We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.


View Profile

Ms Jessica Irma Olga van 't Westeinde, BA, MA

Contact Ms Jessica Irma Olga van 't Westeinde

 Academic biography

I have pursued my undergraduate studies at KU Leuven, Belgium, where I have obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Religious Studies in 2011. From early on in my studies I developed a fascination for the world of late Antiquity, and for Pelagius in particular. In my second year I wrote my bachelor paper ‘Pelagius: Biography and Bibliography. Historical-critical research of Pelagius’. This work would become the basis for further research, and in my third year of the undergraduate degree I wrote my bachelor’s thesis entitled ‘The Pelagian Controversy: an attempt to contextualise the controversy’ (thesis marked magna cum laude). I deemed it necessary to first try to illustrate the context before I could analyse the theological debates of that controversy. Both works have been supervised by Prof.dr. Mathijs Lamberigts.

Remaining at KU Leuven, I advanced into postgraduate studies and was awarded the degree of Master of Arts in Theology and Religious Studies in 2012 (magna cum laude). For my Master’s degree I majored in Church History, however the Leuven curriculum demands that students take modules from each discipline within the field of Theology, Religious Studies, and Canon Law. Besides the ordinary curriculum, I also took some additional modules in philosophy, biblical ethics, and mysticism. My Master’s dissertation, under supervision of Prof. Dr. Mathijs Lamberigts, was again centred round Pelagius, this time focussing on his theology. The dissertation was entitled ‘The Pelagian Controversy: A Discussion on its Definition’ (dissertation marked magna cum laude). The dissertation was publicly defended before a board of examiners who strongly suggested to publicise the dissertation as a whole, or in seperate articles. I am currently rewriting and analysing my work in order to prepare it for publication.

From KU Leuven I moved to Durham University, to study with Prof. Dr. Carol Harrison where I am currently a doctoral candidate.

Doctoral research

My doctoral project balances between theology and history, expanding at times to classics, anthropology, archeology, and sociology. The interdisciplinary character of the project specifically comes to the fore in the first part of the dissertation which seeks to provide both an introduction and contextualisation of the project’s topic: education in Jerome’s correspondence. By analyzing Jerome’s instructive correspondence – mainly focussing on his epistolary correspondence – with his students (and the wider public where applicable) I am trying to picture the mutual influence from pagan society on Christian culture and vice versa, with particular emphasis on how a Christian education came into existence, why, to what extent, and whether it served particular goals (deliberate goals and undesired or unexpected consequences). In order to verify whether such a generalisation based on research into Jerome’s writings is valid, I shall compare him to his contemporaries to see where Jerome is exceptional, and where he fits into a broader tendency or development within the Church.


"Questioning Authority: Christian education leading to lay participation in doctrinal debates" – ‘Tradition and Transformation: Dissent and Consent in the Mediterranean’, third CEMS International Graduate Conference, Central European University, Budapest, 30 May – 1 June 2013

"Distributing arms for theological encounters: Jerome’s doctrinal instructions to Marcella" – Postgraduate Research Conference, Department of Theology and Religion, University College, Durham, 2 May 2013

"Pelagius: not so much a heretic after all" – St Chad’s College Research Forum, 30 April 2013

"Disce quod doceas: Reading Jerome’s instruction to the priest Nepotian in the light of the emerging culture of Christian education" – St Chad’s College Research Forum, 7 March 2013

Further academic commitments

I currently work as a research assistant to Dr Franklin Harkins. This post includes assisting in compiling primary source bibliographies and editing of an index. I have previously worked as an RA to Dr Stuart Weeks, which mainly involved researching bibliographies and collecting them in a database (Zotero).

I have also been appointed teaching assistant for the academic year 2013-2014. As a TA, my task is to assist Professor Carol Harrison in the third year undergraduate module on ‘St Augustine and his Age’, more specifically to give lectures and lead seminars of this module in Epiphany term. Furthermore, I will be teaching my own, seminar-based course titled ‘Reading and Reconciling Pelagius’. This is an extracurricular course aimed at undergraduate students and will run in the second half of Michaelmas term.

In addition to my work as RA and TA, I have been appointed coordinator of ‘Café des Théologiennes’ (formerly known as ‘Café des Femmes’). As such, I am responsible for leading the organisation of the seminars, which take place fortnightly during term time, and the annual Postgraduate Research Conference, which offers a platform for postgraduate students of the Department to present their research to their peers and academic staff.

On a non-academic level I am involved in St Chad’s College Chaplaincy Discussion Group, which meets during term time and where I have occasionally chaired a session (e.g. on Peter Ochs and Jewish Morning Prayer).

Research Interests

  • Christianisation of the Roman Empire
  • Jerome of Stridon
  • Jewish Studies
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Jewish-Christian-Pagan relations in the (late) Roman Empire
  • Judaism in late Antiquity
  • Julian of Aeclanum
  • Late Antiquity
  • Medieval Mysticism (particularly in the Low Countries)
  • Pelagius and "Pelagianism"
  • Second Vatican Council (M.-D. Chenu)

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Theology: Fourth century Roman Empire: the emergence of Christianity and its growing religious, political, social,and cultural power.
  • Ethics, Religion & Beliefs: The emergence of Christian education in late Antiquity, the forms it took, the people it reached. How can we learn from this for today's RE?
  • Theology: Pelagius and "Pelagianism" (heresy vs. orthodoxy in the Catholic Church; condemnations; defining Christian identity)