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. Recurrent themes in my work include the development and utility of metaphor in religious discourses, conceptions of death and coming back to life in the ancient Mediterranean, cognitive historiography, interpretive creativity within mnemonic and performative contexts, and perceptions of the body (both ancient and modern). Many of these themes were explored in my first monograph—Resurrection in Paul: Cognition, Metaphor, and Transformation (SBL 2016)—which was awarded a 2017 Manfred Lautenschläger Award from the University of Heidelberg.
Competitive 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 initiatives. I currently co-chair (with Catherine Playoust) the ‘Religious Experience in Antiquity’ program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature, and I serve on the steering committee of the ‘Mind, Society, and Religion in the Biblical World’ program unit. I am also a past editor for the Database of Religious History (based at the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium, University of British Columbia).
A full list of research activities can be found in my CV, and at my 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 principal 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
, and forthcoming).
This research stream integrates theories of embodied cognition with those of social/collective memory to explore dynamics of human creativity and commemoration within the early Christian movement. The central focus of this work aims to illuminate a more general dialectical and hermeneutical phenomenon that can be expressed as follows: on the one hand, the body functions as a common space that enables the sharing of meaning across cultures, and yet on the other, the body is always socially constructed and thus inscribed with culture-specific meaning. Various aspects of this research stream have been explored in a number of articles to date (Tappenden 2010
, and 2017
). Ultimately, however, this project will yield 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, ethnicity, ritual, and apostolic reputations.
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 religious studies, to issues 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 the emerging field of cognitive historiography, including (1) a special topics issue on religion and the digital humanities for the Journal of Cognitive Historiography
(co-edited with Edward Slingerland, 2016), (2) a co-edited volume titled, Language, Cognition, and Biblical Exegesis: Interpreting Minds
(Bloomsbury, in press), and (3) I am a past editor of early Christianity for the Database of Religious History