The Concept of Gnosticism and the Analysis of Spiritual Disorder
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The Concept of Gnosticism and the Analysis of Spiritual Disorder. (2005). The Political Science Reviewer, 34, 28-47.


This article attempts to establish a rather simple point: AlthoughEric Voegelin’s analysis of spiritual disorder or "Gnosticism"stands as one of the greatest accomplishments of 20th centurypolitical science, the concept of Gnosticism itself has lost its theoreticalviability. The undermining of the concept is, I shall argue, partlydue to advancements in our understanding of the historical Gnostics,and partly due to late advancements in Voegelin’s own analyticalapproach. While this basic point is admittedly a simple one, it is notwithout importance. This is because the concept’s loss of viability—though not itself a matter of great import—prompts serious misunderstandingsof Voegelin’s analysis and diminishes appreciation ofthe refinements and extensions of the analysis he debuted under thisrubric in The New Science of Politics. Dispensing with the conceptentails costs that must be acknowledged, since "Gnosticism" issurely the most widely known of all Voegelin’s many coinages.However, Voegelin himself consistently ascribed much greaterweight to theoretical precision than to the public currency of termsor their acceptance within the academy. I believe theoretical precisiondemands that we (i.e., those who wish seriously to follow hislead) cut the concept adrift. I would be more comfortable if Voegelinhad done this himself, but nevertheless the issue seems clear on itsmerits—even if it remains unclear why Voegelin did not make thismove himself.
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