Sarah Rollens

On top of their regular coursework, many CSR students are conducting exciting and original research in collaboration with faculty. Doctoral candidate Sarah Rollens, for example, pictured,  is one of several students of early Christianity doing papyrus research with John Kloppenborg, as part of a project whose goal is to produce a papyrological commentary on the Synoptic parables. The team will assemble contemporary documentary papyri, as opposed to literary papyri, that provide contextual information about the situations and concepts in the parables. Rollens’s role is to accumulate papyri that are related to the ancient legal system, as pre-supposed in Lk 12:58–59 // Mt 5:25–26, among other places in the Synoptic tradition.

One way to do this, she explains, is to search for papyri that contain Greek vocabulary terms that would be common in ancient legal documents; another way is to delineate conceptual domains (e.g., crime, legal petitions, or surety) that might point to helpful contextual material. These vocabulary items and conceptual domains are used to search for specific papyri in the archives. There are four main sources to search for these papyri:  (1) the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS), an online database; (2) Heidelberg Gesamtverzeichnis, a German online archive; (3) the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) CD-ROM of Greek Documentary Texts; and 4) the papyri collection of Robarts Library.

The research requires considerable language skill: although some databases are in English or provide English translations of papyri, the Heidelberg Gesamtverzeichnis database, for example, requires one to enter search terms in German, papyrus editions in Robarts may be published in French, German, or Italian, and the PHI collection must be searched using ancient Greek. Rollens writes, “This research has been useful in helping me clarify my own project. I am interested in analyzing the rhetorical strategies of the Q document (a source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke), and by looking at these papyri, I have been able to see that the authors of Q share some of the same attitudes about the socio-economic world and presuppose some of the same situations as people represented in the papyri.”

CSR students with Prof. John Kloppenborg in Israel

Rollens is also one of five CSR students (including  Nicholas Schonhoffer, Jade Weimer, Callie Callon, and Brigidda Zapata) accompanying Kloppenborg this summer to Israel to dig at Bethsaida-Julias. They will dig at a site at the top of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and then spend a week in Jerusalem examining archaeology there. Says Rollens, “I am really looking forward to it! The dig at Bethsaida, which is located on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee, will be especially interesting. Although Bethsaida is mentioned in biblical texts, it’s also important because it might yield information about social and economic activities in ancient Palestine. This is particularly exciting for me because a large part of my MA thesis (at University of Alberta) focused on urban-rural relations in first-century Galilee and dealt with villages that were only a few kilometers from Bethsaida.”

Doctoral candidate Aldea Mulhern has recently completed a research assistantship on new comparativism in the study of religion, together with Reid Locklin, with support from the University of St. Michael’s College Presi-dent’s Research Fund. While exploring the history of the study of religion and critiques of the category of religion, the project focuses on the use and misuse of comparison since the 1980s (oft conceived of as ‘post-Eliadean’). The work of Jonathan Z Smith on comparison has been central, as is the conversation taking place in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion among comparativists like William Paden, Robert Segal, and Jeppe Jensen, and their respondents and critics, including our own Marsha Hewitt and Donald Wiebe. “This project has allowed me to begin to deepen my knowledge of my field by mapping questions of theory, method, and knowledge production that are central to the academic study of religion,” Mulhern comments, “and it builds directly on the groundwork laid in graduate classes in method and theory at the Centre.”

MA student Raj Balkaran is working on a project spearheaded by Walter Dorn, Associate Professor of Defense Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College. Dorn teaches officers in the fields of arms control, peace operations and international security, and his project compares justifications of warfare promoted in religious texts of major world traditions. Balkaran’s role was to survey Hindu texts, identifying relevant passages. He writes, “This project complements my own academic interests in the ethics of violence in the Hindu epic Ramayana. So rich was the epic in its discourse on war and peace that we decided to publish our findings separately. I am thus working on a paper entitled ‘Valour and Virtue in the Valmiki Ramayana: Western Just War Criteria Prefigured in an Ancient Indian Epic.’”

Doctoral candidate Matt King spent the spring in Tibet with Professor Frances Garrett as part of her SSHRC Image, Text, Sound and Technology research project on “Interpreting Visual Representations of Tibetan Ritual.” A team of several CSR students (including King and MA students Barbara Hazelton and Andrew Erlich) is working with Tibetans in Toronto and Tibet to develop a cross-cultural collaborative model for the interpretation of visual media. With case-studies focused on footage of a major medical empowerment ritual and a Western Tibetan wedding, the project is examining how new technologies may facilitate the application of theoretical models in visual studies to video archives. King writes, “I’m excited not only to access diverse Tibetan perspectives on these ritual performances, but also to explore how a digital interface which simultaneously supports multiple interpretations of a ritual event (from participants, local people, outside observers, Tibetologists, foreign experts, etc.) draws into question the idea of an ‘expert’ and the validity of a single scholarly interpretation.” King missed being in the epicentre of the dramatic earthquake in Yushu, Western China, by one day – read more at Matt King’s Experience of the Yushu Earthquake.

Nick Field at Wutai Shan in China

Religion major (and now CSR MA student) Nicholas Field has also worked as an RA for Frances Garrett. About this experience, he writes, “There are many important skills that you don’t learn in the classroom. While I’ll admit that manuscript comparison and compiling scholarly databases may not be critical skills for most people, I couldn’t be an aspiring Tibetologist without them! Working as an RA has helped me develop many skills I now take for granted. Among them are Tibetan language skills (obviously) and learning to access Tibetan-language resources (not so obviously), analyzing video footage of Tibetan rituals, preparing Tibetan texts for online preservation, and learning to navigate the labyrinth of citations and  bibliographies common in the study of religion. I’ve come to learn a bit about how academics do research, and to appreciate the amount of effort even a modest article requires. Just as importantly, I’ve become familiar with the recurring names of the field (vague yet powerful beings with names like Tucci, Cabezon and Sharf) and the recurring faces around the department. The faculty and grad students are friendly, approachable people with much humble and human advice, and I never would have made these connections without my research position.” Read more about Nick’s summer at Summer Study in China.