Empires of Faith

Project team

Department of the Middle East 

Research team

  • Philippa Adrych
  • Nadia Ali
  • Robert Bracey
  • Katherine Cross
  • Dominic Dalglish
  • Stefanie Lenk
  • Maria Lidova
  • Yuthika Sharma
  • Rachel Wood
  • More about the team 

Department of the Middle East 

Partners

External sites

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust

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About the project

Why did new religious imagery and iconographies emerge in different religious traditions across Asia and Europe in the period AD 200-800?

Taking the broadest possible view, the Empires of Faith project has examined imagery from those religions that have survived (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism as well as the polytheisms of India), but also many lost religions from the cults of the Roman Empire to Manichaeism. To do so, its members have looked across the north Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds, the Indian Ocean and beyond, from Britain and Spain in the west to the Indian subcontinent and the borders of China in the east.

The project has aimed to put the best of new and current research on late antique religious history and archaeology at the University of Oxford side by side with the unparalleled scholarly and material resources of the British Museum, in an experiment in intellectual collaboration between the two institutions in the United Kingdom with the greatest strengths in the material culture of this period.

The intention has been both to forge a method for doing a global comparative art history of religions, within the specific temporal and geographical limitations of the project, and to produce a series of fundamental studies on key themes of religious change, self-assertion and identity through visual means. No research project has ever before attempted to take such a broad view of this subject, region, and period. Only by looking at this area as an interconnected whole, and by bringing together perspectives from a wide range of academic specialisms and disciplines will these vital features of this pivotal period – and their continuing legacy – be able to be properly understood.

Objects provide a rich source of evidence to explore these complex developments that still have lasting consequences for the modern world. As such, they have been the basis of several projects and collaborations involving Empires of Faith including the Imagining the Divine exhibition (19th October 2017-18th February 2018 Ashmolean, Oxford), and the Visual Conversations book series published by Oxford University Press. The project has continued to develop innovative ways of integrating objects into the discussion of key questions: earlier studies have been mostly conducted with reference to textual evidence.

More information on the project and regular updates on what its members are doing can be on the Empires of Faith website.