My research focuses on ancient Christian and Jewish writings, particularly the texts and traditions associated with the apostle Paul in the first three centuries of the common era. Much of my work examines how religious ideals, discourses, and practices are fashioned. I am specifically interested in identifying and assessing patterns of meaning creation, maintenance, and sharing within religious communities and contexts. Funding for my research has come from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de Recherche du Québec—Société et Culture, and other competitive initiatives.

A full list of research activities can be found in my CV, and at the Publications page. My programme of research consists of three principle streams:

This stream of research draws on theories of embodied cognition and cognitive linguistics to examine perceptions of death and coming-back-to-life in the ancient Mediterranean. A central theme in this work is the exploration of how ancient peoples experimented with, constructed, and configured the boundaries between life and death. The principle publications in this stream include (1) my first monograph (SBL Press, 2016), which focused on metaphors for resurrection in the epistles of Paul, (2) an edited volume that explores the coming back to life thematic within a wide array of ancient Mediterranean contexts (co-edited with Carly Daniel-Hughes; McGill University Library, 2017), and (3) several articles (Tappenden 2012, 2015, 2017, and forthcoming).
This research stream integrates theories of embodied cognition with those of social/collective memory to explore dynamics of human creativity and commemoration. A central focus in this stream is the examination of how the body functions as both a common space that enables the sharing of meaning, and yet is also always socially constructed and thus inscribed with meaning. This project is currently being developed as a second monograph that explores somatic dimensions of early Pauline interpretation, focusing specifically on the body thematic and its development within discourses of gender and sexuality, scriptural interpretation, ethnicity, and ritual. To date, however, I have explored related topics in several articles (Tappenden 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2017).
This research stream centres on the bourgeoning field of cognitive historiography. My interests here are more methodological than textual. Working in this field has led me to collaborate with linguists, psychologists, biologists, and sinologists on topics ranging from methods in biblical interpretation to the place of the digital humanities in the scientific study of religion. To date I have undertaken a number of projects that contribute to this emerging field, including (1) a special topics issue on religion and the digital humanities for the Journal of Cognitive Historiography (co-edited with Edward Slingerland, currently under review), (2) a forthcoming co-edited volume provisionally titled, Cognitive Science in Biblical Interpretation (Sheffield Phoenix Press), and (3) I am the editor of early Christianity and Ancient Judaism for the Database of Religious History.