Two of the great faith traditions of the modern world – Christianity and Islam – have their roots in the last centuries of the Roman Empire. Both emerged from the melting-pot of Eastern Mediterranean cultures which were allowed to flourish under Roman domination, emerging from the Roman provinces of Judaea and Arabia respectively.
The Constantine’s Dream project tries to understand the ancient roots of these two faiths, and how these roots have influenced our understandings of faith and belonging in the modern world.
During 2009-2012, Kate Cooper held a Global Uncertainties Ideas and Beliefs Fellowship for a project entitled Constantine’s Dream: Belongning, Deaviance, and the Problem of Violence in Early Christianity, whose mission was to understand whether the social and institutional structures of early Christianity gave rise to distinctive attitudes to violence and intolerance. One of the core ideas of the project is that seeing Christianity as one among many distinctive and even eccentric sub-cultures of the Roman provinces can allow us to understand which early Christian thought patterns and practices were distinctively Christian, and which were simply a reflection of a larger cultural context of the ancient Mediterranean.
One of the most exciting aspects of the project was our engagement with the daily life of the Roman provinces, and the effort to understand the tensions which provincial families experienced as they attempted to negotiate rights and privileges – both individually and as families – within the Roman context. (Sociologically speaking, the networks of belonging and mutual assistance offered by the new faiths of late antiquity found their opportunity to provide value in the frustrations experienced by provincial individuals and families, and by provincial minority ethnic groups.)
From July to November of 2012, Kate Cooper and Roberta Mazza co-curated an exhibition at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, Faces and Voices: Identity, Culture, and Artefacts From Roman to Contemporary Egypt, which allowed us to explore the tensions of daily life through the material culture of Roman-period Egypt and to make them vivid to new audiences.
One of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition was the opportunity to involve sixth-form pupils from Thomas Whitham Sixth Form in Burnley, Lancashire, in our interpretative work. During a series of workshops in the summer of 2012, student filmaker Katie Blagden from the University of Manchester made a film, I DIED IN HAWARA, of the students’ creative writing and performances related to the exhibition. It is well worth watching!