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Queen's University

Two New Post-Doctoral Fellows at School of Religion

The School of Religion has recently brought in two Post-Doctoral Fellows:Richard Last who is doing a full-time, two-year appointment, and Valerie Michaelson who is doing a part-time appointment with the School of Religion and the Faculty of Health Sciences for at least two years.

Post-Doctoral Fellows are scholars who have recently completed doctoral studies and wish to do further research in a specific area of interest. They work under the supervision of a faculty member in the School, and enrich the community with their expertise, interests and, in some cases, teaching.

Richard (Rick) Last completed his PhD at the University of Toronto this year.  His research centers on Christ-groups (i.e., ancient churches) from 50 CE to 400 CE – their social usage of space, meals, financial activities, requirements for membership, and honorific functions. His dissertation, Money, Meals, and Honour: The Economic and Honorific Organization of Paul’s Corinthian Ekklesia, explored the “everyday” practices of Roman Corinth’s earliest Christ-group, specifically its use of money and distribution of honorific rewards to leaders.

His post-doctoral work, supervised by Richard Ascough, explores some of the earliest inscriptions and documentary papyri produced by ancient Christ-groups, which, for the most part, do not appear as recognizably-Christian until the third century. He is jointly funded by Queen’s University and SSHRC.

Valerie (Val) Michaelson holds a DMin from the Toronto School of Theology.Her doctoral research involved an interdisciplinary study about religiosity, spirituality and the health of children.Her post-doctoral fellowship is a cross-appointment with the School of Religion, and the Faculty of Health Sciences; she will be co-supervised by Tracy Trothen at the School of Religion and Colleen Davison at Health Sciences.Her research is funded by a CIHR operating grant that will allow her to spend 4 years exploring an exciting and novel topic that involves the holistic health of children and youth.

Rick Last



Rick Last describes his work: “One problem with comparing Pauline Christ-groups with Greek private cultic groups is evidentiary: Paul’s ekklesiai are attested exclusively through epistles that treat mostly occasional matters (e.g., theological clarification, responses to disputes and other problems) while Greek associations are evidenced mostly through inscriptions and papyri that record attendance numbers at banquets, menu items, subscription payments, and honours conferred on members. How do we know the everyday financial and honorific practices of Pauline churches without access to their inscriptions and documentary papyri? I am addressing this evidentiary issue in my postdoctoral research at Queen’s. My research explores some of the earliest inscriptions and documentary papyri produced by ancient Christ-groups, which, for the most part, do not appear as recognizably-Christian until the third century. While there is a temporal divide between the Pauline letters (50s CE) and Christian epigraphy and documentary papyri (c.250 CE and later), many of the basic pressures associated with running a debt-free and attractive cultic group were the same throughout antiquity, which allows the comparative scholar to use later material heuristically to raise new questions about the pressures faced by earliest Christ-groups and how they could have responded to them. Moreover, assembling the documentary evidence of Christ-groups in late antiquity will add to our existing database of association sources, which extends into the fourth century CE.

I have already located several fascinating inscriptions and papyri while at Queen’s. One Egyptian source from c.275-299 CE shows that an ekklesia of Christ-believers crowned a martyr, and set up an inscription mentioning the crowning. This raises the question: did this Christ-group use crowns to reward other forms of honorable behavior? Greek and Judean cults certainly rewarded leaders with crowns and there is evidence from the Pauline epistles that some type of honorific reward was delivered to first-century leaders and benefactors.

There is also epigraphic evidence that some Christians were “heroized” (apheroïzein) by members of their communities. We should not expect to find references to this in the Pauline epistles but it is clear that such a practice was already taking place in Greek associations before the formation of Paul’s Christ-groups. There was apparently nothing “un-Christian” about it, at least for some ancient Christ-groups.  

The papyrological evidence I’ve found so far tells us much about mundane, everyday phenomena surrounding churches in antiquity. One papyrus is a financial account from an unknown provenance in fourth century Egypt. It attests to an account (logos) of Apa Neilos and Phoibammon, leaders of a community that consisted of (at least/only?) 9 members. Several other Christ-groups’ financial accounts survive from 200-400 CE and they each suggest small membership numbers – not only are the membership lists short but also not much food and drink are being purchased for these churches’ banquets. What was the size of the earliest Christ-groups if later ones were smaller than is often assumed?

I look forward to seeing this project to its completion at Queen’s, feel fortunate to be working with Richard Ascough on it, and am grateful for the graciousness everyone has shown me during my time so far in the School of Religion.”


Val Michaelson



Val Michaelson further explains her research, “We are going to be looking at many different aspects of child health but our real focus is to understand how these different aspects of health work together as a composite whole, in the life of whole human beings.  Our research project also involves a study of the family meal and the health promoting family.

Our Principal Investigator, Dr. Davison, brings with her a research interest in aboriginal ideas about health, so I am very excited about how that will become a part of our project.  I am also particularly excited about a novel opportunity our team has this coming year to explore relationships between spirituality and child health, using some substantial quantitative analysis, and potentially some qualitative work as well.


During my doctoral research, I began to understand that health is a deeply integrative concept connected to who we are as developing human beings. My ideas about holistic health have been significantly shaped by the writing of Dr. Jean Vanier, who has written a great deal about the fundamental purpose of our human lives as a journey toward wholeness. This involves our connection to the earth and to one another, and in particular, to those who suffer. Dr. Vanier has helped me begin to understand that as we become more whole ourselves, we become agents of wholeness, or sources of life, to the world around us.  As I work in the area of adolescent health, my hope is that we can use our research to help children to navigate a quickly changing and complicated youth culture and help them to thrive – and to become more whole -- in the context of their own every day lives. 

I have three adolescent daughters, and every day they help me to understand something important about how beautiful and complicated it is to be a human being, who lives and loves and participates in a world that is a mix of joy and suffering. Undoubtedly, this is why the health of adolescent girls is particularly important to me in my research. Knowledge translation is also one of my research priorities, so that we can disseminate what we learn in a way that will help children and families in their everyday lives. I’m very excited to be working on such an interdisciplinary topic and to be working with such a fabulous team here at Queen’s.”

Val is an ordained Anglican priest and works part-time at St. James Anglican Church on the Queen’s campus. She says that she has “an ongoing interest in how religious leaders, with particular focus on my own Christian tradition, can be more holistic and integrative in how they nurture children in a life of faith.” The challenge of integrating church ministry and academic study is very exciting to her and she is very grateful for this opportunity.


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