Kiersten Payne ’17

Project TitleThe Language of Heresy in Christian Tradition
Mentor – Susan Gunasti

Heresy has been deeply involved in much of Christian history. Those deemed to be heretics have been denounced, ostracized, and persecuted, sometimes to the point of death. But what makes a group heretical, and how does the charge of heresy influence the way these groups are discussed? In this project, I examine the language contemporaries used to discuss the Donatists, beginning in the fourth century, and the Anabaptists, beginning in the sixteenth century. Through analyzing the language in these two separate instances of heresy, I trace the ways that the discourse around heresy has linked across the different periods of Christian history, particularly in regard to the descriptive relation of a heretical group to those which have preceded it. Clifford Geertz’s concept of “thick description” forms a basis for the explication of this relationship, which is one of the most profound connections between the Donatist Controversy, the Anabaptist Movement, and the language used to talk about them as heresies. By understanding in these two specific instances the way theologians approached those who diverged from the established form of Christianity, the language employed in speaking about heretical groups becomes more evident across periods and circumstances.