Background: The present situation in research and PhD-studies

An area presently divided between many disciplines The study of Early Christianity (broadly speaking the period covered by the 1st-6th centuries), has been divided into many different scholarly disciplines: New Testament and Church History within theological studies; Greco-Roman religions in religious studies; Judaism, often split between departments; late Greek and Latin literature in Classical studies; Roman and Byzantine areas in archaeology and art history; studies in late Antiquity in historical studies, to name the most important fields. Traditionally there has been little contact and interaction between them, even when they belong to the same institution.

This situation discourages institutional contacts and prevents scholarly exchanges and discussions that can foster methodological advances. At Nordic universities these fields are often small, with few colleagues. And even when an area is larger, as for instance New Testament studies at a few universities, there are less interdisciplinary contacts with the broader field. This is a problem for established scholars, but especially for young scholars and doctoral students.

Mostly small number of PhD-students

The above description is based on the exchange at the preliminary meeting of the group of Nordic scholars behind this application in Bergen Nov 3-4, 2003. The information provided showed that with present divisions between fields of study, each field in most cases (Helsinki being an exception) had a small the number of PhD-students and that that therefore a closer cooperation would be most beneficial for Nordic PhD-candidates.

Organizational basis for a cooperation is good

In all countries here is a development towards a formal PhD-education with a system of courses and credits, and in some cases also the establishing of specific graduate schools. The various participating institutions are at present at various levels of formalization of this structure (Denmark and Norway probably being most advanced), but the fact that they all share a basic outline makes a network with activities based on this structure useful for all participants. Many local initiatives prepare the way for a larger network

The exchange of information at the meeting in Bergen proved very helpful, in that it pointed to many related initiatives that provide a basis for Nordic cooperation:

  • One of these initiatives was the Norwegian project "The Construction of Christian Identity in Antiquity" (1997-2001).
  • This project is now continued in Program for the study of Ancient Christianity (PROAC) at the Institute of Classics, Russian, and the History of Religions, University of Bergen, which has been established as a School of Doctoral studies.
  • It has close cooperation with the University of Aarhus, which has a large project on "Jews, Christians and Pagans in Antiquity -- Critique and Apologetics."
  • At the Theological faculty at the University of Copenhagen, a project is established for the study of the relations between Greco-Roman philosophy and Early Christianity ("Philosophy at the Roots of Christianity").
  • Lund University in Sweden has the largest milieu of the study of Early Church History, with its Collegium Patristicum Lundense.
  • In Finland, the Research unit on the Formation of Early Jewish and Christian Ideology, with many research groups, has been a Centre of Excellence at the Universities of Helsinki and Åbo, and is planning a continuation of activities in a multidisciplinary unit, "Monotheistic Religions and Cultural Encounter: Judaims, Christinaity and Islam in Multicultural contexts in Antiquity."


Between many of these initiatives there are already personal and institutional links, e.g. in the "Nordic Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Network," (a NORFA-network) which covers a specialized niche in the larger area of Early Christian studies. A joint PhD seminar in Alexandria in 2002 on Early Christianity in Egypt, supported by NORFA, organized by professor Samuel Rubensson, Lund, drew PhD students from many of the present institutions and beyond them also, and proved how useful this type of cooperation is.

What motivates a Nordic cooperation in PhD-education in this area?

At the meeting in Bergen, the group agreed that to establish Early Christian Studies as a multi-disciplinary field will represent a real methodological as well as an institutional advance, not only in a Nordic, but also in an international context.

To look at Early Christianity in its Mediterranean and European context in the first - 6th century in its totality, will make it possible to study the Christian movement within the context of Greco-Roman religions, including Judaism, and within the political, social and economic context of the Roman empire, and integrating textual, archaeological and artistic evidence. This possibility of combining knowledge and information from many different disciplines will be very attractive to PhD-students.

The discussion in Bergen also showed that the various instructions had their strength in diverse areas, so that a pooling of recourses would create a very broad study milieu, and a group of scholars and research teams that would be unique also on an international level. Several individual scholars in the Nordic countries now participate actively in large international organizations and have many contacts with international scholars.

However, even if these contacts can link individual scholars to larger networks, it does not provide a Nordic forum that can combine forces and provide a common milieu for established researchers and especially a Nordic meeting-place for the training of younger scholars.

Published Jan. 6, 2010 12:56 PM - Last modified Mar. 6, 2010 4:23 PM