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Hellenistic Religions: The deconstruction and reconstruction of Gnosticism


Admission requirements

No specific requirements are needed for this course.


The deconstruction and reconstruction of Gnosticism

A number of authors have recently argued that “Gnosticism” was not a real historical phenomenon in the religious world of (late) antiquity, but is a term that derives from Christian strategies of self-definition. They have, as a consequence, proposed to abolish the term altogether, in favour of a celebration of the diversity of early Christianity. Nevertheless, some scholars defend a continued use of the term or have suggested alternative ways of looking at the subject. Most of this only works, of course, if you believe that Gnosticism was a Christian phenomenon and this notion is easily challenged. In this seminar we will follow these discussions, judge their merits, and discuss the texts on which all reconstructions are based.

Course objectives

Students will learn to critically discuss academic writing on the religious history of the ancient world, discover the agendas underlying the rejection and/or acceptance of “Gnosticism” as a category and become acquainted with the limits and possibilities of the reconstruction of the social, religious and ritual aspects of experimental forms of religion in late antiquity.



Mode of instruction

Seminar with readings and presentations.

Assessment method

Presentation + a final paper.


Blackboard will not be used for this seminar.

Reading list

  • M.A. Williams, Rethinking “Gnosticism”. An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category, Princeton 1996

  • K.L. King, What is Gnosticism?, Cambridge MA 2003


Via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Prof dr A.F. de Jong.