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Habits of Attention: How Early Christians Transformed their Scriptures

Portrait of Peter Martens
Thursday, February 2, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Late antique encountered their scriptures in many different ways. I challenge reductive descriptions of these encounters, especially procedural accounts that spotlight the techniques of late antique literary analysis. Instead I propose a new concept, “habits of attention,” that is designed to center and deepen our focus. These habits signify customary ways in which people engaged scripture, each encompassing skills and competencies, but also embodied emotions, attitudes, and aspirations. Unlike past scholars, I put far more emphasis on the role of creativity and collaboration in these engagements. Ultimately, I argue that early Christians, through these various habits, aimed to transform their sacred writings into potent forces, forces capable of insinuating themselves into everyday lives and of satisfying and shaping many desires. How did they do this? I contend that nine archetypal strategies emerge from the sources. This lecture provides an overview of these strategies and invites us to re-think the kind of object scripture was for late antique Christians.