IAHR congress ||| Paper

Gnosis, Hairesis, and Mani: Fourth-century Religious Vocabulary and Its Modern Adjustments

Eduard Iricinschi (KHK fellow)

“Gnosticism,” Heresiology,” and “Manichaeism” are modern concepts in constant need of theoretical fine-tuning. Over the past decades, scholars adjusted the Nag Hammadi codices and the Manichaean texts to the more general contexts of “heresy,” “gnosis,” and “dualism.” This paper explores the ways in which scholars adapted gnosis, knowledge religiously codified in rituals and teachings, and often presented as revelations about invisible realities, into “Gnosticism,” a seventeenth-century, Protestant linguistic invention, to describe the Catholic Church. It will also sketch the trajectories through which philosophical hairesis, used by second- and third-century Christian writers as a rhetorical tool to describe religious diversity and, simultaneously, to reduce it to a caricature of itself, later became “heresies,” as depicting full-blown religious, social, and political aberrations. Finally, it will suggest that modern scholars follow ancient Christian writers’ use of the same rhetoric of difference, to impose artificial boundaries between the followers of Mani and “real” Christians.

This paper will be presented in panel Taxonomies of Religion in the Ancient and Modern Worlds (27-319 | 216).


Photograph of Dr. Eduard Iricinschi

Dr. Eduard Iricinschi