"Power and Authority"

This interdisciplinary seminar explores the interplay between authority, power, and textual interpretation from a wide range of perspectives and academic fields. The themes range from ancient philosophical commentaries to modern international law, from Latin inscriptions in ancient Rome to contemporary fundamentalism and conspiracy theories.

International Guest Speaker - All Lecturers - Abstracts - Reading - Participation and registration  - List of participants and their PhD projects (.pdf) - Questions 


Program (.pdf, 2018.03.12 web version)

The lectures, given by internationally recognized experts in their fields, will discuss a diversity of historical and contemporary materials and issues while demonstrating a broad range of methodological and theoretical approaches.

Participants will also have the privilege of discussing parts of their ongoing doctoral dissertation work in a truly interdisciplinary forum, and will receive expert advice on more practical aspects of dissertation writing and publication.

The seminar will consist of

  • Research seminars

  • PhD Seminars with papers, presentations and prepared responses

  • Acedemic skills seminar

  • Stakeholder's lecture

  • Field trip in Rome

International Guest Speaker

Christoph Markschies, Professor of Ancient Christianity (Patristics), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

We are proud to announce that Professor Christoph Markschies will be our international guest speaker in Rome.

Dr. Markschies is one of the world's leading scholars of early Christian studies and he has also published extensively within the fields of History, Cultural Studies, Literature, Archeology, and more. Read about his extensive publications and academic work at academia.edu

Prof. Markschies holds the Harnack Chair of Church History (Ancient Christianity) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and is the recipient of multiple honorary doctorates. He served as President at the Humbolt University from 2006 to 2010. He is the Vice-President of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a member of the Academy of Erfurt and Heidelberg, the European Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Akademia Europea. Since 2015, he has been leading the Berliner Instituts Kirche und Judentum.

In October 2017, Prof. Markschies was awarded the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutshcland for his engagement in ecumenical dialogue and in Jewish-Christian dialogue.

All Lecturers

(Listed in order of appearance)

Christoph Markschies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Torkel Brekke, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Sissel Undheim, University of Bergen

Hans Petter Graver, Universitetet i Oslo

Asbjørn Dyrendal, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Svein Aage Christoffersen, University of Oslo

Geir Ulfstein, University of Oslo

Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, University of Bergen


Monday March 12

Markschies, Christoph. Professor, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

  • Authorization of Texts by Means of Commentary in Antiquity – A Comparative Approach

The lecture will explore how texts in Antiquity were authorized by writing commentaries. In the focus are especially literary strategies and techniques to structure knowledge. The problems will be comparatively discussed on commentaries of Proclus (Commentaries on Plato and Euclides), Galen and Origen. By this approach commonalities and differences between commentaries on philosophical, mathematical, medical and theological problems and texts can be focussed far more precisely than before. 

Brekke, Torkel. Research Professor, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

  • “The life of the humble philologist in an era of big data, clickbait research, and fake news" (Stakeholder's lecture)
  • "Religious authority, modernity and fundamentalism"

Taking inspiration from the historical sociology of Max Weber this lecture explores modern challenges to traditional religious authority and some of their most important consequences. The historical focus is the zenith of the colonial period when Western institutions and ideologies were grafted onto societies and their cultures throughout Asia and Africa. What happened to traditional religious authority in different parts of the colonized world in the wake of these transformations? What were the reactions to the undermining of religious tradition among local political and religious leaders and among lay People?

Tuesday March 13

Undheim, Sissel. Assoc Professor, Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen

  • "Never set in stone. Power and texts on public display"

Painted, inscribed and placed in the public eye for everyone to see, the impact of ancient epigraphy has nevertheless been a debated issue. Relying on a population’s literacy, as well as cultural codes, texts displayed in public always evokes the questions of “by whom” and “for whom”.

The ancient world has left us with an abundance of texts meant for such public display. In the city of Rome alone, almost 100 000 Latin inscriptions have been found (Bodel 2001:8). By looking at this specific genre of texts, particularly honorary inscriptions and epitaphs, the aim of this session is to discuss issues of gender, status and power display, as well as erasure, damnatio memoriae and historiography. 

Graver, Hans Petter. Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo

  • "The Authority of Law - When Must the Judge Deviate From it"?

The Lecture will address the situation when the aw demands the judge to perform evil acts. Must the judge follow the law or are evil acts simply non-law? I will present the case of a brave judge during the German occupation of Norway during the second world war, and discuss his judgement in the light of legal theorists such as H.L.A. Hart, Lon Fulller and Ronald Dworkin.

Dyrendal, Asbjørn. Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

  • "Prophets, tricksters, and tyrants. Authority, subversion, and power in conspiracy culture"

Conspiracy culture is an arena where entrepreneurs may gain authority through interpretations of current and past events. One of the strategies for gaining such authority is through a flexible practice one may call “rolling prophecy” (Robertson 2016). Rolling prophecy establishes a few, successful entrepreneurs in precarious roles as “prophets” who reveals secret knowledge, often through esoteric interpretive techniques. These emic epistemologies are shaped by strategies that are easily recognized, adapted, and subverted for use in parody. Arising partially from within, some of these parodies are re-absorbed by conspiracy culture, where conspiracy “play” is taken to an extreme form of doubt that annihilates any claim to knowledge, as “nothing is what it seems” (Barkun 2003). The same practices may also be used by established sources of power to mobilize allies, display power, discredit and demobilize opponents, and sow doubt about any form of knowledge.

Wednesday March 14: Field trip

Christoffersen, Svein Aage. Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo

  • “The Power of Visual Rhetoric in the Baroque Era”

Thursay March 15

Ulfstein, Geir. Professor, Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order, University of Oslo

  • "Interpretation of international treaties: law, policy and legitimacy"

We have seen an increasing number of specialized international courts in recent decades – such as in the law of the sea, international trade, human rights, criminal law and investment. We have also seen a decline in multilateral treaty-making. This means that interpretation of existing treaties by international courts becomes essential.

There has also been a development in the methods of interpretation in international law. Traditionally, international courts often protected state sovereignty through so-called restrictive interpretation. Today, these courts are more inclined to use effective and dynamic (evolutive) interpretation of the international obligations. The result is that the judgments increasingly restrict domestic sovereign freedom.

All of this should generally be applauded, since it promotes the international rule of law. But international courts are claimed to unduly restrict the sovereign ‘regulatory space’ and democratic freedom, taking too little account of political and cultural differences between different states. ICs have also been criticized for too much interference in traditionally domestic issues. Such interference clearly occurs in international human rights and international criminal law. But it also concerns aspects of international trade law and investment law – and may also occur in general international law. Such criticism should be seen in the light of the current political climate with increasing skepticism to international institutions and may – and to a certain extent already have – lead to a backlash against international courts.

This presentation will discuss the methods of interpretation contained in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) in light of policy and legitimacy challenges facing international Courts.

Gilhus, Ingvild S. Professor, Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen

  • “Writing a doctoral thesis and getting it published” (Academic skills)


List of required and suggested reading (.pdf) (Version 2018.02.07).

Some of the texts will be made available for the participants.


The seminar starts Monday morning March 12, and ends in the evening on Thursday March 15, 2018. All participants are expected to participate at all parts of the program throughout the week.

The seminar is free, and ATTR will cover the flight ticket and hotel from Sunday March 11 till Friday March 16. 

List of participants (.pdf)


Please contact the ATTR Executive Office.




Published Mar. 24, 2017 3:08 PM - Last modified June 28, 2022 2:01 PM