Empires of Faith

Project team

Department of the Middle East 


External sites

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust

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

Did these developments influence and inspire each other, or were they separate evolutions occurring independently thousands of miles apart?

These questions have been at the heart of this major research project conducted in partnership between the British Museum and the University of Oxford. The Empires of Faith project has taken the broadest possible view, examining imagery from those religions that have survived and many that have been lost, from the cults of the Roman Empire to Manichaeism, from Ireland in the west to the Indian subcontinent and the borders of China in the east.

Now in its final phase, the project culminates in the Autumn 2017 Imagining the Divine exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and a series of collaborative publications.

Seated Buddha from Gandhara

About the project

Silver plate showing Shapur II

The project focuses on a broad range of religious phenomena of the period.

From the Roman and Sasanian Empires, to the Gupta and Kushan dynasties of South Asia, the Aksumites of Ethiopia and Yemen, and on to China, and south-east Asia, the period of late antiquity saw huge changes in the religions of these diverse but connected cultures.

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Research aims and outputs

Hinton St Mary Mosaic

The project’s questions and outputs have been broad.

Empires of Faith has aimed to speak to a variety of audiences, both public and academic, through publishing books and articles, hosting conferences, workshops, and summer schools, and by organising exhibitions.

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Imagining the Divine

Amaravati buddhapada slab

Art and the Rise of World Religions.

An exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (19 October 2017–18 February 2018)

More about the exhibition 

Images: top, seated Buddha from Gandhara, about 2nd - 3rd century AD; bottom left, silver plate showing Shapur II, Sasanian, 4th century AD; middle, the Hinton St Mary Mosaic, Roman Britain, 4th century AD; bottom right, Amaravati Buddhapada Slab