“ 'Rome' in the Nineteenth-Century Protestant Imaginary: American Professors, Ancient 'Pagans,' and Early Christianity”

Prof. Elizabeth Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion, Duke University

Prof. Elizabeth Clark

This lecture explores what ancient Rome signified to nineteenth-century American professors of Christian history. The professors took a largely negative view of ancient Rome: “pagan” Rome could serve as a foil for the glories of early Christianity but also served to explain why it took such a long time for Christianity to reform morals (the material on which it had to work was corrupt).

Sexual immorality and slavery in ancient Rome were two topics that  received considerable attention in the professors’ teaching and writing.  Only at the turn to the twentieth century does a less apologetic approach to Christianity begin to emerge.  This talk is based largely on archival sources pertaining to professors at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Union Seminary.