Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia


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Monasticism has played a major role in European history, especially for education and literature. Its emergence has, however, been seen as a break with classical education. On the basis of new discoveries and unresearched sources the program investigates how early monasticism can be understood in continuity with the paideia of Late Antiquity, in particular the philosophical schools.

Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert

Monasticism has been a decisive factor in the formation of Christian culture. With an emphasis on literacy and literature monasteries have been centres of education throughout the centuries. In spite of this, the role of early monasticism in the transmission and transformation of classical culture, has received little attention. Due to a focus on the West, and prejudices about illiteracy and anti-intellectualism in early Eastern monasticism, essential questions about early monastic education and its links to pagan school traditions, have not been asked.

Recent research has shown that teaching and literacy were important in early monasticism in Egypt and Palestine, and that there are strong links to pagan school traditions, both rhetorical and philosophical. With a focus on the Gaza region, we will study texts and other material on the basis of a theory of continuity with and transformation of the classical heritage. Within the program editions will be made of texts from the apophthegmata tradition in Greek, Syriac and Arabic. The apophthegmata, as well as texts by important monastic authors from the region, will be analyzed in relation to classical educational material and literary models with the help of a variety of perspectives and methods. Through seven different projects the program aims at giving a substantial contribution to our understanding of the emergence of Christian culture and modes of education and thus to the relation between Antiquity and Christianity.

The research program Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia is based at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University and directed by professor Samuel Rubenson. It gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of the  Bank of Sweden Tercenary Foundation.