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Byzantine Missions: Meaning, Nature, and Extent

Where
Dumbarton Oaks Music Room
When
April 24  –  25, 2020
Byzantine Studies Symposium, Sergey Ivanov and Andrea Sterk, Symposiarchs

Though closely connected with the study of conversion and Christianization in the premodern era, the history of Christian missions has received little attention in recent scholarship. The recipients of Christian faith—individuals, nations, or social groups—and the processes of integrating the new religion have continued to attract analysis, but the agents of religious transformation have been relatively understudied, especially beyond the boundaries of medieval western Europe.

How did Byzantium missionize “barbarians”? To what extent did the motives, goals, or methods of missionaries themselves correspond with the vision of Byzantine rulers who may have sponsored them? This symposium examines the meaning of religious mission in Byzantium and how this concept shifted over time under changing political circumstances. Speakers consider literary works, linguistic evidence, and archaeological traces from Lithuania in the north to Nubia in the south, from Croatia in the west to the Golden Horde in the east. They examine how imperial policy built on or coincided with the unofficial missionary activity of monks, merchants, exiles, refugees, and captives. Concurrent with imperial efforts, Miaphysite and East Syrian churches, deemed heretical by the Orthodox Byzantines, conducted their own missionary endeavors reaching as far as Central Asia and China. What do the mission strategies of sibling Christianities suggest about underlying theological ideals, and what light might these comparisons shed on the nature of Byzantine missions?

The symposium aims to illumine the inner motifs that characterized Byzantine missions, the changing incentives that inspired their missionizing, and the nature of their missionary activity; and ultimately to better understand how they perceived the universal claim of their empire and their church. At the same time, we hope to throw light on the broader religious dynamics of the medieval world.

Symposiarchs: Sergey Ivanov (National Research University, Higher School of Economics, Moscow) and Andrea Sterk (University of Minnesota)

 

For advanced undergraduate and graduate students: Apply for a Bliss Symposium Award by January 31, 2020.

Jesus Christ among the kynokephaloi [dog-headed people], 1397. Russian National Library, Kiev Psalter, fol. 28r.