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A conference at the University of Exeter, held under the aegis of the South West Late Antiquity Network.
Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto
The topic of religious identity in late antiquity is highly contentious, with significant debate revolving around the reasons for shifts in self-identifications, the degree to which any labels (ancient or modern) for religious categories reflect a real sense of unified social identity, and the malleability and potential overlapping of religious identities. Although most scholars agree that identities were constructed and expressed through forms of ‘rhetoric’, a systematic study of rhetoric’s meaning and influence in this context is still required.
In our department, we have a couple of projects that relate to the study of Aramaic incantation bowls, including the recently launched Virtual Magic Bowl Archive.
At first sight, these dusty little pots may seem of marginal interest at best, particularly for theologians and Bible scholars, but it turns out that they are a really big deal. For a start, they are the best epigraphic source we have for studying the everyday beliefs and practices of the various Christian, Jewish, Gnostic, Pagan and Zoroastrian communities of the near east in Late Antiquity and in the early days of Islam. While manuscript sources have been copied and subjected to repeated editorial activity over the centuries, often in order to present official histories, these humble vessels come straight from Late Antiquity and show us what we were never meant to see.
L-R: Bethany Wagstaff, Mitchell Travis, Susannah Cornwall, Andrew Worthley, Christina Beardsley, Stephen Whittle
On 30th-31st October, the inaugural meeting of the Variant Sex and Gender, Religion and Faith research network took place at the University of Exeter. A small core group of scholars will be meeting together several times over the next year to discuss themes including:
How are variant sex and gender understood and responded to in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions?
How can the work of academics researching variant sex and gender in Christianity, Islam and Judaism be informed by, and be made more accessible to, faith communities and intersex and transgender support and advocacy groups?
How do support and advocacy groups for intersex and transgender people promote spiritual as well as physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing for their members?
What are the implications of the law on transgender and intersex for faith groups in Britain?
Just over a year ago, I set off with my backpack to a village in the Ondonga region of Northern Namibia, not far from the Angolan border. My research centres on investigating the identities and belief systems of a village community in that area, to be researched through a programme of contextual Bible studies. In other words, I aimed to facilitate groups in the community to discuss their interpretations of a series of New Testament texts. This was with a view to understanding how the influences of both traditional culture and worldviews, and Christianity inform the community members’ understandings of the text and their wider identities and beliefs.
On Tuesday 21 October, St Mary le Bow Church, London, Christian Aid launched its latest report Tax for the Common Good. This report brings together two subjects that are usually far apart: theology and tax. Esther D. Reed and other authors look at what lessons the Bible may hold about matters such as the purpose of tax, how governments should apply it, how companies and individuals should pay it and what they should expect of governments in return. Download the report here.
Esther explores what Christian ethics can tell us about the taxation of multinational companies. She argues that such companies are required to pay more tax than the law requires of them, if failure to do so would damage the conditions required for everyone to flourish. She further argues that the fact of human sinfulness makes it necessary to have coercive measures at national and international level to prevent tax evasion and restrain tax avoidance.
In his foreword to the new report, Christian Aid’s Chair, Dr Rowan Williams, expresses his hope that the report will stimulate thought and decisions among people who are able to influence the behaviour and policies of companies, ‘so that tax justice at last becomes a reality’.
On 7 October 2014, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference hosted an Ecumenical Day of Reflection on Mining with representatives of leading mining companies, as well as representatives from non-governmental and other faith-based organisations, and church leaders from other countries. The Day was a follow-up to a Day of Reflection at the Vatican in September 2013 attended by senior mining company executives, led by the CEO of Anglo American, along with church and religious civil society representatives.
I wrote this article for The Tablet about the value of digital archives in research. Earlier this year, The Tablet made its archives – stretching back 100 years – freely available online. My article reflected on how research has changed in the last decade and the value of digital archiving.
This is the first in a series of blogs celebrating The Tablet’s new online archive, where for a limited time you can view for free every page of every issue since 1840. PhD student Karen O’Donnell discovers how two leading figures of the twentieth-century Church related to Mary
When I began my undergraduate degree 13 years ago, the concept of using the internet to facilitate research was in its infancy. There was uncertainty about how to reference material found online, most of my lecturers were late adopters of the new technology so the internet was very much unknown to them, and most of all, there was little information online.
If you wanted an article, you went to the relevant section of the library and, if you were lucky, found the journal you wanted or, alternatively, cajoled someone else in your class into parting with the volume you needed and hurriedly made your notes. Times have changed!
The blog was first posted in February 2014 and you can read the full content here.
Karen O’Donnell is a PhD student at the University of Exeter, working on a theology of women and Eucharist which uses the insights of trauma theory.
“The world watches in horror as rebel extremists surge across Iraq. Videos graphically depict the daily violence in Syria. Closer to home, yet another gunman has razed innocent victims in a public place. Behind closed doors, domestic abuse abounds—incidents per year in the United States alone are estimated at over 960,000.
How can we possibly think that a God of love has created this violent, hatred-filled world? It is one of the hardest questions Christians face.
I did not expect to find an answer to this question when I first came across Andrew Elphinstone’s book Freedom, Suffering and Love. Elphinstone was an aristocratic clergyman trained at Eton and Oxford. Queen Elizabeth was a bridesmaid at his wedding. What could this entitled man have to say to about violence and injustice?
Dr Susannah Cornwall Advanced Research Fellow (HASS Strategy)
Sex, gender and sexuality remain live issues both within the academic study of theology and in the churches. But despite the extensive conversations that continue to rumble on over issues such as same-sex marriage, there’s been relatively little room given (at least in this country) to interplays between the excellent academic theological research on sex and sexuality that continues to be done, and the concerns of people working in or training for Christian ministry.
XIII International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs Rome, 17-20 September 2014, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
Dr Morwenna Ludlow
The exciting thing about Gregory of Nyssa colloquia is that they gather together some of the best international scholars working on early Christianity – not just the ones working on Gregory! The first colloquium in 1969 was co-organised by Jean Daniélou and Marguerite Harl – two of the scholars most responsible for the post-war surge of interest in the church fathers. This year we had delegates from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Japan, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Yet the meetings are small enough to encourage genuine conversation and the atmosphere is friendly: it’s possible for a student to find herself in line for coffee or to be seated at lunch next to one of the grand old men of European patristics and to be quizzed on her current research!