond the simplistic characterization of the richly diverse groups in this period as either merely “proto-orthodox” or “heretical.”

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Deborah Ann Niederer Saxon

File size

258 p.

File format





Philosophy of Religion, Religious history