Martyrdom and the Creation of Christian Identity

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Contribution to Books

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Martyrdom is thought to be a critical part of Christian identity. However, martyrdom necessarily includes the death of the martyr and the overwhelming majority of Christians have not been martyrs; in a very real sense, there is a gap between the martyr and the Christian. Instead, the martyr's death is transformed into a “willingness to suffer.” This substitution is often enabled in modern scholarship by the use of “identity,” a term characterized by imprecise boundaries. Enabled by this imprecision, scholarship has often recreated a Christian identity centered around martyrdom on an individual level with limited evidence. I propose that when studying Christian martyrdom, we isolate the theological justifications that support “willingness to suffer” from the act of martyrdom itself. This allows exploration of the comparatively rare phenomenon of martyrdom from non-theological perspectives as well closer analysis of how martyrdom's existential impact is leveraged in Christian institution-building.