From 5-7 September 2016, Birmingham was host to over 100 scholars of early Christianity from across the world as the venue for the Sixth British Patristics Conference, held in conjunction with the European Research Council-funded COMPAUL project on the earliest commentaries on Paul as sources for the biblical text.
Participants came from as far afield as Australia and Lithuania as well as a range of European countries to present papers on subjects relating to authors such as Origen of Alexandria, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Areopagite, covering a wide variety of themes and approaches. Birmingham's own expertise in this field was showcased in six of the seventy-five short papers as well as two of the plenary lectures, given by Professor Frances Young on "Teasing out meaning: some techniques and procedures in early Christian exegesis" and Professor David Parker on "Where Does Patristics Begin?" The third plenary lecture was given by the Revd Dr Jennifer Strawbridge from the University of Oxford, home to the four-yearly International Patristics Conference, on "Taking up Armour: The challenges of early Christian exegesis of Ephesians."
In addition to the academic programme, participants enjoyed guided tours of the University's Barber Institute and the manuscript holdings of the Cadbury Research library. A display of new books in the field was put on by representatives from three publishing houses, and there were two well-attended lunchtime sessions at which participants were able to meet the publishers and learn more about the process and expectations of publication.
Delegates tweeted about the conference using the hashtag #patristics2016 and the programme and paper abstracts may still be viewed at the conference website. Selected papers from the conference will be published in a volume of Studia Patristica. The following comments were received from participants:
"The atmosphere was one of the most friendly, collegial, and generous of any conference I have attended.”
"There were several outstanding features that made the conference so successful; they included the friendly and supportive atmosphere, with senior scholars, students and non-scholars all contributing. One of the most useful initiatives was the amount of free time participants had, when one could use the neighbouring botanic gardens to look over notes or network with attendees.”
“Thank you and the team very much indeed for hosting the conference so beautifully with such interesting visits thrown in. Both of the lunchtime sessions were wonderful and the whole atmosphere was delightful."
"The papers were interesting, the extra activities were enjoyable, and there was a really good feel among the participants. It was definitely worth the trip."
The Birmingham organising committee was Hugh Houghton (chair), Ann Conway-Jones, Catherine Smith, Susan Blackburn Griffith and Rosalind MacLachlan, assisted by several others including Dora Panella, Ben Haupt and Carolin Müller.
It is anticipated that the Seventh British Patristics conference will be held in Cardiff in 2018.