Last December, Erik Ellis, Ph.D. candidate in Medieval Studies, traveled to Santiago, Chile, at the invitation of the University of the Andes (UANDES), in order to lead a four-day interdisciplinary seminar. Faculty and graduate students from the UANDES departments of literature, theology, and philosophy, as well as from other nearby institutions, joined Ellis to discuss “the possibility of ‘Christian paideia.’”
“Paideia,” said Ellis, “is the Hellenistic educational and cultural complex that includes philosophy, literature, art, music, athletics, and religion as well as the techniques used to study and teach them.”
The seminar began by examining Jewish responses to Greek education, then explored the evaluations of the Greek and Latin Fathers, which were sometimes positive, sometimes negative. “In particular," he noted, "we considered authors' perceptions of the utility of the trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) and the study of pagan literature in the context of Jewish and Christian education.
“The purpose of the seminar was to chart the shifting responses to Hellenism among Jewish and Christian writers and then to consider Augustine's synthesis both as the culmination of previous debates and as the foundation for medieval educational philosophy.”
Ellis’s scholarship focuses on ancient and medieval theories of education, the Byzantine Greeks, and the reception of the classics in the Latin middle ages. “Greek-speaking Jews and Christians struggled to understand how they could reconcile their culture with their faith,” said Ellis. “I am interested in the diversity of responses to the problem that were offered in antiquity and how those answers continue to influence similar debates today. It was an honor to be invited to offer a seminar for an interdisciplinary audience in South America, and very heartening to see the deep interest of the participants in the texts we treated.”