PhD Position

(PhD) Writing the Rules of Life. Anchoring Church Law between Constantine the Great and Charlemagne

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Radboud University
Erasmusplein 1
6500 HD Nijmegen

Dr. Suzanne van de Liefvoort
+31(0)24 3611276

Writing the Rules of Life. Anchoring Church Law between Constantine the Great and Charlemagne

Anchoring WP11: Anchoring Religious Change (Late Antiquity)

PhD Position (4 years, 1.0 fte), Radboud University

Main Supervisors: Prof. dr Olivier Hekster (Nijmegen), Dr Sven Meeder (Nijmegen) and Dr Rob Meens (Utrecht)

Salary Range: between € 2.541 and € 3.247 gross per month

Project Description

From very early on Christian communities formulated rules to organize themselves. Under Emperor Constantine the Great, the first ecumenical council at Nicaea, for example, promulgated a number of conciliar decisions meant to order Christian life. These decisions, or ‘canons’, would prove to be the building blocks of ecclesiastical or canon law, the first body of law in Western Europe with a universal ambition. The context of these first conciliar decisions was a legal world organized by Roman law, yet from the start, ecclesiastical legislation took on a wholly different form. How did these conciliar decisions become ‘law’ and what exactly did ‘law’ mean in the period of transition from the late antique to the early medieval world?

The key to answering these questions must lie in the study of the development, spread, and use of the collections in which conciliar and synodal decisions were gathered. As canonical innovations allowed for the incorporation in these collections of decrees from other and new authoritative texts, the concept canonical authority was reshaped. The transformations in the first millennium AD in what came to be regarded as canon law play a decisive role in the development of Western legal thought, but the processes in which these venerable traditions were rewritten in collections, or were modified by new conciliar legislation is not yet fully understood.

In this project you are expected to study the ways in which the necessary adaptation of centuries-old material to new circumstances was anchored in tradition. How did the minutes of church councils turn into canons: what made a canon a canon? What rules were applied when formulating new canons and how much room was there for innovation and change? Did the inclusion of a canon in a canonical collection change its character? How did readers deal with the great variety of collections? Why were some collections organized in a chronological way and others in a systematic way and how did this affect the meaning of its canons? The question how canon law related and contributed to royal legislation in the early medieval period, is also relevant here. The most important reform capitulary of the Frankish king Charlemagne in 789, for example, leans heavily on canon law material. The project should result in a dissertation dealing with these questions.

More information about this program can be found on the website ( Another good starting point to get acquainted with the research program is an article by Ineke Sluiter, entitled “Anchoring Innovation: a Classical Research Agenda”.

Terms and Conditions

PhD project, 4 years (1.0 FTE, 38 hrs per week), starting date to be agreed upon, with a preference for September 1, 2023. Initially the employee will receive an 18 month contract, with extension for the following 30 months on condition of a positive evaluation. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis. Salary range from € 2.541 to € 3.247 gross per month for a fulltime appointment (pay scale for PhDs, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

Radboud University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. Please note that if the successful candidate is not already registered as living in the Netherlands, it is required that the candidate will officially relocate to the Netherlands on the starting date of the contract at the latest.

Tasks of the PhD candidate will include

  • Completion of a PhD thesis within the contract period;
  • Participation in meetings of the project research group(s);
  • Presentations of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • Participation in the training program of the Radboud Graduate School for the Humanities, the National Research School in Classics (OIKOS)/ Research School for Medieval Studies and the wider Anchoring Innovation program;
  • Participation in staff meetings and in the intellectual life of the department and the institute;
  • Some teaching in the second and third years of the appointment.


  • A RMA, MA or MPhil degree in Late Antique, Medieval, or Legal History, held by the time of appointment, with an MA thesis of high quality with a grade of at least 8.0 on a ten-point scale, or comparable assessment (if the degree is not yet obtained at the time of application, a statement by the applicant’s supervisor should confirm that it will be obtained by time of appointment);
  • Well-developed research skills, including the ability to formulate relevant and creative research questions and hypotheses, descriptive and analytical skills, and a clear and persuasive style of writing;
  • Excellent competence in English, good command of Latin, passive knowledge of the relevant modern languages;
  • Independent thinker;
  • Team player.


The Anchoring Innovation program is strongly committed to diversity within its team and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


Enquiries about the position can be addressed to Dr Sven Meeder ( We deliberately scheduled a long period between this announcement and the deadline for submission so that candidates have ample time to prepare their own versions of the projects outlined above. We know that the design of a good project takes time and effort. Do not hesitate to contact your prospective supervisor about this. Questions about the procedure can be directed to Dr Suzanne van de Liefvoort (


In order to be admissible, applications must include the following information (in the same order), in one PDF file (not zipped):

  • Cover letter;
  • CV, including contact information of two referees;
  • Transcript of records (i.e. a certified copy of your MA and BA course lists and results);
  • Research proposal of 1500 words. This does not include the bibliography and (if appropriate) an appendix containing a list of sources (together max. two pages A4);
  • Copy of relevant diploma or statement by master thesis supervisor confirming that the applicant will hold the required degree at the time of appointment.

Please submit your complete application to Dr Suzanne van de Liefvoort, the coordinator of the Anchoring-program via before April 24, 2023. Interviews will take place in the week of 22-26 May 2023 (online).