Antiquity is more than just a bygone era. Rather, one can speak of “past presences” (Eduard Schwartz). For example, we live in a modern world of many religions, which, in many ways can be compared to the situation in ancient Rome: Christianity exists within the context of other religions and non-religious world views and lifestyles that compete against each other for capital and social influence. Various other modern day phenomena such as intensifying religiosity beyond the boundaries of traditional religious institutions, symptoms of crises surrounding a transformation of the classical economic order, resulting in devaluation and diminishing commitments to public interests along with the retreat to individual-focused aspirations in life can be compared with both the high and late Roman period – despite all the differences associated with specific developments. Thus, it is worthwhile to study this history closely in a way that uses this knowledge to provide a compass for us in the present. - For this reason, the Institute for Early Christianity in Berlin has long focused on the study of the first seven centuries of this religion, with an eye for present perspectives while also taking into consideration the autonomy of the past with respect to all the ways in which it is exploited for contemporary interests. The institute is part of the Faculty of Theology of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and therefore engages in the academic instruction and joint (research) projects conducted by this institution. Additionally, the institute collaborates with several other partners inside and outside of the university.
In addition to the regular courses offered throughout the semester, the various faculty members from the institute periodically offer a variety of scholarly platforms such as field trips, conferences and lectures. Apart from strictly professional scientific publications, works intended for a wider public are frequently presented as well, including print publications and other media (radio, internet and television).
The Berlin Institute of Early Christianity in Berlin, which specialises in what is traditionally referred to as "early ecclesiastical history" or "Patristics", studies all sorts of historical artefacts. This involves examining texts and archaeological relics as well as using the wealth of available historiographical methods to reconstruct the past. Modern intellectual history approaches are employed in addition to those involving the history of mentalities, for example. The institute is equally interested in gender studies topics and historico-philosophical debates. The history of Early Christianity is studied both in its theological context and as a discipline of historiography.
The institute has always been (and presumably will continue to be) shaped by the people who have studied and taught Early Christianity there in the past. Pioneering up to the present day: the first independent scholar in the field, August Neander (1789-1850), who trenchantly contrasted an approach to Early Christianity which concentrated on the history of piety with an absolutism in the history of dogmas and theology; Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), who strictly separated Early Christianity from the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth while at the same time introducing his research in virtually industrial forms in the Berliner Kirchenväterausgabe publication; and finally, Hans Lietzmann (1875-1942), who built upon the work of his predecessor by also including archaeology and liturgy and condensed his research into an intriguing literary synthesis, The History of the Early Church (1932-1944; 6th edition, 1999).
The institute publishes series with a long legacy: the Griechischen Christlichen Schriftstellers and Texte und Untersuchungen zur altchristlichen Literatur by Harnack; the Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte by Lietzmann along with other, more recent series such as Studien zu Antike und Christentum and the Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum. The Theologische Literaturzeitung and the encyclopedias Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart as well as the Brill Encyclopaedia of Early Christianity (currently in preliminary stages) also receive stewardship from the relevant departments. - Current publications from the institute examine early Christian Apocrypha, more specialised topics in the field and document conferences organised by the institute. Master directories sorted by author are available on the web pages of the faculty members.
A field as vast as Early Christianity in terms of its content and the span of time it covers can only be studied collaboratively with several partners in Berlin, around Germany and in many other places. - There are longstanding, close relationships with colleagues and institutions in Bologna, Jerusalem, Oslo and Oxford. In addition, the chair is involved in various joint research projects and interdisciplinary networks, including in Berlin.