Between the fourth and the sixth centuries Christianity underwent a major transformation, as a variety of theological disputes shaped its definition in a way that still underpins Christian faith and ritual today. This was a long and troublesome process, not only marked by clerical debate and gatherings, but also marred by violence and protracted legal procedures that involved the lay powers of the time, late Roman emperors and, after the fifth-century, the rulers of the various successor-states in the West. Lay authorities frequently employed banishment as a legal sanction against non-conforming clerics, in particular bishops. While exile had already existed as a legal penalty before, it became a particular weapon of choice against clerical dissidents in the period between the council of Nicaea in 325 and the later sixth century.
This project brings together legal historians, cultural historians and theologians to examine the interaction of these banished clerical dissidents with each other, with individuals and communities at their places of banishment and elsewhere, as well as their continuing contacts with those at their places of origin.
In doing so, it will test the hypothesis that the imposition of exile turned out to be not only a form of punishment, but a catalyst for personal, social, linguistic and theological encounter, which was to have an impact on Christian law, doctrine and ritual for many centuries to come, both in the East and West. The Christian Church, in consequence, may have developed not only through institutional processes and normative decisions, but also and perhaps more importantly through personal social networks established in and through exile.
The project’s attempt to understand how religious or political dissidence and resulting forced migration became a vehicle in the development of the Christian church will take the form of three research questions:
1. In what way did the behaviour and networking of clerical exiles influence the development of public laws on the late antique Church?
2. In what ways did the cultural encounters created by exile shape the intellectual development of prominent clerics and the construction of theological debates in late antiquity?
3. How did the activities and networks of exiles influence the cults that developed around late antique exiles?
We will answer our research questions by bringing together a body of disparate data on late antique banishment. The project will construct a prosopographical database of late antique clerical exiles and explore their identities and networks using a number of visualisation techniques. Although this evidence on late antique exiles is for a large part accessible in standard source editions, it has never been assembled and analysed in this way. The project will then submit selected texts documenting the institutional developments of the late antique Church (public laws, council acts, doctrinal letters and treatises, hagiography; all also available in modern source editions) to a fresh qualitative analysis in the light of the quantitative data on exile’s experiences and networks.
The project is relevant and timely because it addresses a much-debated, but still little-understood issue in late antique historiography, namely the institutionalisation of the Christian church. It will build on recent adoptions of network analysis in the field of late antiquity to develop a long-term study of the impact of exile that focuses on social networks of individual clerics and interprets institutional texts and structures not according to traditional top-down models of change but as a result of relations among individuals, facilitated by exile, within a decentralised framework in which every element of the network contributed to shaping institutional developments.
Impact and Outreach
Exile, as understood by this project, did not separate, but, on the contrary, connected individuals and communities over space and cultures, creating new networks that had the power to change politics, law and belief. The results of the project’s research are therefore of interest to all organisations and individuals seeking to understand both the consequences of legally forced migration and mobility for the formation of religious identity and conflicts, be this in the historically specific context of late antiquity, or in later and indeed contemporary contexts of deportation of religious dissidents. The project therefore aims at disseminating its findings to a wide public, particularly, but not exclusively individuals, groups and institutions at places that have been destinations of late antique exile. It will do so through the channels of more traditional and social media, the development of a series of text and video research guides and simple visualisations designed to introduce the project database to non-academic audiences, and impact workshops.