“Salutary Vertigo”: Peter R.L. Brown’s Impact on the Historiography of Christianity
Michelson, David A.
This article examines the impact which Peter R.L Brown’s half century of scholarship has made on the historiography of Christianity. This article surveys five recurring motifs or theoretical approaches to Christianization which epitomize Brown’s interpretive method as an historian of Christianity: Christianization as social change, Christianization as continuity, Christianization as revolution, Christianization as simultaneously diverse and universal, and Christianization as unfamiliar. Individually, these themes challenge monolithic interpretations of “Christianization” in Late Antiquity. Taken as a whole, these themes reflect Brown’s emphasis on the paradoxical aspects of Christianity in Late Antiquity. As Brown himself has put it, his goal in constantly overturning scholarly assumptions about Christianization was to achieve “a sense of the salutary vertigo” in which the historian encounters ancient Christianity with “the same combination of wonder and respect that makes for fruitful travel in a foreign land.”
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