John Penniman

John Penniman

National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in the Humanities and Associate Prof
Project Director, Bucknell Health Humanities Initiative | Religious Studies Chair
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About John Penniman

John Penniman is Associate Professor and chair of Religious Studies. He arrived at Bucknell in 2015 after completing his PhD at Fordham University in the Bronx. He grew up in Oak Ridge, TN (a Manhattan Project Secret City) and went to college at Elon University in North Carolina. At Bucknell he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and theories of religion. His most popular courses include Dying for God: Martyrdom from Antigone to ISIS; How to Be Alone: Religion, Solitude, and Loneliness; The New Testament and Christian Origins; and Digesting Divinity: Religion, Food, and Diet. Outside of teaching, Prof. Penniman has served extensively as a leader within the Bucknell Humanities Center.

Prof. Penniman’s research focuses on the religions of late antiquity and the development of Christianity within the cultural contexts of ancient Greece and Rome. His first book, Raised on Christian Milk: Food and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity, traces a 2000 year old history of the notion that “you are what you eat,” showing how ancient Christians engaged the leading philosophical and medical theories of the day regarding the power of food to shape bodies, minds, and souls. His next book, tentatively titled The Hands of God: Drugs and Medicine in Early Christian Practice, will re-interpret the history of Christian ritual in light of ancient pharmacology. Motivated by his research on religion and the history of medicine, Prof. Penniman is project director of the Bucknell Health Humanities Initiative. This NEH-funded effort will develop a medical/health humanities academic program at Bucknell, forge partnerships between humanities students and local health organizations, and spotlight groundbreaking research in this interdisciplinary field.

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., Fordham University
  • M.Phil., Fordham University
  • M.T.S., Emory University
  • B.A., Elon University

Research Interests

  • Religions of Late Antiquity
  • Early Christianity
  • Ritual Theory
  • Food Studies
  • History of Medicine
  • Historiography

Teaching Interests

  • History of Christianity
  • “Abrahamic Religions”
  • Theories of Religion
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Religion
  • Religion and Pop Culture

Selected Publications


Raised on Christian Milk: Food and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity (Yale University Press, 2017).


“Blended with the Savior: Gregory of Nyssa’s Eucharistic Pharmacology,” Studies in Late Antiquity 2.4 (December 2018): 512-541.

"Fed to Perfection: Mother's Milk, Roman Family Values and the Transformation of the Soul in Gregory of Nyssa," Church History 84:3 (Fall 2015): 1-36.

"The Health-Giving Cup: Cyprian's Ep. 63 and the Medicinal Power of Eucharistic Wine," Journal of Early Christian Studies23.2 (Summer 2015): 189-211.

Further Information

Contact Details


13 Coleman Hall