Programme Units

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the current pandemic situation, the 7th CISSR Annual Meeting on Christian Origins (2021) will be held entirely online, and sessions will include invited papers only. The annual keynote will be delivered by Richard S. Ascough (Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada). 

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


Programme Units (2021)

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

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Anthropological Knowledge: Materials, Approaches, and Perspectives

(Chairs: Adriana Destro, Francesca Sbardella)

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

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[The] Bible and Conflict

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

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. 

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Canonized Gospels and Their Constellations

(Chairs: Michael Daise, Mauro Pesce, Mara Rescio)

Sources, Locations, History

In this combined unit we seek to facilitate the aims of two panels which regularly meet during the CISSR Annual Meeting on Christian Origins— ‘Mark and the Other Gospels’ and ‘The Johannist Constellation: Systemic Questions and Different Answers’. Drawing from the first panel’s interest in ‘the relationship between canonical and extra-canonical materials’, and from the second panel’s concern to map ‘a “constellation” of socio-religious texts’ which address ‘cosmic fractures’ between ‘realms above and below’, we welcome papers that treat the Gospels of Mark and/or John either in relation to each other or in relation to other canonical or apocryphal works. The specific topics addressed, as well as methodological criteria, are open.

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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.

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Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi, and Gnosticism

(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 (applicants must submit an abstract to the unit chairs).

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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. 

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The Historical Jesus before H.S. Reimarus: New Perspectives & Methodologies

(Chairs: Miriam Benfatto, Fernando Bermejo Rubio, Cristiana Facchini)

Since the 15th century several different historical factors 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 fuelled by Humanism proved to be relevant in readdressing theological questions concerning the nature of 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 experience of Jesus and the Christian community 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 science and the discoveries linked to the age of exploration, new notions of religion appeared and greatly influenced the understanding of history Christianity. This unit invites papers devoted to the historical depiction of Jesus, ancient Judaism, and the birth of Christianity composed by different religious groups and individuals, including Catholics, Jews, Reformed Churches and radical dissenters, from 1500 to 1780. This unit will include only invited papers.

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

(Chairs: Roberto Alciati, Emiliano Rubens Urciuoli)

Urban Religion and Beyond

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 showcase and discuss both preliminary achievements and new lines of investigation of the research programme on “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formation” commenced at the Max-Weber-Kolleg in Erfurt in 2018 and now approaching the end of its first funding phase. The session will consist of three invited papers.

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Oral and Written Sources of Early Christian Texts

(Chairs: Enrico Norelli, Claudio 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) not-canonized Jewish works circulating in the different Jewish groups of the 1st and 2nd centuries used as sources.

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Papyri, Inscriptions, and the Contexts of Early Christianity

(Chairs: Peter Arzt-Grabner, 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 with the help of inscriptions, papyri, ostraca, and tablets. Papers dealing with the methodology of comparing texts in general or with particular genres and topics are as welcome as papers on recently identified manuscripts containing texts of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. 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) not-canonized Jewish works circulating in the different Jewish groups of the 1st and 2nd centuries used as sources. 

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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 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.

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Women in Early Christianity

(Chairs: Maria Dell’Isola, 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?