Elizabeth A. Castelli explores the central role of persecution in the early development of Christian ideas, institutions, and cultural forms and shows how the legacy of Christian martyrdom plays out in today's world. Martyrs are produced, Castelli suggests, not by the lived experience of particular historical individuals but by the stories that are later told about them. Using Maurice Halbwachs's theoretical framework of collective memory and drawing on a wide range of Christian sources, Castelli approaches the writings of early Christians and their public and ideologically potent accounts of martyrdom. In their words, the martyr's story becomes a "usable past," a "living tradition" for Christian communities, and an especially effective vehicle for transmitting ideas about gender, power, and sanctity.
In the wake of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, modern "martyr cults" have emerged as the unlikely legacy of early Christian martyrdom. Focusing specifically on the martyr cult associated with one of the tragedy's victims, Castelli looks at how the Columbine story renders suffering redemptive and meaningful and the way in which "religion" has made a return to center stage in our culture, with the martyr as its most contentious yet riveting star.
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Castelli is associate professor of religion at Barnard College at Columbia University. She is the author of Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power, coauthor of The Postmodern Bible, and editor of several books, including Women, Gender, and Religion: A Reader. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and is the editor of a new journal, Postscripts: Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds. In 2003 and 2004 she was the senior research scholar at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University.
Table of Contents
Collective Memory and the Meanings of the Past
Performing Persecution, Theorizing Martyrdom
The Martyr's Memory: Autobiography and Self-Writing in Ignatius, Perpetua, and Pionius
Martyrdom and the Spectacle of Suffering
Layers of Verbal and Visual Memory: Commemorating Thecla the Protomartyr
Religion as a Chain of Memory: Cassie Bernall of Columbine High and the Contemporary American Legacy of Early Christian Martyrdom
What People are Saying About This
In probing the collective allure of the ancient atrocity, a story that both unites us and compels us to action or ceremony, Castelli has produced the best study of martyrdom yet, with implications far beyond the world of early Christianity.
Through her meticulous and compelling analysis of the ways that narratives of martyrdom shape the collective memory of early Christians, Castelli succeeds in raising disturbing questions about the grip of the double-edged logic of martyrdom on contemporary political discourse.