Cover: Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium: The Ambiguity of Religious Experience, from Harvard University PressCover: Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium in HARDCOVER

Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium

The Ambiguity of Religious Experience

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$45.00 • £39.95 • €40.95

ISBN 9780674057616

Publication Date: 09/19/2016


272 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


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The title Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium: The Ambiguity of Religious Experience does not quite prepare you for the contents of Youval Rotman’s book. This is not a criticism, but a warning not to assume and pass by, missing excellence… To see running side by side the events on the ground, the accounts of most of the leading scholars in the field, and the relevant contributions of prominent theorists—psychological, sociological, and literary—is a great stimulus to new thinking and a valuable addition.—Philip Rousseau, American Historical Review

Youval Rotman’s Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium is a book likely to appeal more to the theoretician than to the Byzantinist. His rich collage of theories, spanning from psychology to literary criticism and from sociology to theater studies, is indeed stimulating and exciting… The author has charted a new analytical space for us through his composite of history, psychology, and religious studies.—Alexander Angelov, EuropeNow

Rotman breaks new ground in approaching Byzantine holy fools, a subject that has received little scholarly attention apart from studies of the hagiography of figures such as Symeon and Andrew… Rotman does show how the figure of the holy fool in Byzantine spiritual literature both allowed social change to happen and forced that change to happen, albeit over the course of many centuries. This volume is a substantial contribution to the knowledge of the field through the questions it raises. Its very interdisciplinarity challenges social historians and other academics to take a broader view of the phenomenon of insanity and its reception by the Byzantines as (sometimes) holy.—Bronwen Neil, History

Youval Rotman’s book is a sophisticated and ambitious exercise in applying a number of current psychological theories to historic—Byzantine period—data in order to draw broad conclusions about religious experience and cultural change. For the most part, Rotman pulls this off impressively… Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium is an impressive and important book. I am particularly sympathetic to the application of group psychology to historical data, and I believe that Rotman provides the best possible justification for applying those specific psychological methods.—Ariel Glucklich, History of Psychiatry

Rotman shows how the Hellenistic and Jewish traditions intersected with the emerging Christian tradition and culture, which led to new forms of religious communities under Byzantine rule. He focuses here on figures who displayed extreme forms of behavior in that period: the holy fool, the ascetic, and the martyr. Their sanctification rendered their abnormalities functional in society, and shaped in complex ways the transition from paganism to Christianity.—Arnold D. Richards, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

Rotman’s contemporary application of the study of late antique holy fools provides insight into how religion provides a fluid option for the interpretation of reality, and his study is done with both insight and empathy.—Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Speculum

Rotman’s approach and interpretation are bold and novel—Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium gives a central and decisive role to psychology in interpreting the historical phenomenon of holy fools. This is an intriguing and inspiring book that will have a profound impact.—Kostis Smyrlis, New York University

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