Formative Wisdom. The Reception of Monastic Sayings in European Culture: Scholarly Collaboration on a Digital Platform.

Project: ResearchNational collaboration, International collaboration

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion
  • Religious Studies


  • monasticism, education, sayings, wisdom, manuscript, digital tools, reception


Wisdom literature, transmitted through collections of sayings and edifying stories, have played a crucial role for social upbringing and moral education throughout history. In pre-modern Europe the collections called Verba Seniorum or Apophthegmata Patrum (AP) were among the most significant. From their Greek origin in early monasticism, where they were part of the transformation of education from classical Graeco-Roman into early Christian culture, the AP were translated into all languages of early Christianity, and gradually into the vernaculars of Europe, where they became basic for moral formation. The collections, consisting of thousands of units and characterized by a fluid textual transmission, are among the most widely read and used texts in the history of Christianity.

The project aims at mapping the reception of the sayings in medieval European manuscripts (ca. 800-1500) with a focus on the Greek and Latin versions and their translations into Old Church Slavonic and Old Nordic. The purpose is to investigate what similarities and dissimilarities in selections and characteristics of transmission can tell us about the historical conditions, contacts and trends in medieval education, in order to contribute to a better understanding of how classical and early Christian moral formation was received in Western as well as Eastern Europe. The project is based on the theoretical framework of new philology, with its focus on the particularity of the single manuscript rather than a presumed ideal text, and on the historical use of the text rather than its origin. It is also based on a conviction that a fluid and complex textual transmission of thousands of sayings in hundreds of manuscripts in a variety of languages requires the development of new methods in general, and the use of computer technology in particular.

Thus the project includes the development of a collaborative digital platform for registration of metadata and contents of the manuscripts, as well as text examples, names and concepts. The platform will further include a variety of tools for detailed analysis of the selection and sequence of sayings and visualization of similarities, differences, and relations. On the platform researchers will be able to study the relations between manuscripts and the historical development, testing their hypotheses and making possible results visible. All technology used will comply with international standards to enable the use of other research databases and sharing material and results with scholarship worldwide. Thus the project will be a contribution to the development of methods for the study of fluid traditions and the development of digital humanities in general.

The project is organized in five strongly connected units, the four linguistic traditions and the development of the collaborative tool. In the first year focus will be on the Greek and Latin material and the development of the tools for registration, analysis and visualization of results. The second year the material from the two languages of reception will be added, a work that will continue in the third year. Parallel work on the extensive Greek and Latin tradition will continue, and the relations between the source and the recipient language traditions will be studied. Simultaneously, tools for comparisons and interpretation of the development of the tradition in a longer historical perspective will be created and tested. In the fourth year, focus will be on how to visualize the results and enhance the possibilities for the use of platform in further research beyond the project, which will require work on the issue of the long-term maintenance. The project is based on the results of the research program on early monasticism at Lund University and its extensive network of international scholarship, and is able to make use of its database and the digital tools it has developed for the study of the origins of the material. All results will be published on the platform to be used freely in international scholarship for a long time.
Short titleFormative Wisdom
Effective start/end date2016/01/012019/06/30


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Related research output

Johan Åhlfeldt 2017 Nov 15 Pelagios Commons

Research output: Other contributionWeb publication/Blog post

Britt Dahlman (ed.) & Rönnegård, P. (ed.) 2017 Sturefors: Silentium. 41 p. (Silentium Apophthegmata; vol. 9)

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Britt Dahlman (ed.) & Rönnegård, P. (ed.) 2017 Sturefors: Silentium. 48 p. (Silentium Apophthegmata; vol. 8)

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2017 Dec 8

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