Call for Papers

For general information about the CISSR Annual Meeting on Christian Origins, see the page “Annual Meetings”. For the registration and application procedures, see “Come partecipare” (in Italian) or “How To Participate” (in English).

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the 7th edition of the CISSR Annual Meeting has been postponed until autumn 2021. The new call for papers will be announced in due time. 

Programme Units (2020)

Programme Unit chairs and contacts are indicated in parentheses. 
The Units are listed in alphabetical order. 


Anthropological Knowledge: Materials, Approaches, and Perspectives

(Chairs: Adriana Destro, Francesca Sbardella)

Discussing Anthropology and Religions

The purpose of the Unit is to increase discussion and confrontation of methods and perspectives that anthropologists are currently elaborating. The field of investigation includes ancient, modern, contemporary religious phenomena and connected events. 

⇒ The session is for invited speakers only and does not accept paper proposals. 


Anthropology of Religious Forms and Identities

(Chairs: Luca Jourdan, Francesca Sbardella)

Content and Boundaries Imagery

This panel will address the relationship between Christian religious representations and political dynamics in cultural encounters, from ancient to contemporary times. Religious texts and practices historically furnished the models of interpretation of alterity in situations of conquest, clash, and colonial encounter. Many cultural agents, in particular missionaries, have played a central role in setting the line between ‘human and non-human’ and in differentiating between moral and immoral behaviours. At the same time, many so-called acculturated people have often domesticated Christianity to produce movements and practices swinging between mimesis and resistance. Through the analysis of texts, arts, social activities and movements, the papers will explore the ambiguous role played by religious representations and conducts in the metropolitan and non-metropolitan contexts, as well as the heritage of these representations in past and contemporary era.

⇒ The session is for invited speakers only and does not accept paper proposals.


Bible and Conflict

(Chairs: James G. Crossley, Sarah E. Rollens, Daniel Ullucci)

This unit examines the ways that biblical texts have been cultural resources for ideological conflict and competition. On the one hand, biblical texts show evidence of social conflict and competition in the period in which they were written. First Corinthians, for instance, suggests that Paul’s audiences experienced numerous forms of conflict and competitiveness among themselves, which Paul tried to manage in his letters. On the other hand, early Christian groups routinely viewed themselves in conflict with outsiders as well, as the Apocalypse of John illustrates with its particularly violent language. By attending to these features of the texts, we learn more about the social dynamics of early Christianity and the challenges that they faced. To study conflict and competition in the Bible is therefore to examine the propulsive forces of socio-political development in early Christianity. We can, moreover, also attend to how biblical texts have been deployed in more recent settings for conflicted and competitive political ends. The dispute over same-sex marriage in the U.S., for instance, shows how people on both sides of political debates easily try to appropriate the authority of the biblical texts. Thus, while containing evidence for ancient conflict and competition, the Bible continues to be mobilized for more contemporary political and ideological purposes—situated in their own modern contexts of conflict and competition.

⇒ This unit will include some invited papers, as well as some selected from submissions to the call for papers.


Christian Origins: Modern Myths and Historical Representations

(Chairs: Miriam Benfatto, Cristiana Facchini, Luigi Walt)

The Unit invites papers dealing with the birth of modern scholarship on early Christianity. The main purpose is to reconstruct the ways in which covert apologetic agendas, both religious and secular, may have led to the construction of different myths of Christian origins. In particular, we seek proposals on: (a) the emergence in early modern Europe of a specific interest in the problem of Christian origins; (b) the historical investigation on ancient Judaism and Early Christianity as a mirror of doctrinal disputes; (c) the modern (re)discovery of extra-canonical texts and traditions; (d) the contributions of Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed intellectuals to the rise of the comparative study of religion; (e) the relationship between modern religious imagery and the historical or pseudo-historical representations of Jesus, Judaism, and the rise of Christianity from the 16th to the first half of the 20th century. 


Cognitive Studies and Early Christianity: Memory, Emotions, Images, and Writing

(Chairs: Claudio Franceschi, Mauro Pesce)

In this unit are invited brain scientist. The papers will deal with recent brain researches that are relevant for Early Christian studies. What parts of the brain are interested in writing a text? What kind of images or language can give rise to different emotions in the brain (taking also into account the evolutionary function of emotions)? What are the most recent results about the different memorization processes in the brain?

⇒ The session is for invited speakers only and does not accept paper proposals.


Contexts of Early Christianity

(Chair: John S. Kloppenborg)

We invite papers that discuss aspects of the intellectual, literary, material, and political contexts of the early Christ cult in the first three centuries. 


Discussion of Books

(Chairs: Luca Arcari, Franco Motta)

The presentations held in the Annual Meeting on Christian Origins in Bertinoro are focused on recent books with a fresh approach to Second Temple Judaism texts, practices and beliefs, as well as to the historical Jesus and to texts and materials more or less explicitly linked to the early groups of Jesus followers (1st–2nd cent. CE). These presentations are also open to innovative methodological approaches to the study of religions according to sociology, cognitive science of religion, anthropology, literature, psychology, archaeology. Another important field is the history of the research on the historical Jesus from the Late Middle Ages to nowadays.


Esotericism and Early Christianity

(Chair: April D. DeConick)

This panel provides the opportunity for us to reconceptualize the social and cultural dynamics of esotericism (broadly defined as religious secrecy, hiddenness, and concealment) as related to early Christian movements and literature. Particularly welcome are contributions that problematize esotericism through interdisciplinary approaches.  

⇒ The Unit will include invited papers only. 


From the History of Exegesis to Reception History and Beyond

(Chairs: Laura Carnevale, Edmondo F. Lupieri)

In the tradition of the Italian studies on the history of biblical exegesis, which culminated in the 1980s with the foundation of the Journal “Annali di Storia dell’Esegesi,” this section aims at analyzing the theoretical and practical developments that brought to the new research waves in the field of the history of biblical reception, as well as to the most recent developments that, also in the frame of post-modern thinking, are bringing into discussion methodological concepts like “retrospection.” The section will take into consideration proposals dealing both with theoretical/methodological issues and with specific cases regarding themes, images, texts, subjects of biblical origins, in their various appearances in canonical and non-canonical traditions as well as in all literary and artistic manifestations in the three Abrahamic religions and their epigones.


Gender Studies and Early Christian History

(Chairs: Maria Dell’Isola, Mario Resta)

Women’s Religious and Social Agency in the First Centuries of Christian Era

In the last decades, a growing interest in gender-related aspects has shaped academic research in the field of history of Christianity. Building upon the scientific heritage of feminist theory over the second half of the past century, new approaches in women’s history and gender studies are continuing to spread. This panel aims to explore the experiences that underlie the religious and social agency of women in the first four centuries. The papers should address the following questions in relation to literary texts, inscriptions, archaeological and iconographic evidences and legislative practices (e.g. laws, canons etc.): how was women’s religious and social agency perceived by contemporary Christians? What was the difference between female and male agency in Christian religious experiences and practices? How did this difference reflect social discrepancies between men and women within society? Has the spread of Christianity through the ancient Mediterranean world changed women’s role both on the religious and social level? How did new forms of temporality, such as the rise of eschatology, contribute to shape and redefine women’s role, and what happened after the decline of eschatological tendencies and a consequent initial restoration of a time within history? How could emphasis on use, occupancy and appropriation of place and space be a reflection of changes in women’s agency?


Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi, and Gnosticism

(Chairs: Andrea Annese, Francesco Berno, Claudio Gianotto)

This unit welcomes contributions on the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic documents (e.g. Codex Tchacos, Codex Bruce, Codex Berolinensis). The unit is open to contributions that address both specific and cross-cutting issues, from whatever critical perspective (literary, socio-anthropological, historiographical, etc.). Interdisciplinary approaches and methodological renewal are strongly encouraged. Among the topics that are particularly welcomed, we mention (for example): a) contents, composition, milieu of Thomas; b) the context of the Nag Hammadi codices; c) concepts conveyed by Gnostic texts and traditions.

⇒ This unit will include both invited and proposed papers.


Heterotopias of Religious Authority in Ancient Christianity

(Chairs: Tobias Nicklas, Luigi Walt)

This Unit is aimed to present the work of the newly launched Centre for Advanced Studies “Beyond Canon”, granted by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and based at the University of Regensburg, Germany.

⇒ The panel will include invited papers only. 


Historical Jesus

(Chair: Fernando Bermejo Rubio)

The Unit welcomes papers that move beyond a simplistic literary approach to our sources and aim instead at grasping the historical figure of Jesus in all its political, social and cultural complexity, investigating Jesus’ lifestyle, message, religious practices (prayer, fasting, visions, healings and exorcisms) and self-comprehension, within the context of contemporary Judaism (including John the Baptist and his disciples as well as the groups of Jesus’ followers). A special focus will be laid on the critical assessment of new mythicist positions denying Jesus’ existence, on methodological clarifications and on the deconstruction of the classical 4 phase paradigm articulating almost every presentation of the history of the Leben-Jesu-Forschung.

⇒ Papers will be delivered partly on invitation, partly by application and submission of an abstract.


Issues of Method: New ‘Secular’ Approaches to Early Christian Research

(Chairs: Roberto Alciati, Emiliano Rubens Urciuoli)

Dying for What? A Stocktaking of Secular Approaches to Ancient Christian Martyrdom

The principal aim of this Unit is to promote cross-disciplinary research characterized by a common agenda: a radical de-metaphysicization of the explanatory narratives of the processes of creation, transmission, blending, memorization, and survival of religious representations, experiences, and practices documented by Jesus followers across the ancient Mediterranean world between the 1st and 4th century CE. Since we are persuaded that a strategy of consilience among different perspectives is necessary to account for the complex formative dynamics of any large-scale symbolic system, the Unit programmatically resorts to ‘secular’ approaches which are too often opposed to each other – like cognitive and evolutionary approaches, historical discourse analysis, post-colonial studies and model-based sociological exegesis. More generally, we would like to contribute to the creation of a trans-disciplinary area where a new scientific policy in the research on Christian origins can be successfully pursued.

Aim of this year’s Unit is to investigate the time-honoured topic of ancient Christian martyrdom anew by ideally offering a stocktaking of the most promising secular approaches recently applied to this real-and-imagined religious practice. Five bodies of theoretical perspectives have been especially selected as ‘attractor poles’ around which the paper proposals are expected to cluster:

  • spatial theories of the urban;
  • action theories (possibly critically engaging with the Rational Choice Theory);
  • critical-ideological theories and theories of resistance (including feminist and postcolonial approaches);
  • semiotic perspectives;
  • ‘costly signalling’ theories of religious commitment.

⇒ The session will consist of both invited and proposed papers.


[The] Johannist Constellation: Systemic Questions and Different Answers

(Chairs: Michael Daise, Mauro Pesce)

Sources, Locations, History

This panel seeks to map a network between certain early Jesus groups that turned on their shared attempts to address what they perceived to be a cosmic fracture obstructing communication between a realm ‘above’ and a realm ‘below’. Our point of departure is the Gospel of John (hence, the title), whose theology, polemics, ritual and language endeavor to resolve the impediment created by ‘the ruler of this world’. But our exploration extends further, to other works, which in similar ways address the same cosmological problem and which, therefore, may reflect a ‘constellation’ of socio-religious texts: immediately in view are the Johannine epistles, the Apocalypse of John, the Gospel of Thomas and the Ascension of Isaiah. 


Mark and the Other Gospels

(Chair: Mara Rescio)

Aim of this unit is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for ongoing research on both canonical and extra-canonical Gospels. We encourage papers that employ innovative reading strategies, suggest new areas of inquiry, and/or offer new perspectives on enduring questions. Especially welcomed will be proposals on: (a) The reconstruction and localization of Mark’s sources; (b) The reception of Mark in the first three centuries; (c) Gospels and method: current trends in biblical studies; (d) The relationship between canonical and extra-canonical materials; (e) The socio-cultural context of miracle stories in the gospel tradition; (f) Women and the Jesus movement: gender issues in gospel texts.


Oral and Written Sources of the Gospels and of Early Christian Texts

(Chairs: Enrico NorelliClaudio Zamagni)

Aim of the unit is the reconstruction of the sources used by the authors of apocryphal and canonical Gospels and other early Christian writings. Also relations between sources of early Christian writings and groups of Jesus’ followers can be taken into consideration. Particularly welcomed will be papers about: (1) materials used by the authors of the Gospels concerning Jesus and / or his disciples (a. single sayings or collections of sayings of Jesus; b. stories about Jesus’ actions; c. information of any kind coming from individuals or groups); (2) texts drawn from the Hebrew Bible and its ancient translations or from any early Christian writing used as a source; (3) Bible testimonia; (5) faith and liturgical formulas; (6) non-canonized Jewish works circulating in the different Jewish groups of the 1st and 2nd centuries used as sources.


Papyrology and Early Christ Groups

(Chair: Peter Arzt-Grabner)

This unit is aimed at investigating the use of papyri, ostraca and related material to illuminate the text, language, society, and thought of early Christ groups during I and early II CE. Regarding documentary papyrology, we invite papers dealing with the methodology of comparing texts in general as well as with particular genres (e.g., private and official letters, deeds, contracts etc.) and topics, and how and inasmuch they can be compared with New Testament and other early Christian writings or passages. Of course, also papers on recently identified or edited papyri and parchments containing texts of the New Testament and other early Christian literature as well as subliterary or documentary Christian texts are more than welcome.


Re-dating the Early Christian Texts

(Chairs: Claudio Gianotto, Enrico Norelli)

This Unit aims to (re)discuss the date of composition of Gospels and other proto-Christian texts according to / in dialogue with recent scholarly suggestions. This year we will present a project of translation of all early Christian texts before Justin edited by M. Pesce, E. Prinzivalli, and E. Norelli. Three papers of 20 minutes will follow the presentation, focusing on the dating of non-canonical texts included in the projected translation.

⇒ The Unit will include invited papers only.


Religious Practices and Experiences in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism and Early Christianity (2nd century BCE – 4th Century CE)

(Chairs: Luca Arcari, Daniele Tripaldi)

For a long time the history of Judaism and ancient Christianity has been analyzed as a process of evolving debates and ideological conflicts around ‘orthodoxy’ matters. Such an approach was the product of the traditional exegetical paradigm focused on literary and theological profiles of ancient Jewish and/or Christian authors and groups. As far as historical sources allow it, with this panel we shall attempt instead to identify and describe multifarious religious practices documented for Jewish and early Christian groups between the 2nd cent. BCE and the 4th cent. CE, both in the context of the social formations they developed and as integral part of the wider Graeco-Roman environment. Moving beyond the classical literary and narrative paradigm, scholars are therefore invited to look at texts as complex socio-cultural artifacts and therefore present papers aiming at ‘seeing’ through texts, and reconstructing baptismal praxis as well as other initiation rituals, banquets as well as cultic meals and gatherings, teaching practices, experiences of contact with the world of numinous power (visions, heavenly journeys, dreams, glossolalic phenomena and speeches, divination and prophecy), prayers, dietary habits, healings and exorcisms, funerary rites, and so on. Finally, particular attention will be reserved to discursive modalities through which Jewish and/or proto-Christian religious experiences are re-codified and rendered in cognitive as well as in cultural terms.

⇒ The session will consist of both invited and proposed papers.