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Social Systems in Transition: The Meaning of Collective Identity and the Interpretation and Translation of the Greek Term Sarx in Paul’s Letters

Project description

A closer look at the letters of St Paul

The letters of St Paul are the main source for our knowledge of his apostolic work. This small corpus of seven letters addressed to the churches is very important for religious, theological, historical and social studies. The letters were written during a period of major societal transition and the development of a new collective identity. The translations and interpretations of the letters have been widely studied. Building on past research, the EU-funded MaSarx project will conduct interdisciplinary and intersectoral research based on Bowen’s family system theory. Specifically, it will explore community differentiation implications arising from the Greek term sarx in Paul’s letters. The findings will be published and made accessible to anyone reading about these texts and their interpretation and the social systems in transition.


The aim of the project is to explore community differentiation implications arising from the Greek term sarx in Paul’s letters. The choice of primary material is based on the observation that this term recurs in settings where collective identity is established, and where the salvific capacity of collective identity is polemically engaged and negotiated (see Rom 7–9; Gal 5). The earliest group of Christ-believers gathered together in social systems which were in transition toward a higher level of diversity, which is an underinvestigated aspect of these texts. The primary objective is to investigate Paul’s views of differentiation and the constructs of collective identity in the settings where he uses the term sarx, and to consider the options for the translation of the relevant passages. Hence, the approach of the action is interdisciplinary (social-scientific criticism in Biblical studies) and intersectoral (the theory and practices of translation). Bowen’s social systems theory offers the terminology to describe the character, reactions, and development in social systems with regard to their level of differentiation and their capacity to handle psychological stress and to find solutions to new problems. The action comprises theological, linguistic and philological analysis, comparative literature, social-scientific hermeneutics, and the creative investigation of translation options. As described in social systems theory, an openness to individual variation in the social system is central to the development of societal resilience. In this context, religious communities act both as significant resources, as well as potential threats, to cooperation in diversity. The investigation of translation options will make the results of the action accessible to anyone interested in these texts, in their interpretation, and in social systems in transition.


Net EU contribution
€ 214 158,72
0313 Oslo

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Norge Oslo og Viken Oslo
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 214 158,72