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Visiting Professors 2021

Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold (University of Bern)  
is KNIR Visiting Professor from May to July 2021

As a trained theologian and classicist with a PhD in Greek philology from Heidelberg, I
have taught New Testament and History of Ancient Religion at the University of Bern
since 2011. My main area of research is Religious Platonism (Jewish, Christian, and Pagan-
Religious) in the 1 st and 2 nd centuries AD. Over the years, this research focus has led to
contacts and collaborations with various Dutch universities, most notably with the Faculty
of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen.

During my stay at KNIR, my main focus is to work on a monograph entitled “The Theology
of a Platonist Philosopher. Religion and God in Plutarch”, to be published next year with
Cambridge University Press. With his enticing literary style and his encyclopedic interests,
Plutarch was one of the most widely read and translated authors of all time. Shakespeare,
Montaigne, Schiller, and Beethoven are just a few examples of creative minds who were
heavily influenced by his works. Amyot’s French translation of Plutarch’s Lives of
Illustrious Greeks and Romans had a similarly formative effect on the development of
modern French as Luther’s translation of the Bible had on modern German. His works
served as a main source not only for history and philosophy, but also for Egyptology,
archaeology, musicology, not to mention the history of religion.

My project focuses on aspects of Plutarch’s work which, although they have been
generally recognized, have never received an in-depth-study: his treatment of an attitude
towards the traditions of lived religion, the hermeneutics of these traditions and
Plutarch’s philosophical theology based on them, and the receptions of Plutarch’s thought
in the Church Fathers and throughout Western philosophical and ethical traditions. The
book will concentrate on the manifold religious and theological aspects of Plutarch’s
philosophical and historical works. Being himself a priest of Apollo at Delphi, he
interpreted religious traditions from various cultural backgrounds (Greek and Roman, but
also Egyptian, Indian, and Persian) as leading to what he called a “theology veiled in
mystery”, the truth about the divine. In the course of his philosophical discussions, he
interprets material objects, monuments and symbols, as well as historical, mythical,
philosophical, and scientific traditions.

The book will cover the whole range of Plutarch’s enormous œuvre spanning both the
Moralia and Vitae. Written in the context of Plutarch’s stay in Rome, the latter will be a
primary focus during my stay, more specifically his view of God as expressed in some of
his Roman lives (Romulus, Numa, Cicero).

I have already taught a KNIR Masterclass “A Greek Philosopher and Priest of Apollo in
Rome. Plutarch’s Religious Philosophy and its Impact on Christian Thinking” in February
and I am looking forward to more scholarly exchange with colleagues and students from
other fields in the coming weeks.