The 2022 Conway Lectures: Scott Johnson (U Oklahoma), "Christian Indigeneity and Christian Language in the Roman Near East"


Location: Eck Center Auditorium (View on

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About the Talk

Johnson Poster ImageReverse of Roman Sestertius. Abgar X Phrahates presents the Nike of Edessa to Emperor Gordian III (c.242 CE)

In this talk Johnson will address the “social presence” of language among Christians in the Near East during Late Antiquity (roughly, second to seventh centuries CE). He argues that language in society is one means of accessing assumptions about indigeneity and precedence, particularly in this “language rich” region of the Roman Empire. Layers of memory were appropriated and crafted afresh in order to claim a place within society: language was one locus of this appropriation and, indeed, competition. This was especially true for Syriac Christians who were trying to find their place under the regime of the Romans, both before and after Constantine’s conversion. Specific legends about Christian indigeneity in the Roman Near East were coupled with, and to some degree depended on, the deep memory of previous civilizations. Ultimately, it was the engagement with Greek that is most instructive for understanding Near Eastern Christians’ self-definition and growth as independent groups.

About the Speaker

Scott Johnson WebProfessor Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson is Associate Professor of Classics and Letters at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author, editor, and translator of eight books and numerous other studies on late antique and Byzantine history and literature. He has held fellowships at Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Library of Congress and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. His current book project focuses on the early history of Syriac and its multilingual environments from Mesopotamia to China. Longer-term projects include a study of Christian Greek as a vehicle for political, religious, and artistic expression, both within and outside Byzantium.

About the Conway Lectures

In 2002, the Medieval Institute inaugurated a lecture series in honor of Robert M. and Ricki Conway. Robert Conway is a 1966 graduate of Notre Dame and trustee of the University, and he and his wife are long-time friends and supporters of the Medieval Institute. The annual Conway Lectures bring senior scholars of international distinction to Notre Dame each fall to speak on topics across a variety of disciplines.