Integration of knowledge is one of the great challenges of present social and political discussion and decision making. Present and future complex problems cannot be solved only by resorting to narrow scholarly disciplines. In humanities (including theology) this raises the need not just for multidisciplinary cooperation among humanistic disciplines but also in relation to natural sciences. One of the areas where research has advanced possibilities for fruitful openings is the cognitive science, combined with evolutionary studies. In present scholarly discussion, the contradiction between nature and nurture is becoming largely dismissed and there is growing understanding that the new findings about the functions of the human mind cannot be studied (only) in isolation from social and historical contexts.
In the area of evolutionary studies this means that coevolution of nature and culture is largely acknowledged. Evolutionary biologists and multidisciplinary cultural anthropologists have readily realized this and also offered sweeping evolutionary descriptions/hypotheses of the evolution of religion in general. Some of them have even seen the trouble of trying to get acquainted with the research done on early Christianity and offered evolutionary descriptions of the birth and development of Christianity. Since they are not experts in the field it is easy to find defects in their work. However, for us, scholars of religion and theology, these endeavors present a challenge: Are we happy staying in the audience, throwing our critical remarks, or do we dare to enter the discussion ourselves, putting our own expertise in the service of the attempts to integrate knowledge?
The present project is based on the conviction that it is worthwhile to take up the challenge. However, this does not mean that the evolutionary approach is presented as a totally new method to study early Christianity. Tracing lines of development and transmission, relevant comparisons and explaining the success of certain cultural representation over others are the daily bread of historians—these come quite close to basic elements of evolution. Therefore, it is more a matter of formulating research questions—to be studied with both well established and some newer methods of historical inquiry—and the overall project in such a way that they feed and advance the discussion about the evolution of religion and especially early Christianity.
But, what does all this mean in practice? See here.