Research

My research interests center on the examination of the social and cultural life of the ancient Mediterranean world. I have paid special attention to the socio-rhetorical culture of the late Hellenistic and early Roman Empire in order to uncover the discursive strategies of early Christian literature, particularly as they relate to the themes of power, knowledge, and identity.

 

 

I. Current Research Project

Spatial Stories: Discourses of Geography, Movement,
and Identity in the Roman Empire

My current project examines the discursive techniques that Greek, Roman, and Christian authors employ to configure space, movement, and identity. The rhetoric of empire, travel, and exile offer contrasting strategies designed to 1) assert knowledge, 2) define or contest authority, and 3) establish models for self-definition.

Abstract

The first centuries of the Roman Empire were a time of unparalleled movement in the ancient world. Rome’s military dominance not only made travel more accessible, but its reconfigurations of the political and social landscape meant that people routinely experienced various forms of translocation: the world was “full of exiles,” as Tacitus remarked. This study will examine this phenomenon by positioning a range of discourses on movement with imperial productions of space and identity. Drawing upon insights from cultural geography and cultural theory, this book will show how the Roman imperial apparatus produced configurations of space that many writers engaged as they (re)examined the nature of Roman power. The result is a collection of discourses that negotiate Rome’s imperial map and offer alternative configurations of space and identity.

 

II. Refereed Articles and Book Chapters: At a Glance

“Mapping Exilic Imaginaries: Greco-Roman Discourses of Displacement and the Book of Revelation.” Studia Patristica (forthcoming).

Studies on the island of Patmos within the context of Revelation have traditionally centered on a rather narrow set of historical-critical questions. Following Ian Boxall’s recent monograph, this essay utilizes theoretical insights on the imaginary and literary theory to explore the history of early Christian literature that identifies John as an exile. Evaluating the development of this tradition reveals the Christian imaginary at work, constructing a narrative that, like other Greco-Roman discourses of displacement, challenged imperial constructions of identity, power, and space and invited reflections on a new, alternative vision of self and society.

“Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome.” In Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity 17, edited by Julia Hillner, Jörg Ulrich, and Jakob Engberg, 213-230. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2016.

In an effort to negotiate both distance and difference, exilic experiences may be read as “spatial stories” where overlapping and contested claims about territory and self-definition meet. This is particularly true when examining the phenomenon of exile in the Roman Empire. While imperial writings on space and identity promoted a triumphal metanarrative that celebrated Rome’s mastery of the orbis terrarum and constructed idealized descriptions of Romanitas, exilic writers carved out counterspaces and alternative identities in an effort to reimagine their experiences. This paper explores these discursive convergences through the theoretical work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Michel Foucault.

“Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation.” In Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity 17, edited by Julia Hillner, Jörg Ulrich, and Jakob Engberg, 129-143. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2016.

Early Christianity’s engagement with its cultural heritage can be detected in the ways that Cyprian, the Christian communities in Carthage and Rome, and Cyprian’s biographer Pontius appropriate the varied discourses on displacement found within the pagan and Christian tradition. This paper will examine how Cyprian and his contemporaries mined the reservoir of topoi associated with exile and flight in order to define the appropriate response to imperial persecution and to establish the contours of the Christian community in its aftermath. Against those who viewed escape from persecution negatively and sought to construct a church of the martyrs, Cyprian and his supporters mobilize exilic motifs to defend his flight, to counter the support for an elite church defined by confessors and martyrs, and to establish the attitudes and behaviors necessary for inclusion in the “mother church.” The literary archive on displacement thus provides the bishop and his contemporaries with a culturally conditioned framework to debate and clarify the dimensions of authentic Christianity. In the process, these discursive “practices” on identity and space produce a specific Christian social formation.

Peripatetic Pedagogy: Travel and Transgression in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.” Studia Patristica 65 (2013): 263-275.

The Greco-Roman world produced two competing discourses on travel: while some writers associate travel with charlatans and outsiders, others valorize it as the way to acquire or demonstrate wisdom. Travel thus becomes a topos for assessing a person’s character and clarifying power relationships. The Apocryphal Acts illustrate these concerns by raising and then refuting the characterization of the apostles as aimless, scheming vagabonds. Instead, they emerge as divinely ordained missionaries charged with enlightening humanity to the message of God. At the same time, their teachings and deeds of power present a challenge to Roman spatial practices: not only do the apostles contest imperial claims of earthly domination through their world travel, but their reappropriation of social territory (e.g. house, prisons, graveyards) produce ‘counterspaces’ that subvert Rome’s constructions of these spaces. The ‘spatial stories’ in the Acts thus present alternative models for self-definition and social organization that invite their audiences to reimagine the ideological foundations of the empire.

“Spec(tac)ular Sights: Mirroring in/of Acts.” In Engaging Early Christian History: Reading Acts in the Second Century, edited by Rubén R. Dupertuis and Todd Penner, 59-78. Durham, England: Acumen Publishing, 2013.

Among the synoptic writers, Luke exhibits the most sustained interest in developing his gospel through the language of optics: not only does Jesus’ mission center on bringing sight to the blind, but his very presence invites observation, forcing others to respond to him through their visual examinations. Does this literary feature extend into Luke’s companion volume? This essay explores this issue by reading Acts alongside a wider collection of traditions that highlight the power of vision and employ the mirror in discussions of exemplarity and self-improvement.  In this text, Luke returns once more to optics in order to explore the theological and social dimensions of the early Christian movement.  Specifically, he constructs Jesus’ disciples as witnesses to divine power, agents of God whose keen eyesight reveals their authority, and imitators of Christ whose capacity to see the resurrected Jesus shapes and validates their character.  These observations lead to an investigation of the reception of Acts in an effort to show how second-century audiences might have appreciated its stories as ‘mirrors’ through which to forge their own sense of identity.

Surveillance, Interrogation, And Discipline: Inside Ignatius’ Panopticon.” Studia Patristica 45 (2010): 373-378.

According to Foucault, antiquity exercised authority through the spectacle, that ritualized drama in which power impressed itself upon the masses. This situation changed in the eighteenth century, however, when surveillance replaced the spectacle as the primary mechanism for disciplining society. This essay questions Foucault’s distinction between ancient and modern societies, arguing instead that a panoptic spirit can be detected in the discursive strategies of Ignatius of Antioch. While his letters display a keen understanding of the coercive power embedded in the spectacle, they also testify to an interest in shaping communities through disciplinary observation. Surveillance and interrogation both play instrumental roles in the production of Ignatius’ script for a Christian identity grounded in obedience to authority and a continual inspection of self and others.

“Thinking With Soul: Psyche and Psychikos in the Construction of Early Christian Identities.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 17 (2009): 563-603.

Early Christian writers devised numerous rhetorical strategies to clarify their perceptions of Christianity and to distinguish the followers of Jesus from various “others.”  Yet identity theorists have noticed that the self is not a “fixed” or static category, but rather one that is always under negotiation and (re)examination.  Moreover, embedded within arguments distinguishing “us” from “them” are claims to power and knowledge.  Drawing upon these insights, this essay examines how the concept of the soul, which had a long history of use in philosophic discussions on selfhood, became a useful tool to establish early Christian identities and marginalize opponents.  Whether understood as a metaphor or as a “real” entity, psychē and its adjectival form psychikos became discursive “markers” in early Christian polemic or apologetic, enabling writers to carve out a sense of self and to establish a place for Christians on the social map of the Greco-Roman world.

Surveillant Discipline: Panoptic Vision in Early Christian Self-Definition.” The Bible and Critical Theory 4.2 (2008): 23.1-23.21.

Michel Foucault’s groundbreaking work on power and knowledge has generated considerable interest among scholars seeking to clarify how these concepts operated in early Christian literature. One mode of power that Foucault identified as representative of the modern era finds expression in the Panopticon, the prison-house whose creator, Jeremy Bentham, designed to regulate inmates through observation. While Foucault thought that this technology marked a new age in the history of discipline and punishment, this essay argues that Bentham’s discussion of the panoptic gaze and its effects on those surveiled can be found in the literature of antiquity. Early Christian writers used panoptic rhetoric both to establish the authority of God, Jesus, and early Christian leaders and to encourage their audiences to watch over themselves and others. They thus sought to establish a ‘technology of the self’ and circumscribe communal boundaries based upon a system marked by surveillant discipline.

Flip-Flop? John Chrysostom’s Polytropic Paul.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 4 (2007): 9-31.

In antiquity, consistency in both word and deed was the hallmark of a virtuous man.  Alongside this discourse, however, a counter argument developed that praised variability in speech or action, equating it with intellectual dexterity.  For ancient writers, Odysseus, the “man of many ways,” was the central character in this debate; for many early Christians, the primary figure was Paul.  This paper explores polytropism through an analysis of the Paul’s Corinthian correspondence and the writings of John Chrysostom.  Paul and Chrysostom both appropriate argumentation from the Odyssean debate: the apostle finds it useful in defending his gospel, while the bishop sees Paul’s versatility as not only an instrumental feature of his missionary success, but a quality that his own Christian community should strive to emulate.

“Following in Paul’s Footsteps: Mimesis and Power in Ignatius of Antioch.” In Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, 287-305. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Although it is now a commonplace to acknowledge Ignatius’ debt to Pauline thought, scholars continue to debate the precise nature of this relationship as they search for a vocabulary to assess the bishop’s “Paulinisms.” Yet recent studies on the art of mimēsis provide a tool that is particularly well-suited for evaluating the complex relationship between texts, with emphasis placed on the transformative rhetorical process of “internalization” and “re-articulation.” By revisiting the Paul-Ignatius question through the lens of mimēsis, this paper argues that the Ignatian correspondence can be viewed as mimetic productions, and that these letters, like those of Paul, have as their focus a construction of the self that is embedded in ancient notions of power. For Ignatius, this method of self-presentation then becomes the fulcrum for generating a vision of the church based upon hierarchy and unity.

“Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, ‘Otherness,’ and the Construction of a Johannine Identity.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 32 (2003): 39-58.

This study explores the nexus between intertextuality and identity through an analysis of the Johannine letters.  Jonathan Z. Smith’s observations on “otherness” and identity provide the theoretical background for the claim that the construction of an “other” is an integral component in the process of self-definition: identity is forged through the establishment of binary formulae that highlight difference.  The Johannine epistles create metonymical and topographical/cosmographical binarisms in order to distinguish certain “others” who no longer participate in community life.  Moreover, the letters draw on the traditions contained in the Fourth Gospel’s Farewell Discourse (13:31-17:26) in an attempt to establish a distinctive Johannine identity.  Through this “re-reading,” the author both exhorts his audience to remain true to the group’s formative teachings and attempts to heighten his own status by echoing the final words of Jesus.

The Areopagus as Echo Chamber: Mimesis and Intertextuality in Acts 17.” The Journal of Higher Criticism 9 (2002): 259-277.

While the book of Acts has a flair for the dramatic, one of Luke’s more mundane episodes, Paul’s visit to Athens and his Areopagus speech (17:16-34), continues to command scholarly attention.  Many studies have either assessed its historical veracity or examined how it helps contextualize Luke (or Paul) within early Christianity. What has gone unnoticed, however, is the idea that the influence of the Areopagus speech may be multidirectional, that it may say something not only about Luke or Paul but about Socrates as well. This paper pursues this line of thought by drawing on the insights of mimēsis and intertextuality, two techniques for exploring how the relationship between texts produces “tones” that resonate in new and often unexpected ways. These approaches provide the foundation for showing how the Areopagus speech acts as an echo chamber in which the tones of the text reverberate in two directions. While Luke gives his readers the opportunity to imagine Paul as Socrates, he also invites later readers to “re-hear” Socrates as Paul. Justin Martyr accepts this invitation by using the Areopagus speech to detail Socrates’ trial and death and to identify him as a Christian philosopher and martyr.

“Saying as Doing: Performative Prayer and Mystical Ascent in Hermetic Hymnody.” Cauda Pavonis: Studies in Hermeticism 20 (2001): 1-8.

John Austin’s How to Do Things with Words demonstrated the ways in which language has a performative force. This idea has opened up new avenues for research in ritual studies: a performative approach to language suggests that through its communication of cultural symbols, the articulation of words bears an active force that effectively alters the status of the participant.  Words possess power.  While students of the Bible have mined these insights for a generation, they have yet to filter into the research of the Hermetica. By emphasizing the transformative power of words, this investigation seeks to clarify the mechanics of mystical regeneration in the Hermetic literature and to open up new ground for research on the performative aspects of ancient prayer.