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Title: Brain and Soul in Late Antiquity
Authors: Wright, Jessica Louise
Advisors: Holmes, Brooke
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: Brain
Early Christianity
Mental Health and Disease
Ventricular localisation
Subjects: Classical studies
Religious history
Science history
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines conceptualisations of the brain (Greek: ἐγκέφαλος; Latin: cerebrum) in Christian texts from the fourth and fifth centuries CE. While there has been significant interest in the body and in the intersections of medicine and religion at this period, no study has yet focused upon early Christian understandings of the brain. Yet, the brain was critical to formulations of human nature and human identity in late antiquity. At a period when intellectuals and religious leaders were pressed to articulate and to defend definitions of the human soul as distinct from, if entangled with, the human body, the brain proved to be both a fruitful and a troubling conceptual resource: fruitful insofar as it condensed the paradoxes of the human being, positioned between heaven and earth, material and immaterial spheres, and troubling insofar as it threatened to confine the soul, even to render the soul unnecessary. Through close readings of Christian texts, both theoretical and pastoral in orientation, this dissertation not only highlights the elements of medical theory with which early Christian authors were familiar, but also draws out the contemporary concerns which shaped and were shaped by engagement with the brain. It conclusions are fourfold: (1) The brain represented in condensed form the paradoxical status of the body within early Christianity. (2) Brain health provided preachers with a way of talking about spiritual and social wellbeing. (3) Organic mental disorders became a stock model for affective and doctrinal deviance. (4) Theological concern to find a model of psychic healthcare which might incorporate but not privilege the body shaped late antique and medieval conceptualisations of the brain.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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