Date of Award

Fall 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Plested, Marcus

Second Advisor

Saint-Laurent, Jeanne-Nicole

Third Advisor

Barnes, Michel P.


This dissertation traces the consolidation of a classical Christian framework for demonology in the theological corpus of John of Damascus (c. 675 – c. 750), an eighth century Greek theologian writing in Jerusalem. When the Damascene sat down to write, I argue, there was a great variety of demonological options available to him, both in the depth of the Christian tradition, and in the ambient local imagination. John’s genius lies first in what he chose not to include, but second in his ability to synthesize a minimalistic demonology out of a complex body of material and integrate it into a broader theological system. John’s synthesis was so effective, in fact, that it looks reflexively obvious as a statement of Christian demonology in the Scriptural-patristic tradition: it would not necessarily have been so to his contemporaries.I begin the study with an invitation to enter into an imaginative of reading John through the epithet “destroyer of demons” attached to him in his commemoration, and conclude it with an analysis of John’s understanding of the demonic as a “demon destroying” demonology. Between these terminal points are four chapters: two parsing what John drew from the Christian faith as he knew and had received it, and two considering extrinsic factors shaping John’s thought and imagination, including a discussion of alternate systems of demonology that we can locate in John’s approximate context. The final analysis mirrors my initial discussion of the themes that John inherited, drawing attention to the subtle ways he transformed his theological tradition in laying out a precise paradigm for future theological reflection on the nature of the devil and demons.John’s demonology – though minimal – is robust, and to read John using his ideas about the devil and demons as a focal point both draws attention to the complexities hidden within demonology as a subject and heightens our appreciation for the extraordinary qualities of the Damascene’s intellect and contribution. In broadest application, finally, recognizing the vast difference between the assumptions, methods, and means underwriting John’s demonology and our own in seeking to understand it prompts reflection on the nature and limits of the historical imagination in theology.

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Religion Commons