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Research Centre for Religious Studies Research Centres CRASIS Research and Teaching

CRASIS Annual Meeting and Masterclass

Registration is now open for the CRASIS Annual meeting on 25 February 2022 at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The Annual Meeting is designed to promote discussion and the exchange of ideas about the ancient world across traditional disciplinary boundaries. You can register for the Annual Meeting via this form. The deadline for registration for in-person attendance is Friday 18 February, for online attendance 23 February.

Each year, an internationally acknowledged expert in one of the fields represented by CRASIS is invited to deliver the CRASIS Keynote Lecture at the annual meeting. This year we are honoured to welcome Prof. Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter) as keynote speaker and master. The overall theme of the 2022 Masterclass and Annual Meeting is:


Exemplarity is an important feature of all human societies. We use specific examples as tools for developing abstract thoughts or sharing our ideas with others. Skills in music, painting and sport – even handwriting – are developed through contemplation and imitation of exemplary models. This is true for broader life skills too: when it comes to learning how to fit in socially and how to live one’s life well. Most cultures celebrate outstanding figures as a way of sharing normative values and ways of life: heroes, saints, villains, leaders. Real lives are simplified and transformed into easily graspable paradigms, providing a resource for ethical debate and learning. Such exemplars can be sources of inspiration or clarification, they can serve as spurs to emulation or imitation, they can delineate the limits of the possible and of the acceptable, the normative or the ideal. Their significance is also unstable and subject to contestation, as societies change or new voices emerge. In recent years we have seen how commemorative statues of historical figures around the globe have been a focus for the shared re-negotiation of value in changing communities: torn down, defended, or newly interpreted. Similarly, new kinds of exemplars can be an important means of empowerment for marginalised groups.

Exemplarity in the ancient Mediterranean world took many forms: from the exploits of Homeric heroes and their later reception to the use of exemplars and imitation in craftmanship, architecture and town-planning; from heroic statues of athletes, generals or statesmen to the depiction of virtues on sarcophagus reliefs and in funerary inscriptions; from the use of precedent in ancient law to the moralising tales prevalent in the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, in Stoic philosophy, in Roman exemplary ethics, and in the writings of Second Temple and Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity.

The following topics will be central to the Annual Meeting:

  • Negative examples: what role do these play in different spheres, such as ethics, education, rhetoric, or community building? Are they inherently different in their function from positive exemplars?
  • The exemplary deployed as a mode for interpreting and commemorating the past, and in the construction of identities –e.g. communal, familial, individual?
  • The movement of exemplary stories, figures or motifs between cultures, groups, or between different genres or media.
  • The effect of different media on exemplarity: does it function differently in e.g. painting, sculpture, poetry, performance, architecture, epigraphy?
  • The role of specific examples or paradigms in rhetoric or philosophy, ancient or modern; what distinction is there between real-life, historical, fictional and hypothetical?
  • Identity and exemplarity: do exempla discourage diversity? Can our role-models be people we do not identify with? (How) can a slave be a role model for a free person, or vice versa? how might gender and other intersections of status and identity disrupt or enrich the process of exemplarity?
  • Imitation, innovation, adaptation: how are examples, models and templates used as the basis for e.g. learning, education, or artistic production.
  • Reception of ancient exemplars in post-classical settings: how (and why) are ancient examples, heroes and stories made new and relevant in different settings?

About the speaker

Rebecca Langlands is Professor of Classics, with particular interests in Latin literature and Roman culture, ethics and exemplarity, the history of sexuality and classical reception. She is the author of Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome (CUP 2006), Sex, Knowledge and Receptions of the Past (edited with Kate Fisher, OUP 2015), Exemplary Ethics in Ancient Rome (CUP 2018) and Literature and Culture in the Roman Empire, 96-235. Cross-Cultural Interactions (edited with Alice König and James Uden, 2020). She is the co-director of the Sexual Knowledge Unit (with Jana Funke, Ina Linge and Kate Fisher), and also of the award-winning Sex and History project which works with museums, schools, charities and young people to promote empowering discussion of contemporary sexual issues.

Keynote Abstract

Making and breaking exemplary models: lessons for today

What makes some people seem admirable to others? How is moral value attributed to people and actions? How does a community identify inspirational individuals as moral exemplars to be celebrated, commemorated and emulated? And when and how can their significance be recalibrated, can exempla be “unmade”? In her recent book Exemplarist Moral Theory (OUP 2017), the philosopher Linda Zagzebski has outlined a comprehensive moral theory, ‘exemplarism’, in which ethics is based on the identification and admiration of outstanding people who are held up as exemplars. My 2018 study Exemplary Ethics in Ancient Rome drew on her work in discussing the roles within the Roman framework of the processes of admiration, comparison, emulation, modelling, as well as cognition, discernment, and the negotiation of boundaries between virtue and vice. In the last couple of years, scholars in the fields of philosophy, psychology and education have begun to identify some of the limitations of Zagzebski’s framework: it does not take into account, for instance, the extent to which admiration is shaped by societal context or the disruptive force of gender, class, ethnicity and other factors of identity on the processes of exemplarity; it does not effectively address the problem that people can be admired for the wrong reasons; it gives no sense that exemplars could be used for addressing complex ethical issues. Ancient writers, on the other hand, did take such concerns into account in their discussions of exemplary ethics, and their works can offer a useful resource for modern philosophers, if handled carefully. In this lecture I will explore how the study of ancient cultures might help us to refine our understanding of exemplarist theory and practice as it relates to our own lives today. I aim to work towards a new and improved framework of moral exemplarism which is sensitive to cultural difference, social change, and contested value.


9:00 - 9:30 Coffee/tea and registration
9:30 - 9:40 Opening remarks and welcome
Session 1 – Chair: Jeremia Pelgrom

09:40 - 10:15

Heiko Westphal (University of Fribourg): ‘Transgressive Behaviour and the Exemplary Discourse at Rome’

10:15 - 10:50

Nell Mulhern (Temple University): ‘Foreclosure and Flattening: Exemplarity in Later Latin Poetry’

10:50 - 11:25

Baukje van den Berg (Central European University): 'Moral Exemplarity and Ancient Poetry in Twelfth-Century Byzantium'

11:25 - 11:55 Coffee/tea break
Session 2 – Chair: Eelco Glas

11:55 - 12:30

Carson Bay (University of Bern) & Jan Willem van Henten (University of Amsterdam): ‘Exempla in 1 Maccabees and Josephus’ Bellum Judaicum: Doing Jewish Exemplarity in the Greco-Roman World’

12:30 - 13:05

Bärry Hartog (Protestant Theological University): ‘The Qumran Overseer: An Exemplar of Global Knowledge’

13:05 - 14:00 Lunch
Session 3 – Chair: Arjen Bakker

14:00 - 14:35

Eleni Bozia (University of Florida): ‘Verba volant, statuae manent? Linguistic exemplarity and fame in the High Empire’

14:35 - 15:10

Martin Dinter (King’s College London): ‘Exemplarity and Transmediality’

15:10 - 15:40 Coffee/tea break
Keynote – Chair: Bettina Reitz-Joosse
15:40 - 17:10

Keynote lecture by Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter): ‘Making and breaking exemplary models: lessons for today’

Reception and dinner afterwards


CRASIS is the interdisciplinary research institute for the study of the ancient world at the University of Groningen and the Protestant Theological University in Groningen. It brings together researchers from Classics, Theology and Religious Studies, Ancient History, Archaeology, Ancient Philosophy, and Legal History, focusing on Greek, Roman, Jewish and Near Eastern civilizations and their mutual interaction.

For more information, please send an e-mail to

Past Meetings

Last modified:23 February 2022 2.03 p.m.