Those Who Gain Understanding

The Regensburg Hub of Research beyond the Biblical Canon
Author: twa,

Talking donkeys and obedient bugs, flying magicians and grim pirates: “Why shouldn’t theology be allowed to be entertaining?” says Tobias Nicklas with a smile.  And why shouldn’t it be possible to transfer theological findings on apocryphal writings into today’s reality? They might be able to support an understanding of the nature of conflicts—for instance, in the Middle East. Tobias Nicklas, spiritus rector of the Centre of Advanced Studies Beyond Canon_ at the University of Regensburg, speaks very optimistically about this potential. But more on that shortly.

Narratives affect perceptions. A prominent example of this is the Middle East. The picture shows the Western Wall of Temple Square and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The martyrdom of Peter. Painting in an Ethiopian Orthodox Church at the Monastery Ura Kidane Mehiret, Zege Peninsula, Lake Tana.

Global Cooperation

Nicklas is a passionate theologian and distinguished researcher who, together with his co-directors and colleagues Harald Buchinger and Andreas Merkt, established a worldwide network on traditions and their functions in the many diverse contexts of religious life. From Berlin to Boston, from Texas to Jerusalem, from Vienna to Mendoza—Beyond Canon_ research collaborations have taken on a global scale.

Fellows at Beyond Canon_ focus on literary traditions beyond the biblical canon—on their diverse, often material forms of expression and origins in “lived” and “popular” religion, and on their underestimated significance in the ritual life of churches. The concept of the “intellectual space of late antiquity” is thereby expanded. The discourse space also includes things and practices.

  • Reading Christian Apocrypha means discovering unexpected sides of ancient Christianity and the ‘lived religion(s)’ connected to it.
    Prof. Dr. Tobias Nicklas, Director General of Beyond Canon_ and Chair for Exegesis and Hermeneutics of the New Testament, University of Regensburg
  • Through the cooperation of established and young scholars, our Centre offers the best career opportunities for young researchers.
    Dr. Stephanie Hallinger, Academic Coordinator of Beyond Canon_, University of Regensburg
  • Extracanonical traditions are expressed and shaped by rituals. Their performance betrays their dynamic vitality.
    Prof. Dr. Harald Buchinger, Director of Beyond Canon_ and Chair for Liturgical Science, University of Regensburg
  • Apocryphal traditions? Intriguing like flying buttresses. Supporting the sacred structures from outside. But sometimes also hiding demons.
    Prof. Dr. Andreas Merkt, Director of Beyond Canon_ and Chair for Early Christian and Patristic Studies, University of Regensburg

The approach is interdisciplinary—the Centre’s fellows come from various research backgrounds, such as religious studies, classics, history, or archaeology. This interdisciplinary approach not only promises insights into the rather implicit mechanisms of religious communication and the making of theological knowledge, but could also make an innovative contribution to general questions of canonical processes and alternative authorities as they are explored in the cultural sciences and humanities.

  • …is the only Center for Advanced Studies at a Theological Faculty in Germany. It opened in 2018 and offers a worldwide network of more than 180 scholars at all career stages.
  • Fellows of the Centre for Advanced Studies Beyond Canon_ at the University of Regensburg come from all over the world.
  • At the Regensburg Centre, international conferences, meetings, and junior fellows’ workshops take place. Fellow Janet Spittler (speaking), University of Virginia, is conducting research at the UR for the fourth time.
  • Competing memory landscapes shape the Middle East. Jerusalem is in the limelight. This picture shows Haram al-Sharif with Dome of the Rock, viewed from the window of Al’Omariyyeh College, the former Antonia fortress, in Jerusalem.
  • Fresco dating to the fifth or sixth century AD from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesos (Izmir Province, Turkey), depicting Paul and Thekla. Tales about Thekla enabled women to take on roles that some biblical texts actually refused to allow them.
  • Manuscript from Ethiopia, depicting St. George. A wide range of devotions, traditions, and prayers honoring him have emerged throughout the centuries.
  • Liturgical celebrations as a starting point for research: Christmas in Lalibela, at the UNESCO-listed rock-hewn churches—a testimony to Ethiopia’s early Christianity, and still a place of pilgrimage today.

Junior Fellows Welcome!

Since the Centre’s founding in 2018, more than 70 conferences and workshops have taken place, and around 150 scholars are now in touch with the Centre and with each other as a result of the Centre’s activities. Stephanie Hallinger, the Centre’s academic coordinator, with a background in medieval studies, art history, and journalism, holds the threads together. Together with a committed team, she ensures an efficient workflow, supports editing publications, and organizes events. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” smiles the mom of Paula and Korbinian.

The Center’s team at work: Marko Jovanović and his daughter Sofia.
Most junior fellows of Beyond Canon_ Paula and Korbinian.

Stephanie particularly supports the Centre’s international fellows. Among them is Mari Mamyan, an early-career scientist who moved from Yerevan to Regensburg. She particularly enjoys the lively exchange with internationally renowned scholars. Currently, Mari is working on an English edition of the Armenian Infancy Gospel, of which she just recently discovered a second version. Staying with Beyond Canon_  in Regensburg is enhancing her research network—still a vital prerequisite for any international scientific career.

In Regensburg, the hub for the Centre’s fellows, scientific exchange didn’t stop during the pandemic. For the time being, many events, like the regular fellows’ brunch or workshops, take place in the virtual world. Beyond Canon_ fellows stay in touch with each other, and there are plenty of meetings and discussions. English—the lingua franca within the Centre—can be heard from each office, and if a break from virtual exchange is needed, the steaming coffee machine shows the way. Need written inspiration? One of the most modern university libraries in Germany is just a five-minute-stroll away.

Meet the Team—We’re Part of Beyond Canon_

  • Predrag Bukovec’s habilitation project at the University of Regensburg explores the origin of the anointing of baptism.

    Getting in touch with so many members of the international scientific community was an amazing experience. Beyond Canon_ and my research stay in Bavaria considerably enriched my scientific career.
    Assistant Professor Dr. Dr. Predrag Bukovec, KU Linz, Austria
  • Daniel Galadza's area of focus is early and Eastern Christian liturgy. He faces challenges and opportunities by being both an academic theologian and a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church.

    The opportunity to conduct my research alongside renowned scholars beyond my field of specialization, provokes an examination of topics I might not have considered otherwise
    Daniel Galadza, PhD, researcher, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Mari Mamyan is a Junior Fellow at Beyond Canon_․ She previously studied and conducted research at the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (or Matenadaran) in Yerevan. Her main research interest is the Armenian Apocrypha.

    The excellent and professional work team combined with the friendly atmosphere makes the Beyond Canon_ Centre an ideal place for studying Apocrypha.
    Mari Mamyan, PhD, researcher, University of Regensburg, Germany

Apocrypha Transferred

What do apocryphal traditions mean for each of us? Apocrypha refer in very different ways to the narratives of the Bible—its characters, the basic structures of its plot or decisive motifs, and forms of biblical texts—that were not included in the Bible. In addition to continuing, updating, or even taking a position against biblical texts, they can become part of meaningful narratives. Since ancient times, biblical texts, as well as the motifs and characters associated with them, have formed part of the fundamental narratives that find their way into the cultural memory of groups and societies.

“Narratives influence our memory landscapes—interpreted spaces—that make it possible to perceive, for instance, Jerusalem as a ‘Holy City,’” says Tobias Nicklas, taking the Middle East example further. “Where political solutions really want to lead to peace, they have to try to understand these narratives.”

Centers for Advanced Studies

  • are special places for research in the humanities and social sciences
  • are funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG)
  • enable particularly distinguished researchers to collaborate for the purposes of further developing their research topic in the humanities and social sciences in a certain location
  • have the objective to tackle a topic so broadly defined that it ties into existing interests and strengths at the site, while remaining capable of providing a framework for the integration of different individual research concepts
  • centers may achieve their specific profiles and attractiveness by, in particular, deliberately adopting comparatively open-ended approaches or a decidedly experimental character.
Late antique Rome: See you at Beyond Canon_ Summer School 2021, hopefully in Italy!

From a purely geographical point of view, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem may simply be a place the size of a football field. “But it is the aspects of the cultural memory of different groups that struggle for interpretative sovereignty, refer to the Bible and apocryphal traditions, and develop their narratives not with each other but against each other that make it a key location in the Middle East conflict.” And it is not only about Jerusalem, Tobias Nicklas adds: “Not only in Jerusalem itself, but also in all of Israel, different, partly overlapping, partly competing memory landscapes stand side by side and against each other.” Plenty of room for further research...

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