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History Retold

A new book series edited by an Ursinus historian challenges a popular perception of early Christianity.

Maybe history can’t be erased. But it can be edited.

Susanna Throop, an associate professor of history, is one of four editors of a new book series, Christianities Before Modernity, published by MIP University Press, which rebukes the notion that early Christianity was a unified European religion before the 16th century.

“Its narratives have been hidden because of how scholars have written about the past,” says Throop, whose own research focuses on premodern Christianity.

In some ways, history as an academic discipline emerged in the 19th century, “when western European countries ran empires and the United States embraced the idea of a Manifest Destiny,” Throop says.

“The history of Christianity was thus influenced by narratives of empire and nationalism, which often depended upon stories of Europeans or Americans ‘bringing’ Christianity to purportedly ‘uncivilized’ others,” she notes.

The book series aims to showcase the untold stories of Christianity developing globally from the start.

The history of Christianity tends to be dominated by Eurocentric narratives, which Throop says tell a simple story that starts with Jesus, jumps ahead to the Romanization of Christianity, continues to the development of the Catholic Church and then the Protestant Reformation, and ends with the dispersal of Christianity to North and South America and Africa via European missionaries.

The books in the series rebuild the religious worlds of understudied peoples, detail the immediate spread of Christianity throughout Afro-Eurasia in its earliest centuries, and the simultaneous development of many different Christianities in different parts of the globe.

Throop is editing the series with Rabia Gregory, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri; Kathleen Kennedy, an associate professor of English at Penn State–Brandywine; and Charlene Villaseñor Black, a professor of Ibero-American art and Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA.

“There were Christians present along what we now think of as the Silk Road, so there are Christian documents written in the Chinese alphabet from 900,” Gregory says. “There is evidence of Christian populations in various parts of Africa; well-documented communities of Christians in parts of India, Pakistan, and Iran; and Christians in parts of the Middle East and north Africa under the rule of various Muslim leaders.”

The series’ interdisciplinary approach will weave together Christianity in history, literature, music, theater, folklore, art history, archaeology, religious studies, philosophy, gender studies, and other disciplines. 

The co-editors hope to publish three to five books per year, and books in the series will gain open access status—free on the internet—two years after publication. —By Ed Moorhouse

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