Phillip J. Webster

[photo of Phil Webster]
Contact Information
Office Address: 
230 Cohen Hall
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Phillip's dissertation, Psukhai that Matter: The Psukhē in and behind Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogus, aims to investigate the ideology and mechanics of the ancient soul’s materiality as witnessed in Clement of Alexandria’s late second- or early third-century work, the Paedagogus. It focuses on four ways in which Clement refers to the soul: (1) as an entity in need of punishment and healing, (2) as vulnerable to substances and the activities of the body, (3) as made visible through the body’s appearance, and (4) as an internal moral-core. Through the lens of the Paedagogus, this dissertation introduces recent theoretical work on “materiality” and “the body,” especially as developed in gender studies, into the broad scholarly conversation about the ancient soul. In the process, it shows how Clement uses the interactions between the ancient soul and the ancient body in his attempt to produce and police Christian subjects.

Research and Teaching Interests: 

Broadly interested in Judaism and Christianity in antiquity, Phillip particularly likes to think about questions of theory and method in the field of Religious Studies. 

Phillip was the 2015-16 Erika A. Strauss Teaching Fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and the 2015-16 Boardman Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at Penn. He was also the 2015-16 Graduate Assistant for the Center for Ancient Studies at Penn. In 2014-15 he was a graduate fellow at Penn's Center for Teaching and Learning. His areas of teaching interest and competency include: New Testament, Early Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, Theory and Method in Religious Studies, and Sex and Gender in the Ancient Mediterranean World.

Phillip's Papers Include:

“The Senses, Volatile Bodies and Clement of Alexandria's Paidagogus,” Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, November 24, 2014.

“Clement of Alexandria and the Appearance of the Virtuous Soul,” Religious Competition in Late Antiquity Section, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, November 23, 2014.

“Diagnose and Heal: the Sick Soul in Clement of Alexandria,” North American Patristics Society Annual Meeting, May 22, 2014.

“The Affected Soul in Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogus,” Late Ancient Religions in Central New York Symposium, Colgate University, April 14, 2014.

“Knowing Combabus’ Eunuch Body,” Religious World of Late Antiquity Section, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, November 19, 2012.

“Copying the Unoriginal: Combabus's Eunuch Body,” Authenticity, Origins, and Authority in the Practice and Study of Religion, Brown University, March 17, 2012.

“Ambrose’s Strut and the Making of Soul and Gender,” Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins Graduate Conference, University of Pennsylvania, April 11, 2011.

“Fashioning Rabbi Akiva’s Martyrdom,” Jewish Studies Graduate Student Colloquium, University of Pennsylvania, February 9, 2011.

“Judith Butler: Gender Trouble,” Religious Studies Colloquium, University of Pennsylvania, October 21, 2010.

“Clement’s Hairy Religion: Notes on the Visual Making of (Gendered) Christian Subjects,” The Banality of Religion: Close Readings of the Everyday, Stanford University, May 21, 2010.

“Hairy Religion: Clement of Alexandria’s Visual Construction of the Christian Subject,” Religious Studies Colloquium, University of Pennsylvania, April 22, 2010.


Recent Courses: 

In fall 2016 he will teach "Religion and Violence" at Penn. In the past he has taught the following courses: "From Miracles to Mindfulness" (with Prof. Steve Weitzman) (Spring 2016), "Paul and His Interpreters" (Spring 2015), "Jesus and Judaism" (Fall 2014). He was a 2014-15 Graduate Fellow for Teaching Excellence at The Center for Teaching and Learning (University of Pennsylvania). His TA-ships include "Religions of the West" (Prof. Annette Reed, spring 2012), “Introduction to Africana Studies” (Prof. Anthea Bulter, fall 2011), “Introduction to Buddhism” (Prof. Justin McDaniel, spring 2011), “Ancient Greece” (Prof. Jeremy McInerney, fall 2010),  “Early Christianity and the New Testament” (Prof. Harry Gamble, spring 2009), and “Theology, Ethics, and Medicine” (Prof. James Childress, fall 2008).