UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center is sponsoring a series of events to “explore ideas of place and how they have been produced through mapping, media, and imaginative labor.” It’s an interesting project that I took advantage of Wednesday to hear 2010-2011 IHC Research Fellow Jacob Latham’s talk From Literal to Spiritual Soldiers of Christ: The Contestation of Space in Late Antique Rome. Here’s the summary from the advertisement:
There were at least five disputed episcopal elections in the fourth through the sixth centuries. This intra-Christian competition did not, however, lead to the contestation of space in the form of processions as it did, for example, in Constantinople, where Arians and Niceans held competing processions. At Rome, intra-Christian competition took the form, at least rhetorically, of siege and occupation. Instead of conquering urban space through processions—impossible as the Roman aristocracy and their patronage of traditional public display still dominated and defined the public sphere—Roman Christians resorted to warfare.
Throughout all of these electoral disputes two elements consistently emerge: one, the use of martial language to describe the events and two, the concentration on a few contested sites. A strategy of militaristic occupation of centrally important churches clearly marked these schisms, as each side marched upon and occupied the principal churches of Rome, invading and expelling their enemies from other principal churches when they could. The martial language in the descriptions of these conflicts often veered close to the religious, indicating, hinting, that the origins of Christian processions lie in conflict and battle. From the literal soldiers of Christ, armed with clubs, rocks, and swords, emerged spiritual soldiers bearing crosses and singing hymns.
Latham’s talk was exactly what he said it would be, and that made it right up my alley. I’m still trying to work out how to connect his work on 4-6th century Christians in Rome with my own work on spiritual warfare in 20th century America. I’ll get there eventually, I guess.
In this series I’m also especially looking forward to Edward Soja’s presentation on the 25th of January. There’s plenty of great stuff between now and then, but that will surely be an interesting afternoon of geography-heavy discussion. This is only natural because of the strong connection between this IHC program and the Center for Spatial Studies (spatial@ucsb). Funny how a quick hop from Religious Studies to Geography can put you wildly outside of your area of expertise. (That is, the stress of the use of data drive GIS analysis vs. phenomenological, historical, or ethnographic models).
If only there were more time to be a geographer and a religious studies historian so I could learn Python, PostGIS, Geoserver, and OpenLayers!