In early August, the two of us along with Dr. Virginia Burrus traveled to Oxford University, where we joined other scholars in conversation about late ancient Christianity. Since its inception in 1951, the International Patristics Conference, which meets every four years, has provided opportunities for scholars to present their work to a critical, but sympathetic audience. Convening for the sixteenth time, this year the week- long conference featured a series of sessions recognizing the contributions made to the field of Patristics by former directors of the conference and other pioneers of the discipline—Henry Chadwick, W.H.C. Frend, Robert A. Markus, G.C. Stead, and Maurice Wiles, among others.
The conference was about history as well as historiography, as scholars from all over the world, both junior and senior, discussed and debated the interpretation of ancient texts, figures, and events. It was also about history in the making for some of us first time presenters! The experience of giving a paper in the span of only 12-15 minutes—a tradition at Oxford—permitted us merely to gesture toward our topics. However, the brevity of presentation time allowed for further dialogue on the perfectly groomed lawn of Christ Church College, in the echoing corridors of the Examination Schools, or at nearby pubs. These longer conversations fostered new collegial relationships and collaborations for future projects.
Finally, we appreciated the rich historical associations of our surroundings as well as the inescapable beauty of Oxford. Dame Averil Cameron, Professor of Late Antiquity and Byzantine history, noted in her closing address that this sense of history contributes to the Oxford experience– to stand at the podium where John Wesley preached or in the place where Thomas Cranmer was tried for treason, for example. We had carried this sentiment with us throughout the week at Oxford and returned to Drew refreshed and inspired.—Jennifer Barry and Peter Anthony Mena, PhD students in Historical Studies