The classics department welcomed its first guest professor from overseas as a visiting scholar for the spring semester.
Dr. Peter Arzt-Grabner is an assistant professor at the University of Salzburg in Austria, where he specializes in papyrology, the study of documents written on paper made from the papyrus plant.
During his 2004 visit to the Pruett Memorial Symposium, Arzt-Grabner met Dr. Alden Smith, chairman of the classics department, who later offered the invitation to Baylor.
Smith said a visit from such a distinguished scholar is a unique experience for students.
"We are very gratified and honored to have Dr. Arzt-Grabner among the faculty and students," Smith said. "It's great because students get to meet a famous scholar who shows such a deep interest in his work."
Arzt-Grabner arrived in Waco on Jan. 6 and began his seminar Jan. 12.
As a visiting scholar, Arzt-Grabner will teach one seminar, readings from Greek Literature, in which he will cover the impact of papyri on the New Testament in comparison with today's life.
"These papyri give a deeper insight on what was going on in everyday life and how people in those days might have understood the New Testament text," Arzt-Grabner said.
Arzt-Grabner teaches a similar course at the University of Salzburg.
Arzt-Grabner said his goal as a visiting scholar this semester is for students to enjoy studying documentary papyri, where he said he hopes they find similarities between their lives and the lives of people in the New Testament.
"Of course, we have computers now and technology is much different, but they had almost the same problems in their families: relationships, taxes, financial debts and solving problems. All of this is documented in the papyri," Arzt-Grabner said. "It also includes a very deep insight on the problems in today's pupils in school."
Since his arrival, Arzt-Grabner has noted distinct cultural differences between Salzburg and Baylor.
In Austria, there are no campus universities. There are buildings for courses, but the majority of students live outside the university.
"Campus life here is much closer than the life of students in our university," Arzt-Grabner said. "It seems ... students are open-minded here, much more than Austria or Germany."
Outside of the Baylor campus, Arzt-Grabner said, he immediately recognized cultural differences between Austrians and Americans.
"When I first came to the U.S., I noticed that so many people say 'hello' and 'how are you doing today?' In Austria, you greet with 'hello,' but you would never say 'how are you doing?' Arzt-Grabner said.
Working alongside Arzt-Grabner is Dr. Jeffrey Fish, assistant professor of classics, who said he feels honored to work with an expert in documentary papyri.
"We didn't have any idea he would say yes to our invitation," Fish said. "He's a very distinguished professor in Austria, but I guess you never know until you ask someone."