“Studying ancient religion enriches the present”

03.17.2015 | Guest

I’ve invited some of the Institute’s Nibley Fellow Award recipients to reflect on their experiences studying religion in the academy. In this post, Daniel Becerra discusses his work preserving ancient Syriac manuscripts. See other “Nibley Fellow Reflections” here. —Kristian Heal

Daniel Becerra

The primary force which has led me to the academic study of religion, and which has sustained me throughout the crucible of graduate work at Harvard and Duke, is my desire to understand how religion contributes to the (trans)formation of the self. My research focuses specifically on moral formation in ancient Christianity and has been immensely fulfilling to me because I am able to explore how the earliest followers of Jesus understood both human and divine nature and the various means by which to bridge the gap between the two.

The support of BYU and the Maxwell Institute has allowed me participate in projects which have not only academic value, but which can also have a meaningful influence on modern-day faith communities. Last summer, for example, in conjunction with the Vatican Apostolic Library in Rome, I was able to aid in the preservation of some of the oldest Syriac manuscripts in existence, making over 80 manuscripts digitally accessible to scholars and millions of Syriac Christians around the world. This project opened my eyes to how working in ancient studies—a field dominated by the study of the past—can also enrich the lived religion of those in the present. My experiences as a graduate student and instructor have also repeatedly confirmed this realization.

I am deeply indebted to my dedicated professors and mentors, as well as the generous donors who have enabled me to pursue a field of study which I find personally fulfilling, and which, I believe, has great potential to contribute to the betterment of individuals, church, and society.

Daniel Becerra received his B.A. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from BYU and his M.T.S. in New Testament/Early Christianity from Harvard Divinity School. He is currently living in Durham, NC  with his wife and two daughters where he is a second year PhD student in Early Christianity at Duke University.