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Constructing a Christian identity: a social network perspective on the discourse of almsgiving between 357 and 430 AD
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 23:57 authored by Nicole Moffatt
To the modern reader Christianity’s ascendency appears to have been a forgone conclusionby the fourth century. However its survival was still dependent on the creation and embedding of a distinctly Christian identity within Roman society. This paper considers ‘almsgiving’, with its origins in both Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, as one facet in the construction of that emerging identity. A corpus of some thirteen hundred letters provides the outline of a network of Church leaders and Christian elite whose discourse on the form and function of a new ‘almsgiving’ traversed the Empire. Using network analysis, this study maps and analyses the flow of discourse and the structure which supported it. The research finds the network developed from a process of preferential attachment, whereby the larger the number of individuals a person corresponded with, the higher the probability that any newcomers to the network would be attracted to join it through them. This structure strongly influenced the speed and process by which information was diffused within the network. It provided the bishops with considerable power to promoting redemptive almsgiving over others forms, thereby supporting the continuation of the traditional patron/client relationship between rich and poor.