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Why did the early Christian movement survive in antiquity?
What was distinctive about it – religiously, socially, culturally?
Why did it become attractive for different actors from virtually all social classes and ethnicities in the Roman Empire?

Why was it so off-putting to others? How were the individual Christ groups embedded in the urban centers of antiquity?

The ECCLESIAE project approaches these ancient and still fascinating questions with a new methodology, creating a vivid picture of the first Christ groups in main

centers of early Christianity: Antioch, Colossae, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, and Rome.


ECCLESIAE stands for “Early Christian Centers: Local Expressions, Social Identities & Actor Engagement”. The research project is located in the Theological Faculty at the University of Bern (Switzerland), associated with the Theological Faculty at the University of Bonn (Germany) and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).


The Goal

The main goal of the project ECCLESIAE is to provide a fresh social narrative of the first urban Christian communities. ECCLESIAE investigates the rise and expansion of Christianity as an urban phenomenon in the first decades of its existence. In a comparative city-by-city approach the project describes how the early Jesus movement and its religious, intellectual and social forms emerged in the “ecology” of the ancient Mediterranean world.

The project stands on the shoulders of giants such as Edward Gibbon and Adolf von Harnack. At the same time, it will profit from, and cooperate with, other current research projects, though its scope and methodology are distinctive: ECCLESIAE focuses on the formative stages of emergent Christianity, concentrates on its peculiarities as an urban phenomenon, directs its attention on six exemplary cities and their rural vicinities,

and applies a threefold repertory of methods: theories of emergence, social network analysis, and social identity theory. ECCLESIAE combines the descriptive task, i.e., model-based application of theories, with the historical task, i.e., exploration of literary evidence as well as the local documentary, numismatic, archeological, epigraphic and iconographic evidence.


Recent Impressions

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