Irenaeus, Joseph Smith, and the Sociology of Heresy
This thesis attempts to illustrate the salience of the concept 'heresy' for sociologically-informed studies of religious violence and opposition by removing it from its traditional moorings in historical theology and applying it to two religious movements: second-century Christians and nineteenth-century Mormons. Divided into two major sections, the study pursues its objective first by surveying available definitions of heresy (theological and sociological) and offering its own understanding of heresy as a Weberian ideal type of religious opposition. Part One of the study concludes with a look at the sociology of knowledge in general and the theory of identity adumbrated by Hans Mol in particular, appropriating each in order to outline the social process whereby religious groups facing opposition come to elaborate complex soteriologies capable of resolving the conflict.
The second half of the thesis involves a close examination of early Christians and early Mormons, providing a detailed description of the types of social opposition each group faced and juxtaposing the two communities in an effort to illuminate unique historical patterns of social marginalisation. Following this investigation of each group's religious milieu and corresponding persecution, the study engages the soteriologies articulated by Irenaeus and Joseph Smith, paying particular attention to the connections between specific forms of opposition and the way in which espousing deification helped resolve such 'heresy'. The thesis concludes with thoughts on the relationship between adaptable belief systems (such as the forms of deification expressed by Irenaeus and Joseph Smith) and the future success of new religious movements.