Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2006 Volume 2 :: Article 3
2006 Volume 2, Article 3
Urbanization, Religious Pluralism, Cultural Continuity, and the Expansion of Gnostic Communities

Author: Robert Wortham (North Carolina Central University)

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ABSTRACT

Gnosticism has been perceived as a Jewish heresy, a Hellenistic Christian heresy, an Oriental pre-Christian religious movement, an independent religious movement, and an existential response to experiences of alienation. More recently, King has argued that within a pluralistic cultural environment, Gnosticism was an integral part of early Christianity’s identity-formation process. But how did this process operate? Expanding Stark’s sociological analysis of the diffusion of Christianity, I argue that the diffusion of Gnosticism during the first two centuries of the common era is tied to the existence of population thresholds in larger urban centers, participation in a loosely regulated religious marketplace, and the maintaining of cultural continuity with existing religious movements. Data for twenty-two Greco-Roman cities are subjected to correlation and logistic regression analysis. Findings indicate that the so-called Gnostic communities were more likely to emerge earlier in urban locations where churches were present already and in larger urban centers.

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