The research group The Christian Orient studies, with a background in New Testament studies and early Church History, its subject field from a philological, theological and cultural perspective.
Below we will (I) define the research area, (II) point out our basis in traditions at Aarhus University, and (III) define the objectives of the research group’s work.
In an international context, the concept of “the Christian Orient” covers a relatively well-defined research area. Nevertheless, the concept has been understood in different ways, as it sometimes includes Byzantine Studies and Church Slavonic literature, other times not. We will follow the middle road, since we are dealing with Byzantine Studies, but not with the Slavic Orthodox people’s language and history.
As for geography and language, we define the Christian Orient as the ancient Eastern Christian cultural area, which with its basis in Greek also created literatures in especially Coptic, Old Nubian, Geez, Amharic, Christian-Palestinian Aramaic, Syriac, Christian Arabic, Armenian and Georgian. To a lesser extent, other languages such as Middle Persian, Sogdian, Old Turkic and Chinese have been used in the Christian Orient, for instance in the texts from the Church of the East (the Nestorian).
Chronologically, our research area stretches, in principle, from the 1st century AD until today with an emphasis on Antiquity and Middle Ages. As to culture and politics, the Christian Orient was mainly embedded in the Roman Empire (the Greco-Roman, later the Byzantine, cultural area), partly in the Parthian and Sasanian Empires (and Axum, Armenia, the Georgian Iberia, etc.), and later the Islamic caliphate. When looking at Christianity, we find that texts from the “heretical” movements like Gnostics and Manichaeans, which arose during Christianity’s first three centuries, have been preserved in especially Coptic, which naturally makes them a part of our research area.
Most Christians who used the Oriental languages were united with the remaining Christian churches, until the Church of the East was confessionally dissociated due to the Nestorian controversy and the synod of Ephesus in 431, as were the Oriental Orthodox churches in Ethiopia, Nubia, Egypt, Syria and Armenia due to the dispute over the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Besides the Byzantine imperial church, however, there were still Oriental Christians who belonged to the Chalcedonians, e.g. the Melkite churches, the Georgian church and later the Maronites.
Within the defined areas and on a philological basis, we will work with literature, history, theology /religion and in general culture widely understood, involving all relevant disciplines.
We do not claim to cover the entire outlined research area that only indicates what in principle could be included in our context, but we would like to involve adjacent research areas, when appropriate. Our philological basis also entails the involvement of linguistic perspectives, which, along with our interest in understanding the continuity between the pre-Christian and Christian Orient, can make the work with languages like Ugaritic or Aramaic dialects particularly relevant, while working with Gnostic texts makes the involvement of Mandaean literature relevant.
The history of the Christian Orient is a natural part of the discipline Church History which is a part of the education and research in Theology in Aarhus. As regards the philological basis, we also build on agelong traditions from Aarhus University, and these should be upheld. The discipline Semitic Philology existed at the university from 1963 to 2005. The last professor of the discipline, Finn Ove Hvidberg-Hansen, is now a member of our group. Armenian studies were introduced by professor Henning Lehmann, who served from 1969 to 2004 and who is also a member of our group. Coptic studies were introduced by Søren Giversen (1928-2009), professor of New Testament studies 1974-1998.
Since 2005 courses in Semitic languages other than Hebrew and Arabic have continued to be taught, and courses have been offered in Coptic as well. Two higher doctoral degrees within the field of the Christian Orient have been awarded (Armenian: Henning Lehmann 1975, Coptic: Nils Arne Pedersen 1996) as well as two PhD degrees (Coptic: Jesper Hyldahl 2003, René Falkenberg 2010).