'Rome' in the Nineteenth-Century Protestant Imaginary: American Professors, Ancient 'Pagans,' and Early Christianity

Prof. Elizabeth Clark

The 2013-2014 Weltin Lecture in Early Christianity

In the minds of nineteenth-century professors of Christian history at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Union Seminary, the “paganism” of ancient Rome often served primarily as a foil for the glories of early Christianity.  Yet the presumed sexual immorality of ancient Rome and its reliance on slavery were used to explain why Christianity made little headway in dealing with these issues. Only at the turn of the twentieth century, did these American professors began to adopt a less apologetic approach to early Christianity.

Professor Elizabeth A. Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Professor of History at Duke University, is one of the world's most eminent scholars of early Christianity. She is the author of numerous books, including Women in the Early Church; Ascetic Piety and Women's Faith: Essays on Late Ancient Christianity; Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity; and History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn. Her most recent book, Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America, examines the influence of seminaries and their focus on advanced liberal studies as a way of exploring the history of American higher education.