Einar Thomassen

Former President of the EASR, has worked extensively on the Coptic manuscripts from Nag Hammadi, which among other things contain several important Valentinian texts, and he is co-editor of the book series Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies. His main area of research over the years has been Valentinianism, the most important variety of Christian ‘Gnosticism’ in Antiquity, which he regards as a distinct branch of Christianity, founded by Valentinus c. 150 CE and still alive at the end of the fourth century. The Valentinians were condemned as heretics by the theologians of mainstream Christianity.

Greco-Roman religion and the history of early Christianity are general research interests that cohere naturally with his specialised research. Another research interest is Islam, where Thomassen has previously worked, among other things, on Sufism and on the origins of the Qur’an and its Late Antique context. Finally, Thomassen has always taken an interest in comparative issues in the study of religion, both thematic and historical. In this area he is now looking at macro-historical processes in the light of cognitive psychology and the general theory of evolution.


Perspectives on the religious transformation of Late Antiquity

Late Antiquity saw fundamental changes in the structure of religion; from temple religion to congregation religion, from sacrificial cult to verbal forms of worship, from religion as practice to religion as “faith,” from many gods religion to single god religions. Religion came to be perceived in terms of “truth,” with “paganism” and “heresy” as its untrue others. From having been lodged in the life of ancient cities, religion now became part of supralocal socio-political structures. The lecture will attempt to extract from the massive amount of research that has been done on this period during the last decades some lessons of general interest for the history of religions, including the impact of extra-religious factors on religious processes and the historical contingency of certain entrenched categories in the discipline relating to “polytheistic” and “monotheistic” “religions”. And we shall in the process not fail to comment on the question of the “resilience” of some forms of religion and the lack of it in others.