Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean


Doctoral studies in this field focus primarily on the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, including those originating or developing in the civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, as well as studies of Judaism and Christianity in in light of the religions, cultures, and societies of the Roman Empire and the Near East in late antiquity (1st -5th centuries C.E.)

In approaching the study of the many religious traditions in this arc, students will be encouraged to use a variety of methodologies, attending especially to ritual studies, theological or meaning-making practices of ancient communities, gender analysis, and political, social, and economic contexts. The program trains students to gain facility with a variety of evidentiary sources, including material culture; literature; and archaeological, epigraphic, and papyrological materials. The program is predicated on the assumption that knowledge of the Greco-Roman world and the Near East is essential to the study of each of these religious traditions. For instance, Judaism is essential for a full understanding of the history of Christianity, while a knowledge of Christianity is essential for a full understanding of the history of Judaism.

Requirement and Exams

The program includes the expectation of language competency most relevant to the religious culture of one's studies. For those focusing on ancient Greece or Rome, Greek or Latin is expected at the time of admission, as well as continued study of languages during the program. Advanced knowledge of Greek or Hebrew is required for the study of Christianity or Judaism.


In their coursework students will be expected to take at least two courses on the history of the religions, cultures and societies of the Mediterranean world of late antiquity, and at least two courses that explore the interaction of Judaism and Christianity during the same period. Before taking the general examinations, students must demonstrate knowledge of the other language (Greek or Hebrew) at the intermediate level or above; as well as reading knowledge of two modern research languages (typically German and French). A third ancient language where relevant to the student’s interests (e.g. Latin, Coptic, Syriac) is highly recommended. The comprehensive examination will be tailored for each student, but the basic format is the same for all:

  • First exam - theories and methods in the study of religion
  • Second exam - history of Jews and Judaism, Christians and Christianity in the Mediterranean world of late antiquity
  • Third exam - translation and interpretation of ancient literary texts and other materials
  • Fourth exam - area of specialization, usually related broadly to the subject matter of the proposed dissertation

Recent and current dissertation topics include:

  • Ecclesia Laus Corinthiensis: Negotiating Ethnicity under Empire
  • Carnal Resurrection: Sexuality and Sexual Difference in Early Christianity
  • Economics and Gender: The Socioeconomic Religious Status of Women in Asia Minor in the First Two Centuries of the Common Era
  • Ekklesia: 1. Corinthians in the Context of Ancient Democratic Discourse
  • The Power of Silence: The Empty Temple Mount in Late Antique Jerusalem

Affiliated Faculty

Shaye J.D. Cohen

Shaye J.D. Cohen

Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy
ON LEAVE Spring 2023
John Duffy

John Duffy

Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Philology and Literature, Emeritus
Charles M. Stang

Charles M. Stang

Professor of Early Christian Thought
Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions
D. Andrew Teeter

D. Andrew Teeter

Professor of Hebrew Bible (HDS)
ON LEAVE Fall & Spring 2022-2023