Dr Philippa Townsend

Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Religions


Dr Townsend is a Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Religions at the University of Edinburgh. She grew up in the UK and studied Classics at King’s College, Cambridge (BA) and University College London (MA) before leaving for the US to do postgraduate work in Religion at Harvard University (AM) and Princeton University (PhD). She has also studied in Jerusalem, both at the Hebrew University on a postdoctoral fellowship, and at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Before coming to Edinburgh, she taught at Ursinus College, a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.   

Undergraduate teaching

  • Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in History and Culture 
  • Jesus in Film 
  • Intermediate Greek 
  • Women and Gender in the New Testament World 

Postgraduate teaching

  • Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in History and Culture
  • Intermediate Greek 
  • Women, Gender and the New Testament: Text and Theory 


Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I welcome inquiries from students who would like to pursue postgraduate studies in areas relating to my research. I have served as primary, joint, and secondary supervisor for a number of PhD dissertations on the New Testament and Christianity in the second and third centuries. 

Research summary

I originally became fascinated by the origins and development of Christianity as a student of Classics, so my research attempts to explore early Christianity fully within the broader context of the Greco-Roman world. As a historian trying to understand the formation of early Christian identity in all its complexity, I am interested in cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries to study pagan and Jewish, canonical and non-canonical texts together, and my past research has included work on Manichaean and ‘Gnostic’ texts (including the notorious Gospel of Judas), as well as the philosophical works of the Neoplatonist philosophers Porphyry and Iamblichus.

My research interests include the following:

  • Early Christian identity formation
  • Race and ethnicity in the Greco-Roman world
  • Sacrifice in the Greco-Roman world and early Christianity
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Non-canonical ('Gnostic') Christian texts and the construction of orthodoxy and heresy
  • Greek philosophical traditions (especially Neoplatonism) and their relationship to early Christianity
  • The New Testament Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature
  • Reception of the New Testament, especially in film

Affiliated research centres:

Centre for the Study of Christian Origins

Current research interests

My forthcoming book, Ethnicity and Sacrifice in the Early Christian World, explores early Christians' ideas about race, ethnicity, and universalism, interpreting them within the context of the discursive association between sacrifice and kinship construction in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world.

View all 5 publications on Research Explorer