My research centers on the role of bodies, places, and pictures in the ancient Christian imagination during the fourth through sixth centuries. This was a transitional and transformative time for ancient Christians (and new converts), as the previously banned religion became a religion tied to imperial power.
I am most interested in how Christians understood their relation to the material world. Can places be holy? Can the body be trusted or somehow trained to perceive or even reveal God? These questions are at the heart of The Memory of the Eyes: Pilgrims to Living Saints in Christian Late Antiquity (2000), which explores the role of the senses in early Christian pilgrims’ writings about their encounters with desert monastics and the biblical past.
Since the book, my attention has shifted from those who left home (e.g., pilgrims and monastics) to those who stayed put, namely, preachers and ordinary Christians. A central figure in my recent work is Romanos the Melodist, a sixth-century preacher from Constantinople. His sung sermons performed on feast days retold biblical events giving speech to new or neglected figures (e.g., Judas, the Virgin Mary, Peter, Satan, even personifications of Death).
I present my work in conferences on Early Christianity, Art History, Byzantine Studies, and Classics in the United States, France, Israel, and Britain.