Robert Girling

Thesis title:  Music In Egyptian Gnostic Thought During Late Antiquity



Robert has been with the Music department since beginning his BA in Music and Egyptology in 2015. In a Music MRes, Robert further explored his interests in the intersection between language and music across cultural encounters.  Conducting ethnographic research into the experiences of Chinese postgraduates studying with the department emphasised the linguistic and cross-linguistic aspects underpinning and shaping musical learning.

Robert’s PhD studies continue to investigate the language surrounding music, drawing on his unique undergraduate training to research an aspect of the gap between archaeomusicology and early medieval music history.  Robert’s research focuses on a time when philosophical and cultural frameworks fundamental to the development of Western musical (and broader cultural) thinking were being established and contested in centres of Hellenic culture, especially Alexandria in Egypt.  His research introduces the native Egyptian literature written in Coptic – much of which demonstrates varying degrees of traditional Egyptian, Christianised, and Gnosticised thinking – to the study of the early church music which shaped subsequent Western music history.

Robert is also a pianist and cantor, educated in Gregorian chant by the Institutum Christi Regis Summi Sacerdotis.

Teaching and learning

Graduate Teaching Assistant on the following modules:

  • MUSI 121 Why Music Matters (2020/21, 2021/22)
  • MUSI 270 Music in World Cinema (2021/22)

Further experience:

  • Qualified as an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2022).
  • Chaired the departmental PGR Research Seminar Series 2020-21.
  • An organiser for Trans*Historical, the first conference expressly for trans* historians from any historical discipline, hosted by the University of Liverpool (10-11th July 2023).
  • Academic writing tutor working with postgraduates and early career researchers (since 2017).

Conference papers

  • [Accepted paper] ‘Applying Trans Theory to Figures from Ancient Egypt: A Very Broad Overview’. Trans*Historical. The University of Liverpool, (10-11th July 2023).
  • [Accepted paper] ‘A two-way street? Investigating cross-cultural impact and reciprocity in the musical influences of Roman Egypt’. Cross-Cultural Contact Between Egypt and the Roman Empire. The British School at Rome/The Norwegian Institute in Rome, 13th-14th April 2023.
  • ‘A musicological reading of a ‘Spell to obtain a good singing voice’ (BL Or. Ms. 6794)’. Sixth Congress of the Egyptian Exploration Society. Swansea University, 1st-2nd October 2022.
  • ‘Expressing change: Music and theurgy in early Coptic literary texts’. BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference 2021. University of Cambridge (online), 12th–14th January 2021.
  • ‘On surveying the literature of early Coptic musicology: Challenges and approaches’. BFE/RMA Research Student’s Conference 2020. The Open University, 9th-11th January 2020.


  • Girling, R. (2023) [Accepted paper] ‘Music in the Christian literature of Roman Egypt’. In: Mosleth King, M. M. ed. Cross-Cultural Contact Between Egypt and the Roman Empire. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Girling, R. (2023) [Accepted review, title TBD] Review of Knowledge Lost: A New View of Early Modern Intellectual History, by Martin Muslow. European Review of History, Vol. 30.


Archaeomusicology interests include:

  • Decolonising music history.
  • History of music and Gnostic thought.
  • Music in and around ritual texts.

Musical anthropology interests include:

  • Non-Western conceptualisations of music, its role, and its relationship to broader cultural concepts.
  • Cross-linguistic learning.
  • Socio-cultural mechanisms of knowledge transmission.
  • Knowledge thresholds and liminal stages.

External links

Twitter: @robert_girling

Supervisors:  Dr Lee Tsang and Dr Roland Enmarch (Senior Lecturer in Egyptology)