Project description

Quantifying and testing early Christianity

The rapid spread of Christianity in the first centuries of the Common Era continues to puzzle historians. The reasons behind this historically consequential phenomenon have been discussed extensively from an interpretive, humanities perspective. To advance this investigation, the project EXPRECCE produces quantitative, reproducible, and empirically tested knowledge on three interrelated key questions on the topic: the role of martyrs and martyrdom narratives, the role of Christian hostility toward outgroups, and the survival of manuscripts and their variations.

The framework of the project is cultural evolutionary theory, a fast-growing, highly multidisciplinary approach striving to explain the production, transmission, and change of culture in populations over time. EXPRECCE applies computational text analysis, psychological experimentation, and agent-based computer simulation to answer the following questions: Were martyrs and martyrdom stories particularly popular among early Christians, and if so, why? How did they advance the spread of Christianity? What was the role of hostility toward outgroups in the spread of early Christianity when weighed against the effect of ingroup altruism? How did early Christian manuscripts change through scribal activity and survive the intermittent large-scale destruction of copies?

EXPRECCE also produces an evaluation of how reliably the cultural survival and success of early Christianity can be examined experimentally within the framework of cultural evolution and what the challenges are for bringing quantitative and empirical approaches to early Christian scholarship and humanities in general.

EXPRECCE proceeds from the conviction that multiple methods are needed to fully understand a phenomenon and proposes a hypothesis-driven mode of research to complement a well-established tradition of hermeneutical research. EXPRECCE invites both historians and experts in quantitative and experimental methods to hands-on cooperation.