Call for Papers: Apologists and Empire

Proposals for papers are sought for a virtual conference in December 2020 exploring Christian apologetic literature within the wider context and literature of the second and third centuries A.D.

 The Christian Apologists of the second and third centuries offer an important perspective on the world of the Roman empire from the viewpoint of a minority group. But theirs was not a world apart. They lived in the same cities, read the same books, and sought to understand and articulate their experience of empire using the same tools as contemporary Graeco-Roman authors. That Christian apologetic literature can fruitfully be read against the backdrop of the Second Sophistic has been long understood. But much work remains to be done to properly take into account our increased sensitivity not just to the sympathies and aesthetics of the literature of the provinces, but also our changing understanding of its historical landscape. Like the Greek-speaking authors of the eastern empire who sought to grapple with their culturally privileged but politically emasculated position, the Apologists’ engagement with empire can be sarcastic and even playful. At the same time, like the Latin senatorial historical tradition, their approach to one-man-rule mixes optimism and cynicism, attempting to condition, rather than merely describe, the operation of power. And like all imperial subjects in this period, they tried to navigate the complex matrix of an ambiguously globalised Roman identity, their own complex ethnic, social, and religious identities, the ways Rome managed its provinces, and the means by which provincials could accept, appropriate, resist, or subvert those mechanisms.

 This conference invites scholars of varied specialisms and disciplinary backgrounds interested in the history and literature of the second and third centuries A.D. to reconsider Christian apologetic literature. Papers might treat, for example:

  • the relationship between Christian apologetic literature and other contemporary “genres” (panegyric, for example, or drama);
  • the self-styling of the Apologies as Greek embassies to Roman rulers as an expression of their imaginative integration into the world of the Greek cities;
  • how the Christian Apologists adopted and contested traditional elite markers of self-definition;
  • how recent advances in the interpretation of irony, multivocality, and self-awareness in second- and third-century approaches to imperial domination might be applied to Christian apologetic material;
  • how our changing understanding of law in the provinces impacts our reading of Christian apologetic material.


Applications from all scholars, including postgraduate students, are welcome. 500-word abstracts for 30 minute papers should be sent to by 5.00pm on 24th July.

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