Ancient Christian Slavery and Twenty-First Century Debates about What Makes Us Human


ACLS Fellowship Program


Religious Studies


This project couples analysis of the theme of slavery in selected Christian writings from the first to fourth centuries with assessment of twenty-first century discourses about what it means to be human. From Aristotle's infamous arguments for natural slavery in his “Politics” to Christian theologian Gregory of Nyssa's condemnation of slaveholding as an affront against the God in whose image humans are created, the question of human nature shadows ancient treatments of slavery. By engaging twenty-first century debates about what it means to be human, this project reframes discussion of slavery in the ancient churches. At the same time, a focus on troublesome ways that humanity is called into question in ancient references to slavery exposes limitations in contemporary conceptions of the human.