The Project: A Brief Synopsis

Why did Christianity happen? Ever since the rise of the historical-critical study of Christian origins, scholars have attempted to identify reasons for the emergence and success of the early Christian movement. Among the aspects to which this success has been attributed have been the resurrection experiences of the first followers, miracles performed by Jesus and apostles, socio-political factors, organizational structures, and early Christians’ willingness to suffer martyrdom – to mention but a few. This project focuses on one explanatory factor which has largely been ignored by scholars: the role of ritual in the emergence of the movement.

The project, entitled “Ritual and the Emergence of Early Christian Religion: A Socio-Cognitive Analysis” (REECR), funded by the Academy of Finland for the period of 2013–2017, combines two cutting-edge approaches in Biblical Studies: (1) the application of ritual theory to ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and (2) the use of cognitive approaches in the study of biblical materials. Ritual has long been a neglected topic, especially in the study of Christian origins, but within the last few years of early Christianity have begun to show a renewed interest in the ritual life of early Christians and in the use of ritual theories. The cognitive science of religion is a new emerging field in the study of religion, which has already given rise to a number of novel theories of ritual. Important and timely questions include the following: What that is new do cognitive theories bring to the field of ritual theory? What is the explanatory power of these theories for the study of early Christian religion?