Universität Erfurt


Dr. Dr. Emiliano Urciuoli: Junior Fellow

Universität Erfurt
Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Postfach 900221
99105 Erfurt




Forbidden Jobs. Making a Living as a Jesus’ Follower in the Roman Empire

This project is a thematic expansion and a methodological refinement of the research conducted in the last three years at the crossroads of early and late ancient Christian studies. The aim of the enquiry was to sketch the fading profile of the Jesus’ follower engaged in public-political affairs before Constantine and the “Christianisation” of the Roman state, thereby attempting to answer to the following question: how and how far a Greco-Roman officeholder could appropriate, embody, adapt and innovate (at least) a part of the Christian set of experiences, beliefs and practices, without being forced to quit his honours and public duties? This line of research, which tries to capitalize on Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory of action while integrating it with more self-centred perspectives at the intersection of dispositions and strategies, could be profitably extended to other empirical domains. Politics, i.e., ruling and administrating political communities, are definitely not the only sphere of socio-symbolic production where an objective tension between different forms of commitment and interest may be felt by believers in Jesus and influence their private and public behaviours. Other occupations, activities and trades are equally involved in the interplay between Christian normative definitions of an appropriated religious conduct, related expectations from both religious authorities and “significant others”, and material interests in accomplishing social duties, doing businesses and holding tasks provided by the current socio-economic system. Within this perspective, a “forbidden job” is no more an indisputable ban coming from an overwhelming authority.

What is a forbidden job in the eye of the Christian (prescribing and writing) beholders might turn into a matter of religious appropriation and innovation from the point of view of the Christian professional and worker: a spot where “practical individuality” is at stake. In this sense, to advocate an analysis at the level of the individual should not lead to underrate the question of how historically deep-rooted and structured relations of power create dispositions to act. Why, how, to what extent, under which material conditions and social conditioning do Christian people obey to normative discourses about “how much religious they are when they make a living in everyday life”? A suitable answer should probably bypass both interactionist and hard structuralist lines of theorizing. Rather, it presupposes a sociological theory of embodied powers, which, while taking institutions and agencies of power seriously, is also acquainted with the idea of a subject storing a plurality of dispositions ready to be strategically activated in a plurality of situations. Succeeding in these socially conditioned performances may be the magic formula of a religious appropriation.

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