Setting the Stage: The Rose of Performance in Studying Late Ancient Hymnody

19 February, 2024

We are deeply honoured to welcome Professor Laura Lieber, Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, USA, to lead the Eastern Christianity in Interfaith Contexts Reading Group.

Here are the details of this fascinating event.

Title: Setting the Stage: The Role of Performance in Studying Late Ancient Hymnody

Abstract: Staging the Sacred examines the importance of Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan liturgical poetry from Late Antiquity through the lenses of performance, entertainment, and spectacle. I propose an account of hymnody as a performative and theatrical genre, combining religious and theatrical studies to examine how performers creatively engaged their audiences, utilized different modes of performance, and created complex characters through their speeches. To truly consider performance and engage with these poems fully, I urge readers to imagine the world beyond the page. While poetry and hymnody from Late Antiquity are usually presented in textual form, I move away from studying the text on its own, engaging instead with how these poems would have been performed and acted. The specific literary techniques associated with oratory and acting in Late Antiquity, such as apostrophe and vivid imagery, help craft a more accurate idea of liturgical presentations. I suggest ways that these ancient poets could have used their physical spaces of performance by borrowing from the gestures and body language of oratory, mime, and pantomime.

Speaker: Professor Laura S. Lieber, Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University, USA.

Speaker’s biography: Laura S. Lieber is a Professor of Religious Studies and Classical Studies at Duke University and the Director of the Duke University Center for Jewish Studies. She holds a PhD from the University of Chicago and received her rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Her primary area of research is in the area of synagogue poetry (“piyyut”) from Late Antiquity and the Byzantine period. Professor Lieber examines these works from a variety of perspectives, including literary, performative, and comparative (particularly with early Christian hymnography in Syriac and Greek), and also as a genre of early Jewish biblical interpretation. In recent years, she has begun to integrate the study of material culture into her analysis of these literary works, as part of taking a more fully “contextual” approach to literary analysis. Her most recent work approaches late ancient hymnography through the lens of theater studies and performance.

Chair: Professor Sebastian Brock, FBA, University of Oxford, UK.

Date: 19 February, 2024

Time: 17:00-18:00 GMT | 9:00-10:00 PST | 12:00-13:00 EST

Venue: Online

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