Flourishing in Early Christianity
An internationally collaborative, five-year project of the Biblical and Early Christian Studies Program in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry (2022–2026).
Achieving individual, social, and environmental flourishing is the global challenge of our age. The climate emergency threatens drastically to weaken the ecologies that sustain life. A global pandemic has placed serious stress on well-functioning government and social institutions and has laid bare inequalities that diminish well-being. Progress across the UN Sustainable Development Goals has been set back, and there are newly pressing questions about equitable access to resources for humans and other species. Contemporary movements for gender and racial justice highlight the fact that dominant visions of ‘flourishing’ can themselves be agents of discrimination, violence, and marginalisation. There is thus an urgent need to interrogate how various aspects of human experience, in interaction with wider systems and ecologies, contribute to or hinder well-being.
Flourishing in Early Christianity addresses these concerns from a fresh perspective by elucidating the complex and often contested views of flourishing found in ancient Christian sources. It offers new interpretations of those sources by engaging with research on flourishing from other fields, including psychology, philosophy, health humanities, and the social sciences, while also seeking to inform scholarship in these other disciplines by providing a robust set of historical case studies.
Studying flourishing in our period means grappling with how Christians creatively formulated visions of the good life in the face of significant challenges. Plagues, wars, mass migrations, climate change, political and economic collapse, and the disruption caused by major religious transitions such the emergence of Christianity alongside Judaism, the rise of Islam, and the eclipse of Greco-Roman cultic practices provide rich resources for study. Early Christian visions of the good life were refined and expressed in novel visual cultures and literary genres in diverse cultures and languages (e.g. Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic), and they were sustained by new civic, ecclesiastical, and imperial institutions. Our project promises an integrated historical, literary, and theological inquiry into the multi-faceted reality of human flourishing in ancient Christianity.
The project aims to:
- Understand how early Christians theorised flourishing and well-being across diverse literatures and cultural productions from the imperial period to the end of late antiquity.
- Relate Christian theories of flourishing to Greco-Roman (including Jewish) accounts and explore how distinctive early Christian ideas and practices resulted in new emphases or novel claims about the well-being of persons and the cosmos.
- Understand how theories of flourishing fostered and diminished the well-being of persons, societies, cultures, and the environment.
- Chart intersections of different domains of flourishing—of literature, art, culture, ideas, social practices, institutional forms, non-human environments—in our period.
- Apply new insights about flourishing derived from ancient sources to contemporary debates about human well-being in other fields, including positive psychology and the capability approach to human development.
To learn more about Flourishing in Early Christianity, continue reading about the Research Strands of the project, the People and Partners overseeing it, and the Events it is running.