Lively discussions at 2019 Manson Memorial Lecture

Last month (17 October), the 2019 outing for the Manson Memorial Lecture brought lively discussions on religion and sociology thanks to an engaging talk by Prof Andréas Dettwiler of the University of Geneva.

The professor of Theology gave a paper called ‘Pauline Churches as “Learning Spaces” – Colossians and Ephesians as a Test Case’.

He argued that Pauline communities of Christ-believers in the early ‘Post-Pauline’ period (ca. 60-90 CE) underwent a transformation from an initial ‘religion of conversion’ to a ‘religion of tradition’. This brought up some important shifts in self-identity, which Prof Dettwiller illustrated using the epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians. He argued that such necessitated a continuous effort to reinterpret their religious heritage in order to show its everyday relevance in a new historical context.

This took the form of several key questions, including: how and why should they remember their foundational religious experience; how should they interpret in a new way the symbolic world of the Christ-event in order to show its universal significance; how should they regard Paul, their most important teacher, present among the communities after his death only by way of his letters and, perhaps, his companions; and how should they act as communities of Christ-believers in their daily life, and should they interact within the wider cultural context of the Roman Empire?

Prof Dettwiler made a compelling case to support his argument, utilising a key text of phenomenological (or comprehensive) sociology and theories on space in the field of contemporary sociology. Unsurprisingly, this stimulating paper led to lively discussion which continued well into the reception afterwards.

TW Manson was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester from 1936 until his death in 1958. Manson's publications while Rylands Professor were highly influential to the extent that several works are still in print today. To that end, each October a distinguished New Testament scholar gives a lecture in New Testament studies in his memory.

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