Rice University Department of Religion

New Testament & Early Christian Studies

New Testament and Early Christian Studies at Rice is a Ph.D. area of concentration that covers the history, literature and material remains of the early Christians from their diverse beginnings to the fifth-century which codified an Augustinian prescriptive Christianity.  Traditionally this area of concentration is taught as church history, which reinscribes the narrative of the orthodox and is apologetic when it comes to issues like theology, Christology, women’s history, governance, and identity politics.

New Testament and Early Christian Studies at Rice, however, challenges this narrative by taking seriously all the literature and material remains of the early Christians, not just those of the orthodox or their account of religion.  We study early Christianity at Rice by focusing on (1) Christian literature as representative of diverse populations of local forms of Christianity (Judaean; Samarian; Asian; Antiochean; Mesopotamian; Roman; Egyptian; Carthaginian; Gallic); (2) Christian literature as inclusive, in all its richness and diversity, whether within or beyond the traditionally conceived Christian canon (New Testament; Nag Hammadi and other Gnostic literature; Apostolic Fathers; Christian Apocrypha; Patristic literature and other literature of late antiquity; Greco-Roman and other indigenous literatures); (3) Christian literature as indicative of identity construction and maintenance (discourse of heresy and orthodoxy; play of social memory; group dynamics; issues of authority); (4) Christian literature as generators of ideal lifestyle and practices (sexual dynamics; dietary practices; ethical formation); (5) Christian literature as interactive with religious experience, revelation and subjectivity; (6) Christian literature as reflective of diverse rituals and attitudes of worship.

Students in this concentration will become fluent in the history of the discipline, learning both traditional forms of interpretation (historical-critical) and newer methods (cognitive historical, cognitive linguistic, literary, philosophical, anthropological, and sociological).

Foundational Requirements for the Early Christian Studies Concentration:

  • RELI 616: Beginnings of Christianity Seminar (DeConick)
  • RELI 518: Gnosticism Seminar (DeConick)
  • RELI 549: Early Christian Controversies (DeConick)
  • RELI 506: Christianity and Late Antiquity (Clements)
  • Must pass proficiency language exam in Greek (Mackie-Classics) and Coptic (DeConick) before comprehensive exams; whether the student should also pass a proficiency language exam in Hebrew, Syriac and/or Latin will depend on the student’s chosen specialization and is determined on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Faculty Contacts: April DeConick, Niki Clements