Mark Letteney, a graduate student in the Department of Religion, received funding from the Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity to attend the 29th International Congress of Papyrology in Lecce, Italy, where he listened to new research and shared his own work with colleagues in the field of manuscript studies. A paper presented at the conference alerted him to a new piece that has since come to form the center of a dissertation chapter.
Letteney’s dissertation, titled “Christianizing Knowledge,” re-describes the rise of Christianity not just as a change in what ancient people believe, but in how ancient people believe. As described by Letteney:
I start first with a survey, showing broad epistemic diversity among ancient Christians in the period before the Nicene controversy. I then show how one particular group of Christians devised a new way of making arguments in response to an almost impossibly complex theological argument, early in the fourth century. When this peculiar group of Christians came to political power in the late fourth century, the structure of knowledge that they devised to answer theological questions began to appear in legal texts, in medical tractates, in historical accounts, and even within the ancient genre of miscellany. Manuscripts of these texts, too, changed dramatically. All of these changes are evidence of the proliferation of a Christianized structure of knowledge through the culture, but none are evidence of the faith of particular people. The work describes, as I have put it, ‘Christianization beyond a Sunday morning headcount.’ I show how imperial Christianity inflected the production of truth in domains that have nothing to do with theology.