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Religion and power in the Eastern Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages

Discover how the interaction between political power and Christianity, Judaism, Early Islam, and other religious currents shaped cultural and religious identities in the broader Eastern Mediterranean

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CIVIS focus area
Society, culture, heritage
Open to
  • Bachelor's
Field of studies
  • Social Science and humanities
Course dates
March - July 2022

This blended mobility CIVIS course aims to familiarise Bachelor's students with the transformation of Christianity and the broader religious landscape after the 4th century.

During the course, Professors and students will analyse the relation of this transformation with the then refurbished model of a Christian empire. There will be a focus on the impact of this process on the emergence of the so-called Byzantine Christianity in the East, the native peripheral Christianity in Asia (Syria, Armenia) and Africa (Coptic, Ethiopic, Nubian Christians), as well as the transformation of the broader religious landscape concerning Judaism, “marginal” religious currents such as Gnosticism and apocalypticism.

Finally, the course will highlight the consequences of the addressed topics to Early Islam and its millennial features during the Meccan period.

Main topics addressed

The main topics addressed during this course will be the following:

  • The concept of the Christian emperor and his politics after the turbulations from the 4th to 6th century (laws against “heresies” and Jews, councils like Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc.)
  • The plurality of the culture of this period, shaped by Christian and non-Christian groups, that threatened the emperors’ authority and led to a multi-faceted and polycentric culture in the 6th century
  • The restructuring of the relations between religion and political power after the 7th century in the emergence of a Christian “Romanitas” in the Chalcedonian East and the concept of a “sacred centre” in Constantinople
  • The impact of the above-mentioned restructuring on the structures and the cult of the Christian Church in the East
  • The shaping of the peripheral non-Chalcedonian Christianity in Asia (Syriac and Armenian Christianity) and Africa (Coptic, Nubian, and Ethiopian Christians)
  • The relations between various dominant religious systems as well as between dominant religious structures and contemporaneous religious movements in the margins since these marginals movements (deemed as “heretical”) created a crucial formative factor of the religious landscape
  • The study of early Islam (enabled by the dramatic advances in the field of Qur’anic studies) from the viewpoint of the contrast between the inner-worldly and micro-millennial focus of the Meccan phase, on the one hand, and its swift shift towards the political and macro-millennial attitudes of the Medinan phase, on the other
  • The study of Judaism regarding a clear shift to later Babylonian rabbinic views from the earlier and decidedly apolitical attitudes of Palestinian forms of rabbinic Judaism that emerged in the aftermath of the unsuccessful revolts against Rome. These views were more open towards the political compromises necessary for any negotiation of the politics of the Sasanian Empire in which they resided

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the students will:

  • Be familiar with a concept of Late Antiquity that crosses the border of the Roman Empire and the classical periodization of history
  • Be informed about some of the most characteristic religious movements and ideas of the margins, such as “Gnosticism”, Manichaeism, but also apocalyptic and chiliastic groups with a special focus on their impact on the religious history of the Eastern Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages
  • Be familiar with the most important primary literature about these movements and their opponents and the debates, whereby aspects of the construction of the “Other” will be particularly highlighted
  • Comprehend the complex interplay of non-Chalcedonian traditions and the Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Empires
  • Understand the political and cultural shifts that accompanied the Meccan and Medinan phases of the Qur’anic community and how Islam’s Late Antique and Qur’anic heritage shaped Islamic politics up to Abbasid times

Students will be able to: 

  • Analyse important texts concerning religion and power in Late Antiquity
  • Contextualise texts and information about inner-Christian debates/controversies
  • Describe the process of political and cultural “Christianisation” of the Roman Empire
  • Discuss the most essential scholarly strategies for the 4th to 6th centuries
  • Recognise the structural evolution of Christianity in the East after the end of Late Antiquity
  • Identify essential events and persons related to Eastern Christianity after the 6th century
  • Analyse the influence of Christianity on the creation of political norms, functions, and ideology in a Christian Empire (Byzantium, Nubia, Armenia)
  • Assess the impact of centralized political power on aspects of medieval Christianity
  • Locate rabbinic and non-rabbinic Jewish traditions within the social fibre of the respective Empires



Ivory comb handle depicting the Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886-912) crowned by the Virgin Mary, from the Bode-Museum in Berlin, Germany.
Photo credit: Dimitrios Moschos. 
Detail of an apsis mosaic from 545 (glass and natural stone mosaics ) depicting victorious Christ taken from the church of San Michele in Africisco of Ravenna, from the Bode-Museum in Berlin, Germany. Photo credit: Dimitrios Moschos.
Format: Blended  Location of physical mobility: Greece, Athens
Dates: March-July 2022 Language: English (B2) or German (B2)*
ECTS: 7,5* N° of CIVIS scholarships: 14
Contact: Dimitrios

This CIVIS course is organised in two parts:

  • From March to June, seminar sessions will be held in rotation in Tübingen, Athens, and Stockholm. Students that are not residing in each respective hosting city will attend these sessions online.
  • In the first week of July 2022, a field trip will be organised in Athens. Selected students will be supported by a grant for physical mobility. This second part of the course is organised in plenary sessions that will take place in actual sites connected with the object of the course (late antique religious sites, museums, and monasteries in Attika). During these sessions, the assigned students will present their presentations.

* The recognition of ECTS depends on your home university. 

* The course is offered primarily in English. It can be offered in German as an alternative only if all the participants are German-speaking (B2).


Applicants should be Bachelor's students at one of the CIVIS member universities, enrolled in or having a strong interest in the following fields of studies:  Theology, Religious Studies, History, Cultural Studies, or related. 

A B2 level in English (or German) is required.

Application process

Applicants should send their CV, a cover letter (max 500 words) and a transcript of records from their home university by 15 December 2021 to

Selected students will be notified on 30 January 2022.


The participants will be evaluated after regular attendance and active involvement in presentations during the second part of the course or based on the writing of short essays at the end of the course.

The evaluation criteria are more specifically the following: 

  • Regular attendance of the sessions
  • Active participation in the Seminar discussion and in-depth understanding of the relevant bibliography which will be given
  • Well documented presentation of an assigned topic or successful answers to relevant questions in a written essay at the end of the course

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This course will be given by four Professors specialised in aspects of the religious history of the Eastern Mediterranean at the University of Stockholm, the University of Tübingen and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Volker Drecoll

Volker Drecoll is Professor of Church History with a focus on the old church and patristic theology at the Theological Faculty of the University of Tübingen. He is Director of the DFG funded Basilius-Project and one of the editors of the Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity.

Emmanouela Grypeou

Emmanouela Grypeou is Associate Professor, Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies at Stockholm University. She is a specialist of Gnosticism in the early Church history and Ancient Judaism, of the relations of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam and with rabbinic Judaism and aspects of apocalypticism and eschatology in the early post-Islamic Christian literature.

Dimitrios Moschos

Dimitrios Moschos is Professor of Church History at the Department of Theology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and a Visiting Professor (Privatdozent) at the Theological Faculty of Rostock, specialised in Late Antique and Byzantine Christianity. He is the Director of the Oriental Christianity Research Laboratory.

Holger Zellentin

Holger Zellentin is Professor of Religion (Jewish Studies) at the Theological Faculty of the University of Tübingen. He is an award-winning scholar of Late Antiquity, with a focus on Talmudic and Qur’anic studies. He combines literary, legal, and historical approaches to understand shared and diverging patterns within Jewish, Christian, and early Islamic cultural traditions. He has been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize (2014) and he is currently Director of the ERC-Project “The Qur‘an as a Source for Late Antiquity”.