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Conversion and Empire: Byzantine Missionaries, Foreign Rulers, and Christian Narratives (ca. 300-900)

By Alexander Borislavov Angelov


This dissertation explores specific episodes in the history of Byzantine Christian missions into foreign lands between the fourth century and the ninth century. According to tradition, this period brought about Eastern Orthodoxy’s largest expansion to date as Byzantine Christianity extended into such disparate regions as the Caucasus, Nubia, Himyar, or the Balkans. In scholarship, the importance of Byzantium for the spread of Christianity is widely acknowledged, yet the focus on the foreign conversions has been mostly regional. The Byzantines’ own perspectives on foreign elite conversions and the effects of Christian proselytization abroad on the empire itself are largely unexplored. Thus, as my dissertation investigates the conversions of the rulers of Armenia, Georgia, Ethiopia, and Bulgaria, it focuses on Byzantium and the Byzantine Christians’ reported activities in foreign lands. Since all of the conversion episodes in this study have ultimately been appropriated by nationalist ideologies, the dissertation accentuates the effects of modern nationalism on Christianity and traces in broad scopes the trajectories along which national Churches and their presumed traditions developed. Even today, the nationalist interpretations of the Byzantine stories are repeated and taught in these countries’ schools. Thus, it is important to make explicit the interpretative problems that derive from the tendentious parcelling of the empire and Christianity. The dissertation is largely based on Byzantine conversion narratives, many of which were written several centuries after the presumed original events. Thus, even to the Byzantines themselves, the narratives stood as cultural retrospections that had their own separate agendas independent from the actual past. The study explores these agendas and examines the complex process of historical remembering in Byzantium to highlight the rich varieties of Byzantine perspectives and concerns. As an outcome of its cross-regional, Byzantine-centered and historically-specific approach, the dissertation hopes to open new critical possibilities both for understanding the development of Christianity and for more productive cultural and social interactions among separate Christian Churches, their communities, and even between Christians and non-Christians

Topics: Christianity, Byzantium, Conversion, Empire, Orthodoxy, Nationalism
Year: 2011
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