About the discipline
Classics teaches the languages, literature, history and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome, subjects both impacted by and an influence on the growth of religions such as Christianity in the era.
Classics: Current debates about Christianity and the nature of faith reflect philosophies generated during this time by both Christians and non-Christians. Debates – and shifts in political power based on religion — continue to influence humans’ views of our place in the world, our current religious struggles, world geography, what it means to be human and what constitutes a virtuous life.
Studying the religion, mythology, philosophy, literature, language, history, politics, society, economics, technology, art and architecture of this period — Greece, Rome, Near East, North Africa and parts of Europe, from the 7th century B.C. to 600 A.D. — helps us to understand beliefs and events today.
Ancient philosophy: Ancient philosophy covered what is now divided into science, religion and ethics. Classical philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and the Cynics influenced early Christian thinkers. Early philosophers and religious thinkers by turns faced competition from each other and borrowed from each other to further explain and understand their beliefs. For example, Origen, in the third century, claimed Plato was a proto-Christian living 400 years before Christ, after studying Plato’s descriptions of God and comparing them to biblical accounts. Early Christians intertwined their beliefs with classical learning, science and philosophy, including ideas such as Plato and Plotinus’ notions that God could be found through contemplation of beauty, or Gregory’s doctrine that God is incorporeal, a doctrine from Platonic philosophy. Gregory’s account of the Trinity revolves around Aristotle’s idea that things could be divided into categories and qualities.
Influence of religion: Religious scholars continued the study of classical philosophy after the age of the philosophical schools ended. Middle Eastern Christians translated the works of Plato, Aristotle and others into Middle Eastern languages such as Syriac and Arabic, preserving their ideas and influencing later Muslim philosophers. Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century gave the faith a dominance that has impacted both the West and other parts of the world inextricably in culture, social mores, geographic expansion and spiritual teachings. Constantine’s call for Christian bishops to meet at Nicaea in 325 decided the definition of a Christian and what Christians believe – beliefs held by most Christians today.
Language: The word, “philosophy,” Greek in origin, was coined by Socrates to describe the “love of knowledge.” Developing literacy in ancient Greek, Latin and classical languages allows people to study classical, biblical and religious writings and other ancient texts. Through such study, they can examine the beliefs, ideas, values, rituals and traditions that have shaped these cultures, and see ways they have changed or remained the same from ancient to contemporary times. From a religious perspective, this could mean understanding the nuances of language, culture and geography within the texts of early Christian thinkers or the New Testament, originally written in Greek.
Issues today: Study of classical philosophy, religious ideas and history can bring greater depth to discussion and understanding of issues such as end-of-life debates, the death penalty, legal concepts, teaching of humanities in public schools (of increased interest, with greater interest in public understanding of religion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks), the underlying history behind global conflicts, and the role of democracy and religion in society. Both philosophical and religious ideas are used to define human values and ethics – from the environment to poverty – and how we define our responsibilities in the world, human motivation and the human will.
- “Culture and Development Matter To Understanding Souls, No Matter What Our Evolutionary Design” by Michel Ferrari. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29, no. 5 (2006): 472.
- “Understanding Hume’s Natural History of Religion” by P.J.E. Kail. Philosophical Quarterly. 57, no. 227 (2007): 190-211.
- “Rage against the Divine” by David Lloyd. South Atlantic Quarterly. 106 no. 2 (2007): 345-72.
- “Harvard encourages dusting off the classics; Says esoteric courses enrich learning” by Tracy Jan. The Boston Globe, March 30, 2009.
- “A long line of stand-offs; The struggle between East and West.” The Economist, March 22, 2008.
- “Treasures of a lost empire” by Rachel Campbell-Johnston. The Times (London),Oct. 21, 2008.
- “The last days of Jesus: what really happened?” by Henry Wansborough. The Times (London), April 10, 2009.
- “Oral Tradition in Bible and New Testament Studeies” by Werner H. Kelber. Oral Tradition. Vol. 18, No. 1 (2003): 40-42.
- Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian Religion. Robert Garland. Cornell University Press, 2009.
- Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and His Influence on Thought and Art in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier. Cornell University Press, 2007.
- The making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome. Elizabeth DePalma Digeser. Cornell University Press, 1999.
- The Natural History of Religion. David Hume. NuVision Publications, 2007.
- Greek religion: Archaic and Classical. Walter Burkert and John Raffan. Wiley-Blackwell, 1987.
- Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual. Walter Burkert. Wiley-Blackwell, 1982.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Simon Price. Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion: Classics and Contemporary Issues. Oxford University Press, U.S.A., 2004.
- Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. William L. Rowe. Wadsworth Publishing, 2006.
- Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Michael Peterson , William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach and David Basinger. Oxford University Press, USA, 2008.
- Divinity and History: The Religion of Herodotus (Oxford Classical Monographs). Thomas Harrison. Oxford University Press, USA, 2002.
- Augustine and the Making of a Christian Literature: Classical Tradition and Augustinian Aesthetics (Texts and Studies in Religion). Robert J. Forman. Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.
- “Language and Literacy in the Pentecostal Church and the Public High School: A Case Study of a Mexican ESL Student” by Lucila D. Ek. The High School Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009): 1-13.
- “The Educator Must be Educated: The Study of Religion at the End of the Humanities” by Matthew Day. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2010): 1-8.
Codes of ethics
- American Philological Association – Statement on Professional Ethics
- The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America – Mission Statement
- Journal of Hellenic Studies
- Journal of the American Academy of Religion
- A Journal of Mere Christianity
- International Review for the History of Religions
- History of Religions
- Novum Testamentum
- Internet Sacred Texts Archive
- Ancient History and Classical Languages links
- Augustana College online resources. MIT Classics Project database of classic Greek and Roman texts; Perseus Project classic Greek and Roman texts, textual aids and images; online versions of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Professional associations and faith groups
- American Philological Association
- Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations
- Association of Muslim Social Scientists of North America
- Evangelical Philosophical Society
- Evangelical Theological Society
- Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Society for Classical Learning
- Society of Biblical Literature
- Society of Christian Philosophers