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Tradition and Innovation in Early Christianity

15 August 2018 to 17 August 2018

Tradition and Innovation image close“Tradition and Innovation in Early Christianity”
A symposium to be held at the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry
at ACU Melbourne

A group of classicists in the Netherlands recently received a large (€ 18.8m) grant to study innovation processes in the ancient world, and specifically the difference between invention or novelty and successful (or, as the case might be, failed) uptake of the invention. Their program addresses a paradox presented by the classical world: on the one hand the ancient Greeks and Romans were great innovators in many fields (think e.g. of democracy, rational medicine and science or the arts); on the other hand, they always seemed to be looking backwards, revering their traditions and ancestors and adverse to novelty and revolution: they were “in the grip of the past” (Van Groningen). Modern studies have emphasized either the traditionalism of classical civilization or, conversely, its innovative character. The Dutch program starts from the assumption that, far from presenting an anomaly, these two sides really should be studied as hanging together. For an innovation to be acceptable and successful it needs to be anchored in the known and familiar. Hence the title of the program: ‘Anchoring Innovation.’

Our symposium is designed to learn about this project and see how its theoretical frame might be co-opted by early Christian studies and also refined by the new social and intellectual phenomena of Christianity, and the insights of theologians and historians of theology. A long-standing set of questions in patristic studies, of course, relates to how Christianity adapted ideas and forms of life from the surrounding Greco-Roman world. We hope that the emphasis on mechanisms of ‘anchoring’ might provide a useful framework to extend this scholarship and allow it to speak in new ways to other areas of the humanities.

The confirmed speakers for the event are as follows:

  • Teun Tieleman (Universiteit Utrecht), “Anchoring Innovation in Ancient Medicine: The Case of Human Anatomy”
  • Scott Johnson (University of Oklahoma), “Early Syriac as a Tradition Apart: Exceptionalism and Christian Innovation”
  • Han Baltussen (University of Adelaide), “A War of Words in the Fourth Century CE? Eunapius on the Christians”
  • David Runia (ACU/University of Melbourne), “The Use of Ancient Doxography in the Apologetic and Polemical Writings of the Church Fathers”
  • Michael Champion (ACU), “Passions for Learning in Early Asceticism”
  • Matthew R. Crawford (ACU), “Anchoring Contemporary Deviance in a Primordial Past: Demonology in the Schools of Justin and Tatian”
  • Dawn LaValle Norman (ACU), “The Role of Women in Late Ancient Dialogues”
  • Jonathan Zecher (ACU), “The Invention of Tradition in Byzantium”

Attendance at the event is open to all and is free, but registration is required. We also welcome paper proposals that relate to the theme of our symposium. The form to register for the symposium and submit an abstract for consideration is below. Registration closes on 15 July and those who have submitted paper proposals will receive a response to their proposal by 17 July. Send questions or comments to

Download a flyer here.

If you would like to attend or submit a paper for this symposium, please fill in the form below. Registrations close 15 July.



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