Scholars prepare for public event on Byzantine Materiality

Eleven scholars came together on the campus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary to explore the theme of "Byzantine Materiality.” The scholars convened for a three-day workshop held September 14 to 16.

The gathering was the latest in the Seminary’s Sacred Arts Initiative (SAI), which is funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. September’s workshop is the first part of a two-part interdisciplinary event exploring matter, materials, and materiality in Byzantine art and culture. Part two will be a public conference May 8 to 12, 2019.

“Popular descriptions of Byzantium often emphasize the mystical and immaterial while overlooking the mediating role of matter implied by the Christian belief in the incarnation,” said Dn. Evan Freeman, seminary alumnus and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University. “At the same time, scholars have historically prioritized questions of form, iconography, and meaning in their study of Byzantine art and architecture. But as technology makes the human experience ever more digital and effectively immaterial, scholars across numerous disciplines—including Byzantine studies—have begun reconsidering the significance of matter and materiality.”

Dn. Evan is one of the primary coordinators for the SAI along with Professors Richard Schneider, Tracy Gustilo, and Peter Bouteneff, the director.

The September workshops were closed to the public in order to give the eleven invited scholars who will be the main speakers at the May conference a chance to discuss drafts of their conference papers and to develop the conference theme as a group. Topics of discussion included Byzantine and ancient theories of matter and form; the use and significance of materials such as wood, stone, gold, and glass in ecclesiastical and other contexts; the roles of matter and materials in the Eucharist, icons, relics, and reliquaries; the rite for consecrating a church; sensory experiences of liturgy; and the neuroscience of viewing icons. At the May event, the scholars will present their papers to the public. The SAI will also announce a call for shorter papers later this fall, which will enable additional scholars as well as graduate students the opportunity to participate in the upcoming conference.

To learn more about the Byzantine Materiality Conference, visit the SAI website.

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