Flagler College reported to Historic City News that in what he called one of the high points of his career, Dr. Timothy Johnson, professor of religion and Liberal Studies Chair at Flagler, presented research at a prestigious conference at Catholic University of Milan last month.
Johnson joined scholars from around the world at the conference, “Religiosity and Civilization, Religious Forms of Identity,” which was put on by the university’s Department of Medieval Studies. He was one of only two Americans invited to attend — the other coming from Princeton University.
“It’s very, very important for someone like myself to be able to present the results of my research to an international group of peers to hear from them their critiques,” Johnson said. “You have to have peers who evaluate your work who can call you to task, or pat you on the back and affirm that you are moving in the right way. … For me it was very, very rewarding.”
The conference was about the construction of religious identity in the middle ages, and Johnson was asked to present a paper on the stories of St. Francis composed by St. Bonaventure, who was one of the premier theologians of the Franciscan Order.
“I’ve done a lot of work on the writings about the Saints,” said Johnson, who noted that for the last year he has been focusing his research on how the recounting of those stories over time and by various institutions helped to form identity.
“In my paper I tried to show how (St.) Bonaventure writes the story of Francis in such a way that he can shape the identity of the brothers in his order,” he said. Bonaventure had been one of the leaders of the Franciscan Order in the 13th century.
Johnson is particularly interested in how religious institutions over time shape the retelling of stories and in particular what this teaches us about those who are “refashioning” them. This means studying numerous versions of centuries-old manuscripts to find differences in how the stories were being told.
“We see some of this in the Gospels,” he said. “If you read the Gospels you can see how the story of Jesus in every Gospel is different and to a degree that tells us something about Jesus. But in some ways it actually tells us more about the people who were writing it because people write the story that they believe is most powerful for their community.”
“The power of the story is really held by the institution that tells the story,” he added. The paper, which he presented in Italian, will now be published in a journal.
Johnson, a former Fulbright Scholar, is also working on bringing a research conference to the college in 2011 that will be called, “From La Florida to La California: The Genesis and Realization of Franciscan Evangelization in the Spanish Borderlands.” He said that conference will coincide with celebrations for St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary and will attract several well-known scholars from North America and Europe.