Dr. William Gruen
My courses cover two overlapping concerns. First is the academic study of Christianity, including its origins in the ancient world. I ask students to read and consider evidence of ancient and late antique Christianity and imagine the authors and communities that produced and consumed these artifacts of the past. We then think about how these ancient roots have developed over 2,000 years into the wide variety of Christianities that exist in the world today.
My other teaching interest is wider, but related. In my comparative courses, I ask students to consider how we study human culture and religion. These classes are less interested in the “what” that describes particular religious beliefs and practices and more interested in how these beliefs and practices function in the lives of the adherents and their communities.
Through both types of class, I am particularly interested in challenging students to understand and analyze elements of diverse religious beliefs and practices to encourage careful analysis rather than judgment. By honing the skills necessary to consider religious traditions and worldviews that are not tied up in one’s own identity, students understand both the challenges and opportunities of engaging in a diverse world.
My current research project examines how ancient Christianities are misremembered and misinterpreted in source texts from antiquity. It is often the case that religious communities seek to domesticate the past by constructing narratives that imagine a world in which they are the logical outcome of history. When considering the texts and material remains of the past, we are often able to peel back the narrative scaffolding and consider a more nuanced version of the historical record.
I am particularly concerned with the processes of collection, preservation and destruction of textual traditions and material culture that can shed light on the priorities of cultural actors of the past. Additionally, my work considers how the necessarily incomplete record of the past that is available to us colors and/or clouds our interpretation of Christian development.
By using both comparative and interdisciplinary methods, I attempt to re-read ancient source materials with an eye towards tracing the trajectories of Christological and soteriological representations (that is, having to do with Jesus and the theology of salvation) that fell out of favor in the late antique period and still affect the telling of Christian narratives today.