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Relating through Prayer

Identity Formation in Early Christianity

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Maria Louise Munkholt Christensen

This book analyses early Christian texts on prayer. These texts provide a rich perspective on the formation of Christian identity in the early church. The primary sources investigated are the four earliest known treatises on prayer in Christian history, written by Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian in the beginning of the third century. Prayer and identity have both individual and collective expressions, and theological treatises reveal an interplay between these phenomena. The book examines the relational character of Christian prayer: how prayer establishes a relationship between the individual and God; how other social relations are reinforced by prayer in direct and indirect ways; and how individual Christians are connected to their own self in prayer.

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5 From sinner to saint: Self-relations and prayer

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5.1 Introduction – the self as analytical category

We have seen in the previous chapter that collective identity and social relations were formed and upheld by way of a certain interpretation of prayer. This last of the main analytical chapters deals with the influence of prayer on the human self and personal identity. According to modern theoretical studies, the human self is processual, changeable and manifold, and multiple selves constitute the personal identity. As we saw in Chapter 1, George Herbert Mead defined the self as the discourse going on within a human mind. In this inner discourse, the voice of the “I” is in dialogue with the internalized voice of the surrounding world. Consequently, the self is not an entity, but represents the ongoing relationship that humans have with themselves and others. Selves are not fully autonomous; they are shaped and limited by the culture in which they develop. Patricia Cox Miller has noted:

“Subjectivity is a term used in a variety of contemporary critical theories to describe a ‘self’ not as an autonomous source of meaning but rather as a construct, the product of systems of cultural convention. The discourses of a culture not only set limits to how a self may be understood but also provide models or paradigms that are used to classify or represent that culture’s understanding of ‘selfhood.’ ”1147

As mentioned already in the survey of secondary literature, the self has become a frequent and important theme...

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