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Deviance and disaster: Rationalising sexual morality in Western Christian discourses, AD 390 – AD 520

Vihervalli, Ulriika 2017. Deviance and disaster: Rationalising sexual morality in Western Christian discourses, AD 390 – AD 520. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis argues that the transition from traditional Roman ideas of sexual behaviour to idealised Christian sexual behaviour was a reactionary process, for which the period from AD 390 to AD 520 offers a crucial key stage. During this era, the Roman West underwent significant socio-political changes, resulting in warfare and violent conflict, which created a pressurised and traumatic environment for people who endured them. In this context, the rhetoric of divine punishment for sinful behaviour was strongly linked with sexual acts, causing ideas on sexual mores to develop. The thesis highlights three key aspects of these developments. Firstly, warfare necessitated changes in Christian doctrines on marriages and rape, resulting from collective and cultural trauma. Secondly, sexually impure acts of incest and prostitution were defiling to the religious collective yet the consequences of these were negotiated on a case-to-case basis, reflecting adaptation. Thirdly, traditional Roman ideas of polygyny and homosexual acts overrode Christian ideas on the same. After discussing these three aspects, this work offers a revised interpretation of Salvian of Marseilles’s De gubernatione Dei to illuminate the purpose of the sexual polemic contained in his work – a task that no existing scholarship has attempted to undertake. Daily realities and conflicts drove discourses on sexual mores forwards, and this thesis outlines how this occurred in practice, arguing that attitudes to sex were deeply rooted in secular contexts and were reactionary in nature. This examination of attitudes to sexual mores reveals a re-moulding of pre-existing Roman cultural norms, rather than a revolutionising Christian overtake. The thesis concludes that the ‘Christianisation’ of late Roman society was a process conditioned by contemporary events and concerns, which contributes to interpretations on the dynamics of cultural change in the late antique era.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: British Federation of Women Graduates
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 August 2017
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2021 01:21

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