The Holy Spirit, Bodies, and Mary in Late Ancient Hymnography
My research interests currently surround the depictions of bodies in late ancient Christian liturgical poetry, mainly in the eastern Mediterranean region. These fourth- to sixth-century Greek and Syriac texts interpret and imagine biblical figures for their congregations, shaping the audience’s imagination and understanding of their own lived experiences as embodied human beings. I am most interested in the reception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in these texts and depictions of her body before, during, and after her pregnancy. The interaction of the Holy Spirit (or divinity) with her physical self and the physical effects of that interaction served as a model for theological understandings of embodiment that was passed through song to the audience. The way in which the authors reshape the biblical narratives for the Christian liturgy had an impact on the laity in the pews and could be a resource for churches today, even as American Christianity tends toward a narrowly curated collection of Western theological sources to draw from and neglects other sources that could be helpful and even liberative.
Other research interests center on how early Christian theologians, particularly Augustine of Hippo and Pseudo-Dionysius, produced theological works and saw themselves doing so. How did these writers relate to God in their works on God? What was their posture in writing theological works? For these and other questions, I have focused on two of Augustine's major works, Confessions and De Trinitate, as well as Pseudo-Dionysius' Mystical Theology and Divine Names.
As an example, see: "Speechless and Searching: Augustine's Understanding of Infancy," Studia Patristica CXVIII, ed. Markus Vinzent (Leuven: Peeters, 2021), 33–40.
Basilica of St. Denis, France
Durham, Duke Greek MS 098
Embodiment of Manuscripts
While we often conceive of ancient texts as disembodied words on a page or a screen, late ancient Christians and others encountered Scripture and other religious texts in a variety of embodied ways, many of which can be observed in studying manuscripts. Both the modern history of a manuscript and its historical use provide insight into the lives of the texts and its readers. Working at Duke has allowed me access to manuscripts at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, including the one featured in the header of this website. This collection of liturgical homilies by Gregory of Nazianzus (the Theologian) includes Byzantine decoration and liturgical markings, as well as evidence of modern manipulation. What can this physical object illuminate about its own journey and about the lives of those who have encountered it across centuries and miles?