This introductory chapter first outlines the theoretical considerations that inform the present study of North African Christians between the end of the second century and the middle of the fifth century. It highlights the so-called linguistic or cultural turn in early Christian studies: the disaffection for social history that historical studies of other periods have known and overcome. It argues that the field is at the stage when most scholars either deliberately do not use texts as evidence of an “extra-textual social reality” or, if they do, they ignore that this is not a straightforward process. It then explores alternative interpretive approaches. The chapter also discusses the notion of the individual's “internal plurality” as well as the limits of the evidence used in the study. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
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