Lay Piety in Byzantium, ca. 600–730
My dissertation, which I plan to defend in January 2014, examines the role of laypeople in the early Byzantine spiritual imagination, both in high theology such as the writings of Maximos the Confessor and in more popular works such as the Spiritual Meadow of John Moschos. I have sought to understand both the normative place allotted to them in the ecclesiastical and social hierarchy of the Byzantine Church, and their own agency in interpreting and appropriating the spiritual ideal taught and exemplified by bishops, holy men, and other monks and clergy. In particular, I am interested in the contrast between the monastic way of life, which was supposed to require total dedication to the pursuit of virtue, and lay life, which required care for more mundane matters such as family and money.
During the semester I was able to write rough drafts of two and a half chapters: one chapter comparing the aforementioned Spiritual Meadow with other early seventh-century Palestinian sources, another plumbing the depths of two early seventh-century monastic saints’ lives from Asia Minor (the topic of my fellow’s presentation), and a half chapter analyzing the rich content of the Miracles of Kyros and John by the famous theologian Sophronios of Jerusalem. In the course of my research I have come to notice a strong theoretical differentiation between monasticism and the lay world, counterbalanced by a depiction of laypeople as being closely involved in the lives of monastics, whether as suppliants, supporters, or even examples of holiness that could teach the monks a lesson.
One particular boon to my research was the ability to go check out one book on a particular topic and discover five more on the shelf of which I had been ignorant. The springtime blooming of the gardens also offered a lovely alternative workspace when writing in the office became dull. And last but not least, the community of scholars and staff contributed greatly to my enjoyment and my education. The atmosphere was collegial and friendly, and I met several scholars who helped me sharpen my ideas, and with whom I hope to collaborate in the future.