UNE scholar elected to Australian Academy of the Humanities

Published 17 December 2008

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The highest possible distinction in scholarship in the humanities has been bestowed on an internationally respected University of New England author and scholar.

Dr Anna Silvas (pictured here), an Australian Research Fellow in the School of Humanities at UNE, is one of 19 scholars to be newly elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

‘I’m taken aback by it,’ Dr Silvas said. ‘It’s such an honour. I didn’t seek this at all – in fact, I still don’t quite know who put my name forward or made the citation.’

Dr Silvas’s research focuses on late antiquity, especially monastic communities and the spirituality of ascetic women in early and medieval Christianity. In only ten years of publishing she has established an international reputation for the depth and breadth of her work, which ranges across Greek, Latin and Syriac sources from the fourth to the twelfth century.

The Australian Academy of the Humanities is a not-for-profit organisation incorporated by Royal Charter in 1969. The aim of the Academy is to promote the interests of the humanities in Australia. It also works to advance the knowledge of – and the pursuit of excellence in –subjects within disciplines including Prehistory and Archaeology, Classical Studies, Linguistics and Philology, Philosophy and Religion, and the History of Ideas.

‘How I’ve emerged to this is quite surprising,’ Dr Silvas said. ‘I’m not competitive at all, but I am most certainly grateful for the honour. Professionally, being a fellow of the Academy is a real feather in one’s cap. It may help in my survival as a researcher down the track.’

Dr Silvas’s fellowship of the Australian Academy of the Humanities is the result of a unique and productive career. After finishing school she began the study of architecture at Sydney University, but decided on a change of direction and entered a monastic community in 1974. It was her experience of the liturgy that led to her interest in learning Greek in order to read the Church Fathers. When the opportunity came later in life, she pursued the study of ancient languages – Classical and Semitic.

Her published works include translations of ancient literature as well as monographs, such as: Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God (2008), ‘In Quest of Basil’s Retreat: An Expedition to Ancient Pontus’ (2007), Gregory of Nyssa: the Letters (2007), The Asketikon of Basil the Great (2005), and Jutta and Hildegard: the Biographical Sources (1998).

Her first book, Jutta and Hildegard: the Biographical Sources, in which Dr Silvas collected and translated disparate medieval Latin texts, has been acclaimed as one of the most significant on the topic to ever appear in English.

Her monograph on Basil of Caesarea, a key figure in late antiquity recognised for his reconciliation of classical learning and Christian culture and his program for health care and aid for the poor, has been hailed as a landmark study. In 2006 Dr Silvas earned archaeologists’ respect when she discovered Basil’s actual hideaway in Turkey – a location that had eluded scholars and enthusiasts for more than 16 centuries.

While her knowledge has continued to develop and grow over the years, she believes her essential disposition remains the same. She has spent 12 years at UNE and is grateful for the strength and conviction shown by its leaders. ‘UNE has been fantastic in its support for me,’ Dr Silvas said. ‘It has given me so many opportunities to explore and flourish. I am very thankful.’