Camel caravan

Camel caravan
Mosaic from Deir al-Adas, Syria, 8th century (photo: J.C.Meyer)
The research project Mechanisms of cross-cultural interaction: Networks in the Roman Near East (2013-2017) investigates the resilient everyday ties, such as trade, religion and power, connecting people within and across fluctuating imperial borders in the Near East in the Roman Period. The project is funded under the Research Council of Norway's SAMKUL initiative, and hosted by the Department of archaeology, history, cultural studies and religion, University of Bergen, Norway.

This blog is no longer updated, for any queries, please contact project leader Eivind Heldaas Seland

Sunday, 30 November 2014

New publication: Early Christianity in East Africa and Red Sea/Indian Ocean Commerce

I've got a new article out in a special volume of African Archaeological Review, on Africa and the Indian Ocean. Inspired in particular by Rodney Stark's work on early Christianity, and Michael Mann's on social power networks, the article makes use of social network perspectives in order to understand how religions spread into new regions, and how the process of conversion might have taken place. In my opinion the network perspective adds value, by reconciling our literary and archaeological sources with modern sociological models of conversion, and by showing how networks of ideology, trade and political power interact.

The ancient East African kingdom of Aksum gradually adopted Christianity from the early- to mid-fourth-century reign of Ezana onwards. The well-known narrative of the late Roman church-historian Rufinus relates a top-down process of conversion, starting with the ruler himself. The report, corroborated by the adoption of Christian symbolism on Ezana’s late coinage, and monotheistic as well as overtly Christian references in royal inscriptions, is generally considered trustworthy. While not challenging the significance of charismatic and powerful individuals, this article argues that Christianity was present in the region before Ezana, and that the introduction of Christianity should be situated within the context of early Red Sea/Indian Ocean commerce. Trade was the carrier of ideological impulses from communities in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean worlds and created the social infrastructure that expatriate believers, early converts, and later, church officials and local elites could draw upon.

The article is open access, and can be downloaded from the journal website. It is published online first, and volume and page numbers will be added when the printed version is out.

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