PERSONAL: Male. Education: Hope College, B.A.; Harvard University, Th.M., Th.D.
ADDRESSES: Office—ILIFF School of Theology, 2201 South University Blvd., Denver, CO 80210-4798. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Episcopal priest, historian, and educator. Ordained Episcopal priest, 1974; ILIFF School of Theology, professor of New Testament and Christian origins, 1999–, Clifford E. Baldridge professor of biblical studies, 2005–. Former dean, Hartford Seminary.
MEMBER: American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature, Studiorum Novi Testamentum Societas.
Spiritual Guides of the Third Century: A Semiotic Study of the Guide-Disciple Relationship in Christianity, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, and Gnosticism, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
The Gospel of Thomas, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.
Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.
The New Q: A Fresh Translation with Commentary, T&T Clark (New York, NY), 2005.
The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities, preface by Marcus Borg, Three Leaves Press (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Educator and Episcopal priest Richard Valantasis is a religious scholar and historian who studies the history and literature of formative Christianity. He concentrates his research on issues related to the many varieties of religious experience and expression, social organization in religious contexts, and literary works of early Christians in a Greco-Roman environment.
Valantasis is also known for his theories on asceticism and his wide writings on the subject. He served as coeditor, with Vincent L. Wimbush, of the book Asceticism, a collection of thirty-two scholarly essays on the many facets of a religious practice that even the experts have difficulty defining. A working definition of asceticism in a religious context would be the deliberate and systematic self-discipline and self-denial of physical gratifications in order to attain a greater understanding of the spiritual, and the attainment of a higher spiritual state. Based on papers presented at a 1993 conference at Union Theological Seminary in New York, New York, "the book reflects the collaboration of historians, phenomenologists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists of religion, as well as researchers in cultural studies, postmodernist criticism, archaeology, and psychophysiology," noted reviewer Christopher Queen in Philosophy East and West. Asceticism manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, through devoted daily prayer, fasting, celibacy, voluntary poverty, pilgrimage, endurance of physical pain and deprivation, and more. The book contains chapters on the origins and meaning of asceticism, hermeneutics, aesthetics, and politics. Editors Wimbush and Valantasis provide introductions to each chapter, helping to place the work in context. They also provide an introductory essay outlining the history of the study of asceticism.
The book emerges as "an ambitious attempt to approach the protean phenomenon of asceticism from a perspective at once inter-religious, cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary," commented John A. Newton in Journal of Ecclesiastical History. The authors discuss asceticism in a variety of religious expressions, including Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Hellenistic, and Islamic traditions, with a focus on many manifestations of Christian asceticism. Among the book's topics are the role of female ascetics, the life of Christ as an ascetic, the interconnection between politics and asceticism, the hope of transformation, and the experiences of modern ascetics. "Perhaps inevitably as a pioneer intellectual endeavour, it raises more questions than it answers," Newton observed, "but it is a valuable resource and suggests an ample agenda for future research." "No other volume in the field of ascetical studies offers so much," Queen concluded. "The book reveals scholarship that is engaged, conversational, located, and rich," commented Margaret R. Miles in the Journal of Religion. Scholars and readers, she continued, "will gain a breadth of vision and an increment of precision from the questions brought to, and gathered from, these in-depth studies."
The Gospel of Thomas provides a detailed study of the Nag Hammadi version of the gospel and its connection to a number of known fragments extant in Greek texts. Valantasis suggests that the Gospel of Thomas was not an obscure and little-known Gnostic text, but instead existed in at least two different, divergent forms as early as A.D. 200, and in three forms when considering the Nag Hammadi text. Valantasis explores the contradictory nature of some of the statements present in the Gospel of Thomas. He also provides an analytical scheme for assessing the diverse collection of sayings in the gospel that are attributed to Jesus. Valantasis "has opened up new perspectives regarding the date and purpose of the Gospel, and his short well-constructed work is to be warmly welcomed," commented reviewer W.H.C. Frend in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.
Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age contains one hundred short essays on a variety of topics in Christian spiritual and religious practice. The "beautifully written entries" range across many ideas and disciplines, noted Graham Christian in Library Journal, but the work also applies an Orthodox sensibility to the analysis of other religious traditions.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, April, 1997, John A. Newton, review of Asceticism, p. 316; July, 1998, W.H.C. Frend, review of The Gospel of Thomas, p. 502.
Journal of Religion, January, 1997, Margaret R. Miles, review of Asceticism, p. 131.
Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December, 1997, Sara J. Denning-Bolle, review of Asceticism, p. 694.
Journal of Theological Studies, April, 1997, Ann Loades, review of Asceticism, p. 376.
Library Journal, March 1, 2005, Graham Christian, review of Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age, p. 94.
Philosophy East and West, January, 1999, Christopher Queen, review of Asceticism, p. 75.
ILIFF School of Theology Web site, http://www.iliff.edu/ (September 25, 2005), biography of Richard Valantasis.