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Aims and Approach

The chosen conceptual framework, design and research methods are appropriate to the twin aims of the project, namely:

1. To uncover continuities in dream theory and its application from its roots in Judaism and Classical Antiquity, through early Christianity to the rise of Islam; and

2. To discover how dreams and visions were used as tools of religious control and to justify violence, especially against adherents of other religions.


Dreams and dream interpretation have been approached from many different angles in recent scholarship. Stewart’s (2002) study of erotic dreams and nightmares from Greco-Roman times to the present, for example, takes an anthropological approach. A gender-studies approach was taken by Neil (forthcoming). Domhoff (2003) takes a neuro-cognitive development approach to his work on dreams in social psychology. The current project will take as its starting point the literary-critical approach to Classical dream theory in Greek and Roman literature, as outlined by Dossey (2013). As an example of the literary-critical comparative method, the conceptual framework for categorising dreams provided by Kenny (1996) may be compared with that of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues. Kenny identified six types of dream in her study of ninth-century Byzantine hagiography:


  • The personal-mnemic dream, which includes everyday matters in the dreamer’s life;

  • The medical-somatic dream, which includes those episodes related to the workings of the body;

  • The prophetic dream, which presents aspects of future events;

  • The archetypal-spiritual dream, in which the dreamer explores existential questions, and which results in some transformation of behaviour;

  • Nightmares, with upsetting or frightening images;

  • Lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware of experiencing a dream and then consciously alter[s] the events.


Only Kenny’s sixth type – lucid dreams – has no parallel in Gregory’s analysis of the six ways that dreams come to the soul (Dial. 4.50; De Vogüé and Antin 1980:172; trans. Zimmerman 1983:261):


  • by a full stomach;

  • by an empty stomach;

  • by the illusions of the Devil, ‘the master of deceit’.

  • by both thought and illusion: Dreams follow many cares (Eccl. 5:2);

  • by divine revelation: e.g. Joseph’s dreams (Gen. 37:5-10);

  • by both thoughts in our mind and revelation, e.g. Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:29-31).


The combination of these theoretical approaches will provide a fresh look at material that has been covered by other scholars, as well as an innovative approach to material that has not yet been made a focus of analysis and comparison.

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