In the Roman and Byzantine Near East, the holy fool emerged in Christianity as a way of describing individuals whose apparent madness allowed them to achieve a higher level of spirituality. Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium examines how the figure of the mad saint or mystic was used as a means of individual and collective transformation in the period between the birth of Christianity and the rise of Islam. It presents a novel interpretation in revealing the central role that psychology plays in social and historical development.Early Christians looked to figures who embodied extremes of behavior—like the holy fool, the ascetic, the martyr—to redefine their social, cultural, and mental settings by reading new values in abnormal behavior. Comparing such forms of extreme behavior in early Christian, pagan, and Jewish societies, and drawing on theories of relational psychoanalysis, anthropology, and sociology of religion, Youval Rotman explains how the sanctification of figures of extreme behavior makes their abnormality socially and psychologically functional. The sanctification of abnormal mad behavior created a sphere of ambiguity in the ambit of religious experience for early Christians, which brought about a deep psychological shift, necessary for the transition from paganism to Christianity.A developing society leaves porous the border between what is normal and abnormal, between sanity and insanity, in order to use this ambiguity as a means of change. Rotman emphasizes the role of religion in maintaining this ambiguity to effect a social and psychological transformation.
Author Luke Longstreet Sullivan has a simple way of describing his new memoir: “It’s like The Shining . . . only funnier.” Thirty Rooms to HideIn tells the astonishing story of Sullivan’s father and his descent from one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a man who is increasingly abusive, alcoholic, and insane, ultimately dying alone on the floor of a Georgia motel room. For his wife and six sons, the years prior to his death were characterized by turmoil, anger, and family dysfunction; but somehow they were also a time of real happiness for Sullivan and his brothers, full of dark humor and much laughter.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, the six brothers had a wildly fun and thoroughly dysfunctional childhood living in a forbidding thirty-room mansion, known as the Millstone, on the outskirts of Rochester, Minnesota. The many rooms of the immense home, as well as their mother’s loving protection, allowed the Sullivan brothers to grow up as normal, mischievous boys. Against a backdrop of the times—the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, fallout shelters, JFK’s assassination, and the Beatles—the cracks in their home life and their father’s psyche continue to widen. When their mother decides to leave the Millstone and move the family across town, the Sullivan boys are able to find solace in each other and in rock ’n’ roll.
As Thirty Rooms to HideIn follows the story of the Sullivan family—at times grim, at others poignant—a wonderful, dark humor lifts the narrative. Tragic, funny, and powerfully evocative of the 1950s and 1960s, Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a tale of public success and private dysfunction, personal and familial resilience, and the strange power of humor to give refuge when it is needed most, even if it can’t always provide the answers.
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