Bearers of Faith: Local Practice, Communal Ritual, and the expression of Religious Identity in the Ancient and Late-Antique Mediterranean, ca. 200 BC – AD 600

Date / time: 17 March, 12:00 am

Conference: 11 to 12 September 2023 | Call for Papers, deadline: 17 March 2023

Religious practices and identities have been key to the human experience throughout history. Religion and faith regularly appear as vindication for the choices, actions, and expressions of groups and individuals. Whether held privately or publicly, chosen or imposed, the significance of religious identity within the social, cultural, and political spheres cannot be overstated. Defining and studying religious identity is however subject to various difficulties, most notably the concept of “identity” itself.

The study of identities has often been constrained by the vague subjectivity of “identity”, both as an epistemological tool and as an object of study (Barth 1969; Gleason 1983; Handler 1994; Brubaker and Cooper 2000; Hekman 2000; Bendle 2002; Gjerde, 2014). In the study of Antiquity and the social and political changes of the Late-Antique Mediterranean, this ambiguity has profoundly affected approaches to historical concepts such as Romanitas, Christianisation, or the transformation of the Roman world, to the point that studies of identity have become contentious (Brown, 1993; Pohl and Reimitz 1998; Gillett, 2002; Halsall, 2007; James 2014; Pohl et al., 2018; Kuuliala & Rantala 2019; Gasparini et al. 2020; Graham 2021). In turn, interdisciplinary study has become more significant in the formation of investigative frameworks of identity, such as Social Identity Approach (e.g., Tucker and Coleman 2014; Hakola 2015; Nikki 2018; Lindstedt 2019) and Scale Theory (Natal and Wood, 2016). But even here there are issues. Despite the advantages of these approaches, namely in their reliance upon scientifically tested propositions about human behaviour (Nikki, Tuori, and Lindstedt 2022), these explanations are still fundamentally reliant upon theoretical systems (Reed and Becker 2003) only subjectively applicable to historical phenomena. The less tangible natures of faith and ritual within religious identity only accentuate this issue.

The aim of this workshop is therefore to move away from broad-stroke theoretical approaches to religious identity in the Mediterranean world. Taking inspiration from Lieu (1994, 108-109), papers will instead focus upon more local or specific case-studies on topics concerning the intersection of religious identity, faith, and ritual in the Mediterranean, ca. 200 BC-AD 800. The juxtaposition of such case studies will allow for comparison and contrast of lived religious experiences from across a wide temporal and geographic spectrum. This in turn shall engender a more reflexively holistic view of how historians have approached the multifarious religious identities and beliefs within the first millennium.

Abstracts from graduate researchers and early career scholars with an interest in interdisciplinary historical study are welcome and encouraged. Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Expression of belief in the divine and/or the supernatural
  • Material expressions of religious identity
  • Local superstitions and Orthopraxy: subversion or accommodation?
  • Burial practices: individual expressions of community
  • Beyond borders: Holy places as interregional social arenas
  • Local conversions: social constraint or individual consent

Abstracts (max. 300 words) should be sent to by 17th March 2023. Selected participants will then be invited to pre-submit a 3000-word version of their paper (July at the latest), which will be circulated among the other participants. Prior to the workshop, a presenter (different from the author) will be assigned to each paper. The task of the presenter is to summarise the paper and provide insightful remarks/questions in order to elicit a discussion. Each paper will be allocated a 30-minute slot (10 minutes max for the presentation and 20 minutes for the discussion). Following the workshop, the organisers would be interested to publish the proceedings of the workshop.


Barth, F., 1969. “Introduction”, in F. Barth (ed.), Ethnic groups and boundaries: the social organization of culture difference, 9-38. Prospect Heights IL: Waveland Press.

Bendle, M.F., 2002. “The crisis of ‘identity’ in High Modernity”, British Journal of Sociology 53/1, 1–18.

Brown, P., 1993. ‘The Problem of Christianisation’, Proceedings of the British Academy 82, 89-106.- 1996. The Rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, A.D. 200-1000. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Brubaker, R. & Cooper, F., 2000. “Beyond ‘identity’”, Theory and Society 29, 1–47.

Fox, R.L., Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean world from the second century AD to the conversion of Constantine (London: Penguin, 1986).

Gasparini, V. et al. (eds), 2020. Lived religion in the ancient Mediterranean world: approaching religious transformations from archaeology, history, classics. Berlin & Boston; De Gruyter.

Gillett, A. (ed), 2002. On barbarian identity: critical approaches to ethnicity in the early Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols.

Gjerde, P.F., 2014. “An evaluation of ethnicity research in developmental psychology: critiques and recommendations”, Human Development 57, 176-205.

Gleason, P., 1983. “Identifying identity: a semantic jistory”, The Journal of American History 69/4, 910–931.

Graham, E.-J., 2021. Reassembling Religion in Roman Italy. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.

Hakola, R., 2015. Reconsidering Johannine Christianity: a Social Identity approach. New York: Routledge.

Halsall, G., 2007. Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Handler, R., 1994. “Is ‘identity’ a useful cross-cultural concept?”, in J.R. Gillis (ed.), Commemorations: the politics of national identity, 27–40. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hekman, S., 2000. “Beyond identity: feminism, identity and identity politics”, Feminist Theory 1/3, 289–308.

James, E., 2014. Europe’s barbarians, A.D. 200-600. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kuuliala, J. & Rantala, J. (eds), 2019. Travel, pilgrimage, and social interaction from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lieu, J., 1994. “‘The parting of the ways’: theological construct or historical reality?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 56, 101–119.

Lindstedt, I., 2019. “Who is in, who is out? Early Muslim identity through epigraphy and theory”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 46, 147–246.

Natal, D. & Wood, J., 2016. “Playing with fire: conflicting bishops in late Roman Spain and Gaul”, in K. Cooper & C. Leyser (eds), Making early Medieval societies: conflict and belonging in the Latin West, 300-1200, 33-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nikki, N., Riikka T. & Lindstedt, I., 2022. Religious identities in Antiquity and the early Middle Ages: walking together & parting ways. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Nikki, N., 2018. Opponents and identity in the letter to the Philippians. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Pohl, W. & Reimitz, H. (eds), 1998. Strategies of distinction: the construction of ethnic communities, 300-800. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Pohl, W. et al. (eds), 2018. Transformations of Romanness: early Medieval regions and identities. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Reed, A.Y. & Becker, A.H., 2003. “Introduction: traditional models and newdirections”, in A.Y. Reed & A.H. Becker (eds), The ways thatnever parted, 1–34. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Salzman, M.R., M. Sághy, & R.L. Testa (eds), 2015. Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tucker, J.B. & Coleman, A.B. (eds.), 2014. T & T handbook to social identity in the New Testament. London, New York: Bloomsbury.

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