Hellenistic Religious History

University tradition

The Department of Hellenistic Religious History at the Institute for Special Research (IfS) continues a long tradition of religious history research and teaching at the University of Göttingen and, in particular, at the Theological Faculty. Generations of renowned academics have secured an international reputation for the University as a nucleus of innovative and sustainable approaches to research in this field.

The foundation of this department connects with the tradition of interdisciplinary academic study of the religious history of Late Antiquity, which was greatly influenced by Wilhelm Bousset, Carsten Colpe and Gernot Wießner. This tradition supplements and expands the theological and religious studies profiles of the present faculty.

Research Profile

The term "Hellenism" comes from Judaism where, in its struggle for independence against the pressure to assimilate Greek culture, it was understood to refer to a linguistic, cultural and social unit. Johann Gustav Droysen (1808-1884) used the term to denote the period of Greco-Macedonian imperialism which occurred between the conquests of Alexander the Great and the victory of Rome. Today, the term and the attribute (Hellenistic) are used in a broader sense to denote an era influenced by the Greek spirit. It use has also been extended to include the time of the Roman Empire.
The vast geographical area that embraced Hellenistic culture extends from Greece to India, from the Black Sea to Egypt. In contrast to Gustav Droysen’s time, it is necessary today to form an interdisciplinary collaboration of various disciplines which collates its research, in order to deal adequately with this wide field. The fusion of Greek culture with the respective local influences gives the Hellenistic period its special character. In this period Greek became a kind of universal language and Greek philosophy gained international prominence. At the same time, although many local and regional impulses seem at first glance to have fused to a unified religious and cultural conglomerate, a closer examination reveals them in fact to be quite disparate parts.
In this world the emergence of ancient Judaism and - connected but quite distinctive - the spread of Christianity take place. Koiné Greek provided conditions and possibilities for a transfer of religious and philosophical ideas and cultural achievements over wide areas of the Hellenized world. Early Christian writings, which were written in Greek, were therefore given a forum that favoured the spread of the religion and its amalgamation with other contemporary religious movements.

The connection of the Department of Hellenistic Religious History with the Institute for New Testament Studies furthers the exploration of the cultural and intellectual context of early Christianity. The necessarily interdisciplinary nature of the research in this department is guaranteed by the fact that Prof. Dr. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (Classical Philology), Prof. Dr. Andreas Grünschloß (Religious Studies), Prof. Dr. Reinhard Gregor Kratz (Old Testament), Prof. Dr. Florian Wilk (New Testament) and Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold (New Testament and Hellenist) are all involved in the organisation of the conceptual and academic work in the department. The interdisciplinary nature of the content is also guaranteed not least by the SAPERE project (Sta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam REligionemque pertinentia, "Writings of Late Antiquity on ethical and religious issues”), which is a focus of the department. In this publishing enterprise an international and interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers working in intensive communication with each other has, over a period of several years, already edited, translated, prefaced, annotated and provided with critical essays philosophical and religious texts of Imperial Rome.
The work of the department is coordinated by a part-time co-worker.