Empires of Faith

Project team

Department of the Middle East 


External sites

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust

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Research aims and objectives

The research undertaken by this project has focussed around a number of key questions:

  • How and why did religions and cults develop new iconographies across Europe and Asia between AD 200 and 800? How did the development of these iconographies influence each other, aid in the success or otherwise of these religions, and how did they draw on and influence the iconography of political as well as religious authority?
  • What were the particular properties of images and objects – and text as image – in this period that made them especially significant in constructing, embodying, and mediating new forms of political and religious authority?
  • What are the legacies of the new iconographies for modern and contemporary debates about the agency of religion in society?

Key project objectives include:

  • Create a new, international research community consisting of specialists in all visual- and material culture of the areas across the geographical and cultural scope of the project
  • Put the study of objects and images at the heart of academic debate on this period
  • Train a new generation of scholars able to think globally and diachronically about the significance of their cultural specialisms, and capable of translating their thinking directly into professional work either in a university or a museum environment.

Project outputs

The project, now in its final phase, has achieved and is set to produce a number of outputs in the near future. These include the published work of individual members, collaborative publications for both academic and public audiences, two exhibitions, an international seminar series, a series of high profile events, conferences, and a doctoral training programme for students at Oxford. Key outputs are listed below, but more detailed information can be found on the Empires of Faith website.

  • A book aimed at a non-specialist readership on the themes of this research and their continued legacy is in production.
  • Empires of Faith: Histories of Image and Religion in Late Antiquity, from India to Ireland. An historiographic research volume written by members of the project addressing key problems for the study of religion through material culture is under review.
  • Images of Mithra, the first in a new book series entitled Visual Conversations by Oxford University Press was published in March 2017 aimed at a public and academic audience.
  • Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, a major exhibition, curated by the project for the Ashmolean Museum (19th October 2017 - 18th February 2018), accompanied by an exhibition catalogue.
  • Those Who Follow, a student run photography exhibition focussing on modern religious spaces in Oxford and their communities (October 2017 – April 2018).
  • Interrogating the Antique Visual Tradition and Its Legacy, Globalized Classics, Humboldt University. Empires of Faith, led by Jaś Elsner and Finbarr Barry Flood, ran an eight day panel on the study of material culture and religion as part of this international Summer School in 2015.
  • Empires of Faith: Comparativism, Art, and Religion in Late Antiquity, Chicago University. The project presented their work at this conference to a broad range of academic experts at this critical halfway point in the research process.
  • Empires of Faith, Oxford University. An international conference to be held in January 2018.
  • Talking Religion, an AHRC funded programme organised and run by members of the project for current doctoral students at Oxford on the study of material culture and religion.