Professor Steve Mason will be appointed Distinguished Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen from
August 1, 2015
. Mason is a leading scholar in the history and literature of the eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule, especially Roman Judaea, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, and Christian-Jewish-Roman relations.
The new Chair will undertake and facilitate education and research in currents of ancient Mediterranean religion and culture that remain important for modern European and Middle Eastern identities. Initiators of the Chair are the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad, and Prof. Mladen Popović, Chair of the Department of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Origins and Director of the Qumran Institute, which Mason will join. Plans are taking shape for an international Master’s programme that Steve Mason will develop together with Mladen Popović.
Mladen Popović: “Steve is a great addition to the Faculty. He is an international authority and senior scholar in Jewish and Early Christian religion and culture in Judaea and the Roman Empire. With the leading commentary series on Flavius Josephus he makes a fundamental contribution to the unlocking of this uniquely important Jewish historian for the wider study of classical antiquity. Mason builds bridges between different disciplines that are concerned with the ancient Mediterranean, and he is capable of making connections to modern issues of, for instance, politics and international relations.”
Building bridges around the ancient Mediterranean can be seen as the common thread that runs through Mason’s career; bridges between disciplines and between ancient and modern times. He studied Judaism and Early Christianity at McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada). After his Ph.D. (University of St. Michael's College, 1986, by way of the universities of Jerusalem and Tübingen) he worked at The Pennsylvania State University, as Head of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and at Toronto’s York University, most recently as Canada Research Chair in Greco-Roman Cultural Interaction. Since 2011 he has held the Kirby Laing Chair in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen. Mason was the first Dirk Smilde Fellow at the Qumran Institute in Groningen, from January through May 2014.
Mason explains that his appointment in Groningen is bringing him back to his main career trajectory: the integration of ancient Mediterranean studies: “My recent Chair in New Testament, an accommodation to established disciplinary boundaries, was a departure from my main career trajectory. The move to Groningen is bringing me back to the interdisciplinary study of ancient history, texts, and cultures. I believe that a critical understanding of our shared past, recent and ancient, throws light on our modern identities, including the sources and potential resolutions of conflict. This is a vision that I know I share with my colleagues in Groningen.”
During the five months Mason spent at the Faculty as the first Dirk Smilde Fellow, he was struck by the research culture: “Some of the academic virtues to which I aspire were so evident here that I had to be impressed. I very much look forward to working with such ambitious and energetic colleagues. Academically, RUG is of course internationally renowned, though to be honest I don’t think that list rankings are paramount in the minds of either academics or students. We want to know that there is actually a vibrant, supportive, and productive research culture. And in Groningen there is!”
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