Programme Units

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

  • Call for Papers opens: February 15, 2023.
  • Call for Papers closes: May 15, 2023. 

Note: The 2023 annual keynote will be delivered by Brent Nongbri (MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society).

Programme Units (2023)

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


Anthropological Investigations concerning Religious Forms and Practices

(Unit Chairs: Adriana Destro and Francesca Sbardella)

The purpose of the unit is to increase anthropological discussion and confrontation in religious studies. The field of investigation includes essential phenomena such as innovation, transmission, crisis, refoundation, mobility, conflict etc. In general, our attention is concentrated on the capacity of anthropology to perceive and understand transformative factors and structures (in texts and events).


Before and after Reimarus: Discourses and Practices around Jesus from the Early Modern Period – New Perspectives & Methodologies

(Unit Chairs: Miriam Benfatto and Cristiana Facchini)

Since the 15th century several different historical factors have influenced the research of the Christian past and the analysis of the figure of Jesus. The increasing refinement of philology and the study of ancient texts as fueled by Humanism proved to be relevant in readdressing theological questions concerning early Christianity. The Reformation set forth a religious conflict that rekindled ancient polemics and, in turn, the study of antiquity. The search for the most authentic religious experiences of Jesus and the early Christ believers became one of the most debated topics among different religious groups. Moreover, thanks to technological innovations such as the rise of print and the amelioration of communication infrastructures, ideas and texts circulated widely both in print and manuscripts disseminating new representations of Jesus and early Christianity. Finally, as a result of the emergence of new scientific paradigms and the discoveries linked to the age of exploration, new notions of religion appeared that greatly influenced the understanding of the history of Christianity.

This unit invites papers interested in the historical representations of Jesus, ancient Judaism, and the birth of Christianity composed by different authors belonging to different religious groups and denominations, including Catholics, Jews, Reformed Churches and radical dissenters between the 16th and the 19th century. Moreover, we welcome papers focusing on different strategies of reception (rebuttal, critique, praise or appropriation) of the figure of Jesus and early Christianity as well as on the Catholic responses and the strategies developed by the Catholic Church to repress, control, or persuade, or other forms of censorship. We also invite scholars to think about the relationship between media and religion as a way to critically assess how new discourses and images circulated and were shared within and among groups.

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


[The] Bible and Conflict

(Unit Chairs: Sarah E. Rollens and James G. Crossley)

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. 


Contexts of Early Christianity

(Unit 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

(Unit Chairs: Luca Arcari and 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

(Unit 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.


Explorations of Peoplehood in the Ancient Mediterranean

(Unit Chairs: Maia Kotrosits and Philip A. Harland)

This multi-year unit invites papers that juxtapose archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence to shed further light on how communities in the worlds of Judeans and Christians developed and expressed a sense of being a “people” (ethnos, genos, gens, natio) in relation with other “peoples” (ethnē, gentes, etc). Papers will deal with issues of ethnographic discourses, racialization, diaspora, and the complications of belonging under colonialism. A wide range of methodologies and perspectives are welcome.


From the History of Exegesis to Reception History and Beyond

(Unit Chairs: Laura Carnevale and Edmondo F. Lupieri)

In the tradition of the Italian study of 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 about 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 case studies regarding themes, images, texts, and subjects of biblical origin, in their manifestations in canonical and non-canonical traditions, as well as in literary and artistic occurrences, in the three Abrahamic religions and their epigones. We welcome proposals covering a large time span in Reception History; however, contributions focused on Antiquity and Late Antiquity will be particularly appreciated.


Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi, and Gnosticism

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

This unit welcomes contributions on the 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 papers and proposed papers.


Historical Jesus

(Unit 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’s 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’s followers). A special focus will be laid on the critical assessment of new mythicist positions denying Jesus’s existence, on putting into question untenable traditional ideas on the Jewish preacher, 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

(Unit Chairs: Roberto Alciati and Emiliano Rubens Urciuoli

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.

This year’s panel aims to delve into the too-often overlooked relationship between asceticism and monasticism: the first taken as the cross-culturally applicable descriptor of practices, themes, and issues of world- and self-denial, the second understood as a homologous shorthand for the institutionalization and “traditionalization” of ascetic behaviors. The panel welcomes theoretically-informed case studies from textual analysis and archaeology developing new approaches capable of better elucidating this relationship.


Jewish History and Hellenistic Judaism

(Unit Chairs: Dario Garribba and Marco Vitelli)

The unit is dedicated to Jewish History and Hellenistic Judaism and focuses on the investigation of historical events concerning the Jewish world, both in the land of Palestine and in the territories of the Greek-speaking Mediterranean Diaspora. Proposals concerning the social, political, cultural and religious reality of the Jewish world will be accepted; in equal measure, space will be given to studies and works that reflect on Jewish identity in the Greek and Roman cultural context. Especially welcome are proposal on: 1) the reconstruction of Jewish history in the land of Palestine in the period 2nd century BCE – 2nd century CE; 2) the life and organization of Jewish communities in Greek and Roman cities in the 2nd century BCE – 2nd century CE period; 3) the authors and sources for the reconstruction of Jewish history of the 2nd century BCE – 2nd century CE period.


[The] Johannist Constellation: Systemic Questions and Different Answers — Sources, Locations, History

(Unit Chairs: Mauro Pesce and Michael Daise)

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. 


Luke and Acts in Their Historical, Anthropological, and Literary Context

(Unit Chairs: Dorota Hartman and Mauro Pesce)

The Unit will focus on the sources of Luke’s Gospel and on its language and imagery in the light of other literary texts and documentary papyri. The contributions on the Book of Acts will be concentrated on an anthropological interpretation, in the context of other early Christian experiences and the political and juridical influence.


Mark and the Other Gospels 

(Unit 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 welcome are proposals on: (a) the reconstruction and localization of Mark’s sources; (b) Mark’s reception in the first three centuries; (c) the relationship between canonical and extra-canonical materials; (d) the social and cultural context of miracle stories in the Gospel tradition; (e) women and the Jesus movement: gender issues in Gospel texts; (f) methodological issues and current trends in the study of the Gospels. 


Methodologies of Jesus Research: The Transmissions of Words

(Unit Chairs: Clare K. Rothschild and Mauro Pesce)

Foci of the unit are: a) the evidence of anonymous sayings (Didache, Pauline letters, Epistle of James, other early Christian writings); b) the history of the attribution of anonymous sayings; c) the reconstruction of a corpus of John the Baptists’s sayings; d) Q and John the Baptist’s sayings; e) Q and Jesus’s sayings.


Oral and Written Sources of Early Christian Texts

(Unit Chairs: Enrico Norelli and Claudio Zamagni)

Aim of the unit is the reconstruction of 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. Papers dealing with the following subjects will be particularly welcomed : (1) materials used by the authors of the Gospels concerning Jesus and/or his disciples (a. individual sayings or collections of sayings of Jesus; b. stories about Jesus’s 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) Biblical testimonia; (4) faith and liturgical formulas; (5) other Jewish works circulating in the different Jewish groups of the 1st and 2nd centuries used as sources. 


Papyrology and Early Christ Groups

(Unit Chairs: Peter Arzt-Grabner and Marco Stroppa)

This unit is aimed at investigating the use of papyri, ostraca and related material to illuminate the texts, language, society, and thought of early Christ groups during I-III centuries 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.


Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity

(Unit Chairs: Gudrun Holtz and Matthias Morgenstern)

Both Rabbinic and Early Christians sources reflect encounters between the two communities in many ways. We invite papers that discuss the literary impacts of these encounters in both Rabbinic and Early Christian sources in the first four centuries, including Pharisaic traditions on the one hand and the New Testament on the other. The section welcomes proposals dealing with the methodological issues involved as well as with thematic aspects, such as literary form, exegesis of biblical texts, religious concepts, interpretation of biblical figures.


Re-dating Early Christian Texts

(Unit Chairs: Claudio Gianotto and Enrico Norelli)

This unit aims to (re)discuss the date of composition of the Gospels and other proto-Christian texts according to or in dialogue with recent scholarly suggestions. 


Re-exploring the Apocryphal Continent: Texts, Paratexts, and Contexts

(Unit Chairs: Tobias Nicklas and Luigi Walt)

This unit aims to offer a space for critical discussion on apocryphal texts and traditions, in cooperation with the Centre for Advanced Studies “Beyond Canon” at the University of Regensburg, Germany. If we refer to an ‘apocryphal continent’, it is mainly because we intend to re-explore the world of early Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature starting from the problem of its uncertain borders, its multiple centres and peripheries, its uncharted lands, as well as its minimal territorial units. For this year, we expect again papers that address methodological and theoretical issues relating to the study of fragments, individual texts, and textual collections. We also encourage papers dealing with issues of reception history and the cultural history of apocryphal texts.

⇒ The session will consist partly of invited papers and partly of papers selected in response to this call.


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

(Unit Chairs: Luca Arcari and Daniele Tripaldi)

For a long time 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.

⇒ Papers (15/25 minutes [on the basis of the number of participants], plus 5 minute discussion) will be delivered partly on invitation, partly by application and submission of an abstract.


Religious Transformation in the Roman Imperial Period

(Unit Chairs: Francesca Prescendi and Jörg Rüpke)

The problem addressed in a series of sessions of this name is the contextualization of the changes in the religious field that are otherwise analyzed by a focus on the formation of Christianity within a Jewish context. Basis for the annually changing focus would be data from the urban religion of the larger Mediterranean cities and the transformation of local religions in the less urbanized provinces of the Roman Empire. In this year’s meeting, special attention will be paid to the ritual aspects and the changes they underwent in the context of religion of the imperial period. The unit will invite and select contributions that reconstruct and interpret changes in rituals over time, paying attention to participants and performances as much as to the spatial and temporal framework and the objects used as instruments or addressees in such rituals. Papers and discussions will focus on reasons of change and will be looking into social and cultural change within and beyond the religious field proper.


Women in Early Christianity

(Unit Chairs: Maria Dell’Isola and Mario Resta)

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 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?