Christian Africa/Medieval Africa, 300-1600 CE. Symposium at Harvard University
Symposium at Harvard University, 2-3 November 2017
From its earliest days, Christianity was woven deeply into the fabric of Roman Af- rica. Cities like Alexandria and Carthage quickly emerged as institutional, intellectual, and cultic centers of the newly ascendant church in the fourth century, while thinkers like Cyprian, Cyril, and Augustine confirmed Africa’s critical role within the development of Christian theology and practice.
Within three hundred years, however, “African Christianity” would take on a new and much broader significance, as Ethiopian and Nubian rulers to the south and east adopted and elaborated upon the Christian beliefs and institutions of the Romano-Byzantine world. The kingdoms and Christian communities that resulted would endure centu- ries after their northern neighbors were conquered by the armies of Islam, maintaining or re-establishing relationships with medieval and early modern Mediterranean Christendom. In West and Central Africa, too, Christianity made its mark through the transmission and influence both of material culture from the Christian east and of ideas and beliefs from the Christian west, epitomized by the adoption of Christianity by Kongo’s rulers in the fifteenth century and the creation of a Central African Christian empire in the decades that followed.
The two-day symposium Christian Africa/Medieval Africa will explore this long, rich, and complex history of Christian beliefs, institutions, and communities in Africa be- tween Late Antiquity and the seventeenth century CE. Bringing together an international group of researchers in a variety of disciplines, our aim is to encourage and advance the study of a crucial but lesser-known aspect of Africa’s history, a goal best accomplished through collaboration and conversation between scholars of medieval studies, African studies, Byzantine studies, archeology, book history, and the history of religion. Continuing work begun with the 2015 Harvard conference Medieval/Africa: The Trans-Saharan World 500-1700, this symposium also represents an ongoing effort by Harvard’s African Studies and Medieval Studies communities to explore the myriad of ways in which a globally-understood “medieval world” engaged with and encompassed Africa’s diverse peoples, polities, and cultures.
Thursday, 2 November (CGIS S020, 1730 Cambridge Street)
Welcoming remarks (5:00 pm): Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Keynote address (5:15 pm): Stephen Davis (Professor of Religious Studies, Yale University): “From Moses the Black to Red-Haired Ethiopians: Monastic Multiculturalism and Discourses of Ethnicity in Medieval Egypt”
Friday, 3 November (Barker Center 110, 12 Quincy Street)
Welcoming remarks (9:00 am): Daniel Donoghue, John P. Marquand Professor of English and Chair of the Standing Committee on Medieval Studies
I. The Church of Matthew: Christian Ethiopia (9:00-10:50 am)
Chair: Michael Gervers (Professor of History, University of Toronto Scarborough)
1 Judith McKenzie (Professor of Classics and Archeology, Oxford University) and Mai Musié (Pembroke College, Oxford): “Engaging with the Garima Gospels: The Earliest Illuminated Gospel Books from Ethiopia”
2. Marie-Laure Derat (Directrice de recherche, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (Orient et Méditerranée), Paris): Christian Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Alexandria from the Eleventh to Thirteenth Century: Regional Ambitions, Political Affirmation and Religious Identities.
3.Samantha Kelly (Professor of History, Rutgers University): “Ethiopians Abroad: Pilgrimage and Religious Exchange in the Christian Ecumene”
II. The Churches of Philip and Mark: The Christian Nile (11:00 am-1:00 pm)
Chair: Charles Stang (Professor of Early Christianity and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University)
1. Elizabeth Bolman (Elsie B. Smith Professor in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of Art History, Art and Art Education, Case Western Reserve University): “Egyptian Christian Visual Culture: Fifth-Fourteenth Centuries”
2. Alexandros Tsakos (Postdoctoral Fellow in the Study of Religion, University of Bergen): “Christian Nubia: The Literacy and Beliefs of an Afrobyzantine Theocracy”
3. Giovanni Ruffini (Professor of Classical Studies, Fairfield University): “Nubia: Christianity Without Church or Theology”
III. The Church of James: Christian Central Africa (2:00-3:50 pm)
Chair: Emmanuel Akyeampong (Ellen Gurney Professor of History and African and African American Studies, Harvard University)
1. Suzanne Preston Blier (Allen Whitehead Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and African American Studies, Harvard University): “A Christian Center in the Niger-Benue Confluence Area (Nigeria c. 1100-1600 CE?) Evidence and Further Questions”
2. John Thornton (Professor of History and African American Studies, Boston University): “St. James and the Conversion of Kongo”
3. Cécile Fromont (Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago): “Eyes, Minds, and Souls: The Visual and the Spiritual in Kongo’s Early Christianity”
IV. Christian Africa/Medieval Africa: New Perspectives (4:00-6:00 pm)
Chair: Jacob Olupona (Professor of African Religious Traditions, Harvard Divinity School)
Reflections by Christopher Ehret (Distinguished Research Professor of History, UCLA) and Helen C. Evans (Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art), followed by open discussion.