Surveillant Discipline: Panoptic Vision in Early Christian Self-Definition

David M. Reis


Michel Foucault’s groundbreaking work on power and knowledge has generated considerable interest among scholars seeking to clarify how these concepts operated in early Christian literature. One mode of power that Foucault identified as representative of the modern era finds expression in the Panopticon, the prison-house whose creator, Jeremy Bentham, designed to regulate inmates through observation. While Foucault thought that this technology marked a new age in the history of discipline and punishment, this essay argues that Bentham’s discussion of the panoptic gaze and its effects on those surveiled can be found in the literature of antiquity. Early Christian writers used panoptic rhetoric both to establish the authority of God, Jesus, and early Christian leaders and to encourage their audiences to watch over themselves and others. They thus sought to establish a ‘technology of the self’ and circumscribe communal boundaries based upon a system marked by surveillant discipline.


Michel Foucault; panopticism

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391