Ecclesiastical Splinters

Religion is a massive, sprawling thing without a fixed definition.  Historians of religion have specializations.  Mine has been ancient religions of the Levant, but we’ve all seen how far that got me.  After taking a few years to recover, my research has shifted toward religions of the modern period.  There are plenty of them and many of them are under-studied.  That latter point makes things a bit easier.  Believe it or not, ancient religions is a pretty crowded field.  After I’d begun to write on Asherah, for example, I learned at least two other scholars were doing the same.  Not that there aren’t challenges with modern religions, particularly if they’re still practiced.  Take Roman Catholicism, for example.  I’ve never been a member of the Catholic Church.  There are Anglicans who would claim part of that title, but it has its own distinctions.

Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination by a long stretch.  It makes claims at being the oldest as well, but that’s a little more difficult to verify from an historian’s point of view.  In any case, Catholicism also likes to show a unified front to the world.  This is a little tricky because any time you get more than a billion people together you’re going to have differences.  Being a hierarchical organization, there is someone at the top to make official pronouncements, but in fact, those below will believe what they believe.  Many Catholics, for instance, use birth control.  I’ve been researching a sect within Catholicism and am finding it difficult to find resources.  It seems the Catholic Church (a billion is power) prefers not to have books out there on how divided it is.

Most Christian denominations are quite divided.  That’s why there are so many sects in the world.  If one is powerful enough to prevent those who dissent from making a big deal of it, good luck in finding useful resources about it!  The sect I’ve been exploring has, as far as I can determine, one footnote hidden away in a university press book devoted to it.  Other sources are, apparently, carefully kept quiet.  Yes, there are power struggles within the Vatican.  There’s a lot at stake here.  On Easter everyone in Christianity (except the Orthodox) will appear united for a day.  Well, not those sects that don’t celebrate holidays.  I don’t know how anyone can not find all of this fascinating.  There’s power involved in religion.  It may not vie with mammon, but it deals in it as well.  And we’ve all got so much to learn.

Photo by Callum Parker on Unsplash

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