Books that are candidates for the Goodwin Award reshape the field to which they contribute. It is not every year that they upend quite as many fields as Susanna Elm's masterful Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church (University of California Press, 2012). Elm's meticulous work sets at least three areas of the discipline on new footing. The studies of late antique philosophy, Patristics, and Roman Imperial history are all given new foundations. Elm offers insights that are invisible to those looking from only one of these perspectives, and narrates the story of the fourth century in a vivid picture of lived life over the course of a deeply consequential historical epoch. She has so thoroughly succeeded in her own description of a micro-social history of ideas, that her approach in general will help shape the way future intellectual histories are told.
To do this takes some doing, and Elm has mastered the huge volume of intricate learning required to comprehend the underlying conflicts, stakes, and claims of the conversations between two mighty figures: the Emperor Julian and the Cappadocian Church Father, Gregory of Nazianus. Elm's exploration reveals two men that are emblematic of a time of change and tumult, yes, but also a time of small differences. She spells out in vivid detail the shortcomings of what is probably still a common understanding of a divide between Christian and Pagan, assumed to be a matter of discrete transformation, traceable via overt changes in theological commitments. This common understanding sets it in rather striking contrast to other simple binaries of the period -- for example, between Christian and Jew or Roman and Greek -- that have been thoroughly complicated by recent decades of scholarly work. Elm's contribution resets the whole question of what changes are afoot during this time of change.
The figures that populate her work argue over the most arcane minutiae of ontology and divinity, but they also trade in the most subtle forms of cultural capital, as they make their ways through a changing landscape of raw power. Views that in other scholarly hands appear to be floating in the aether, are shown to result from networks of friendships, battlefield results, the linguistic potentialities of the speaker's native tongue, schooling, and social ambition. We see a collection of elite, aspiring philosopher-kings, each reworking centuries of learning in order to reconfigure their understandings of the locations, means, and manners in which the divine links with the material, and the possibilities of a universal oikoumenê that these ideas open. This common project required of these late antique thinkers a deep and caring commitment to a vast array of nuances within these realms. It is also just this quality of mind that is thoroughly visible in the scholarship that has made them plain.
It is therefore with great respect and considerable pleasure that we award the 2013 Goodwin Award of Merit to Professor Susanna Elm.
C. J. Goodwin Award of Merit Committee
Peter T. Struck, Chair
Barbara Weiden Boyd
Alain M. Gowing