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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Carlin Barton

Second Advisor

Richard Lim

Third Advisor

Jason Moralee

Fourth Advisor

Kevin Corrigan

Subject Categories

Ancient History, Greek and Roman through Late Antiquity


In City of God, Augustine entertains “personal divinity”—the idea that a person could become an immortal god. Recent scholarship has focused on the social function of such beliefs. The divine status of public figures such as emperors and martyrs has become a trope widely understood in its social and institutional dimensions. I add to this sociological understanding by inquiring into individual experience. How did a late antique person become divine? How did she understand divinity and the limits of the self? In City of God, Augustine assembles an archive that includes references to works by Platonists Apuleius, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, as well as Hermes Trismegistus (the eponymous mystagogue portrayed in the Corpus Hermeticum). With ancient and modern theories about reading and the imagination in mind—from Quintilian to Cognitive Poetics—this dissertation interrogates the way reading (or hearing) texts about personal divinity function as implicit “spiritual exercises” or imaginative technologies of self-transformation. My dissertation shows how the power of mental representations—imagined images of self and world that reside within the mind—affect experience and construct “reality.” Considering the role of imaginative reading and its transformative effects adds a layer of complexity to how historians of religion and religious studies scholars interpret texts about personal divinity, yielding greater compassion for how ancient peoples may have understood themselves on their own terms. Furthermore, the heightened self-reflexivity that results from imaginative engagements with discourses on personal divinity is part of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that Otto ascribes to the divine “Wholly Other.” The awe we experience at a thunder and lightning storm, for example, is as much the awe of being able to feel or perceive the storm. The texts I interpret explicitly provoke such awe. My research invites the modern reader into a numinous world where human consciousness itself becomes “divine” through a complex process of self-sacralization. Finally, this dissertation suggests that the writing of history informed by a reflexive philosophy of history functions much like the “spiritual exercises” that constitute my source texts. Writing history is a transformative practice that leads to self-knowledge in the present.