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Anna Lankina

Ph.D. Candidate, History
2013-2014 Rothman Doctral Fellowship

Ph.D. candidate Anna Lankina used her 2013 Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to further her research on the heretical figure of Philostorgius in antiquity and ecclesiastical history, the history of the Christian church. Most ecclesiastical studies of the Greco-Roman world generally follow the history of the Roman Church, which was the reigning and defining body for spiritual doctrine of the time. In her dissertation research, Lankina retraces the life and writings of Philostorgius in order to reinsert his voice back into the orthodox and pagan histories of antiquity. In so doing, Lankina reveals a new, dynamic conversation at work, with many separate voices competing for the economic, political and religious power to narrate the history of the Christian church.

Philostorgius was a writer who lived in 5th century Constantinople. He is described as a heretical figure because he did not believe, as was passionately preached by orthodox theologians of the time, in the presence of God as the Holy Trinity. As a result, Philostorgius’s work and voice have rarely been acknowledged by his contemporaries or by current scholars. By reexamining Philostorgius’s work, Lankina offers a restructuring of ecclesiastical history that provides a complex lens into issues of empire and religion. Who gets to write the history of the church? What were their intentions? Why do scholars explore Christian history solely by labeling writings as “orthodoxy” or “heresy”? Whose voices are missing from the historical narrative because of this dichotomy, and what can the inclusion of Philostorgius’s work add to the understanding of this history?

Lankina points out mainstream authors aligned religiously with the Church in power had the loudest voice in their missionary writings. As a result, historical church history follows closely the linear spread of the Roman Empire. Lankina places Philostorgius within this tradition by illustrating how he was no more opposed to the spread of empire for missions than the leaders of the Roman Church. However, the crucial discovery of her research is that the history of the church is not simply linear; it is, in fact, a conversation resulting from a dialogue between orthodox, pagan, and heretical figures. When scholars and ecclesiastical figures overlook or marginalize this dialogue, they create a binary orthodox/heretic structure that greatly limits both our ability to understand the exchange of ideas between ecclesiastical writers and also the factors that led to the creation of the modern Christian church.

Lankina’s research demonstrates the importance of “recovery projects” within the humanities, or projects that unearth important minority voices that have been lost or excluded from history. These recovery projects are an important way for new scholarship to question long-established patterns of authority, and show us the benefit of breaking with set traditions to offer new ways of viewing classical history that help us better understand our human situation today.