Home > Books, Byzantium, Late Antiquity > A Quick Course on Art, Ritual, and Text in Early Christianity

A Quick Course on Art, Ritual, and Text in Early Christianity

For the last few years, I’ve offered an informal readings for graduate and advanced level undergraduates in the Spring semester.  In the past, I’ve offered readings on the Age of Augustus, The Archaeology of Late Antiquity, and Authority in the Early Christian World.  Generally these quick courses are designed to sample (in an almost random way) some recent and classic books offered on a particular area.  This semester’s will be Experience, Ritual, and Text is Early Christianity.  After a quick primer with some Peter Brown and Robert Taft, we’ll proceed through some recent(ish) and important works that emphasize on some ways the experience of religion, religious art, and ritual in Late Antiquity. 

The most glaring omission (of several) is the lack of any work on ekphrasis — that is the poetics of description — which became such an important component of Late Antique literature.  I might yet add a 7th week and draw in a work like the recent edited volume by Liz James, Art and Text in Byzantine Culture. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007).  It’s also disappointing to have to leave out such classics as Thomas Mathew’s The early churches of Constantinople : architecture and liturgy. (University Park, 1971) or The Clash of Gods (Princeton 1993).

But for a 6 week, non-credit, informal style readings, I think this is a nice core of material for discussion:

Experience, Ritual, Text in Early Christianity
An Informal Reading
Syllabus

Course Goals:

This is just an informal reading, but the goals are to explore some classic and recent literature on the intersection of Art, Ritual, and Text in Early Christian (and Byzantium).  The readings will have a slight archaeological bent to them, but nevertheless attempts to touch on art historical and liturgiological approaches as well.  The books included below are not meant to be a representative sample of recent approach nor even a good sample of Classic texts, but a gaggle of works that intersect the tangled matrix of space, ritual, art, and power in the Early Christian world.

Basic Texts:

Reading 1
P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity. New York 1971.
K. Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field”
(http://www.arts.cornell.edu/Classics/faculty/KBowes_files/early%20christian%20archaeology%20religion%20compass.pdf)

Reading 2
R. Taft, Through their own eyes: liturgy as the Byzantine’s saw it.  Berkeley 2006.
R. Taft, The Byzantine Rite: A Short History.  Minneapolis 1992.

Reading 3
J. Elsner, Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art from the Pagan World to Christianity.  Cambridge 1995.

Reading 4
A. Wharton, Refiguring the Post-Classical City: Dura Europas, Jerash, Jerusalem, and Ravenna.  Cambridge 1995.

Reading 5
S. A. Harvey, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination.  Berkeley 2006.

Reading 6
K. Bowes, Private Worship, Public Values, and Religious Change in Late Antiquity.  Cambridge 2008.

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