Thomas Arentzen has attained funding from the Research Council of Norway for a postdoctoral research project at the University of Oslo. The project Bodies in Motion: Religion and Corporeality in Late Antiquity will explore late ancient and early Byzantine texts. It will last for a three-year period starting in 2015.
By the fifth century, Constantinople had become the gravity center of the Christian world.
Here the questions of what Christian identity should mean were negotiated and re-negotiated. At the same time, Constantinople turned into a thoroughly ritualized city. Nevertheless, liturgical texts – poetry performed in the midst of Byzantine everyday lives – have been much less studied than monastic texts. Bodies in Motion rests on the premise that Constantinople’s ritual hymns spoke body language. The poetry would appeal to human sexuality, evoke gendered bodies and engross its listeners in the realm of sensuality. Rituals and their poetry teach and perform, but they also contribute to a shaping of the participants whom they engage. Repeated throughout the liturgical cycle, ritual texts were used as means to mold ideas of selves.
Postmodern people see themselves as embodied and gendered, and so did the ancients. This project will study how the liturgical poetry of Constantinople characterizes, relates to and interacts with embodied subjects: How did late ancient Christians in Constantinople construe themselves as corporeal beings? What role and significance did they assign to their sexuality and senses? How did their ritual texts script gendered performances? What did the religious songs teach them to expect from themselves as corporeal and sensual entities? Understanding the history of late ancient religion involves absorbing how people experienced themselves as subjects.