The Corporeal Imagination

The Corporeal Imagination : Signifying the Holy in Late Ancient Christianity

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With few exceptions, the scholarship on religion in late antiquity has emphasized its tendencies toward transcendence, abstraction, and spirit at the expense of matter. In The Corporeal Imagination, Patricia Cox Miller argues instead that ancient Christianity took a material turn between the fourth and seventh centuries. During this period, Miller contends, there occurred a major shift in the ways in which the human being was oriented in relation to the divine, a shift that reconfigured the relationship between materiality and meaning in a positive direction.

The Corporeal Imagination is a groundbreaking investigation into the theological poetics of material substance in late ancient Christian texts. From hagiographies to literary descriptions of sacred paintings to treatises on relics and theurgy, Miller examines a wide variety of ancient texts to reveal how Christian writers increasingly described the matter of the world as invested with divine power. By appealing to the reader's sensory imagination, Christian texts endowed phenomena like relics, saints' bodies in hagiography, and saints' presence in icons with a visual and tactile presence. The book draws on a variety of contemporary theoretical models to elucidate the significance of all these materials in ancient religious life and imagination.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 15.75mm | 403.7g
  • Pennsylvania, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 13 illus.
  • 0812223551
  • 9780812223552
  • 1,198,017

Table of contents


Chapter One: Bodies and Selves

Chapter Two: Bodies in Fragments

Chapter Three: Dazzling Bodies

Chapter Four: Bodies and Spectacles

Chapter Five: Ambiguous Bodies

Chapter Six: Subtle Bodies

Chapter Seven: Animated Bodies and Icons

Chapter Eight: Saintly Bodies as Image-Flesh

Chapter Nine: Incongruous Bodies


List of Abbreviations




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Review quote

"[Cox Miller's] probings are meticulous, provocative, and incisive. To read this book is to have one's own viewing turned inside out."-Theological Studies "The Corporeal Imagination is a thoughtful, sophisticated, and fascinating book. It is important and delightful reading, a skillful interpretation that makes vivid a central problematic on which Christian belief and practice depend, namely, the simultaneous establishment of the nonnegotiable difference of matter and the holy and the perennial urge to bring them as close together as possible, yet without collapsing one into the other."-Journal of Religion "A highly original contribution to the history of Christianity as well as to the study of religion. Eloquent and learned, this book offers many new insights and models for reflection. The Corporeal Imagination will appeal to scholars of religion, theologians, historians of late antiquity, and historians of art."-J. Rebecca Lyman, Professor Emerita, Church Divinity School of the Pacific
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About Patricia Cox Miller

Patricia Cox Miller is W. Earl Ledden Professor of Religion, Emerita, at Syracuse University. She is author of Biography in Late Antiquity: A Quest for the Holy Man and Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture and editor (with Dale B. Martin) of The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography.
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