Early Christian Literature in its Imperial Context: Online Conference, 16th – 18th of December 2020

Welcome to the website for the December 2020 Virtual conference, ‘Apologists and Empire’.

Here you can find introductory material, sign-up links, the conference programme, and contact details for the organisers. For joining instructions, email ben.kolbeck@kcl.ac.uk.


Conference Rationale

Despite huge theoretical developments in the past few decades, early Christian literature remains a field largely separated from the wider context of Roman imperial culture, and the so-called ‘Second Sophistic’. With a few notable exceptions, approaches that have revealed the richness of Greek writing under Roman dominion have not been turned to early Christian material. We believe that there is a great deal of intellectual work to be done in properly re-integrating Christian literature into its rightful imperial context, taking seriously early Christian authors’ claims to be at the same time citizens of the Kingdom of God, and fully paid-up inhabitants of the great earthly empire which provided the only frame of reference for life-on-earth that was available.

Adopting broad definitions for both key terms, ‘Apology’ and ‘Empire’, this conference will seek to elucidate the multiple ways that Christian Apologists reveal themselves as participants in the complex and confounding literary culture of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. Early Christian authors engaged explicitly with empire in their texts, in ways which belie traditional juxtapositions between resistance to empire on the one hand, and accommodation to dominant culture on the other. However, they also questioned, negotiated, and re-purposed concepts of paideia and rhetorical display which came to be defining features for an empire-wide ruling elite that defined itself primarily in cultural terms. Like contemporary Graeco-Roman authors, they re-formulated and challenged traditional ideas of ethnicity and cultural heritage that were no longer fit-for-purpose in the ambiguously globalised world that was the high Roman Empire.

Not by any means a world apart, the Apologists present a coherent and vital perspective of Roman imperial society that Classicists cannot afford to ignore.

Dates & Format

The conference will take place over 3 half-day sessions, on Wednesday the 16th, Thursday the 17th, and Friday the 18th of December 2020. We have endeavoured to make the conference programme as accessible to as many interested parties as possible, but naturally we will not have been entirely successful. The sessions, with one exception, will take place from the early afternoon to the evening, UTC.

Speakers and keynotes

We have assembled an exciting array of speakers, from PhD students to renowned scholars, specialising in a range of fields and authors. Our two distinguished keynote speakers are Prof. Laura Nasrallah of Yale University, and Prof. Tim Whitmarsh of Cambridge University. The work of both of these scholars – the former focusing on early Christian material, the latter on the ‘Second Sophistic’ more conventionally defined – epitomise the type of approach we wish to further with this conference.


The conference will be hosted on MS Teams; attendance is free, but in order to receive joining instructions please express your interest either via email to ben.kolbeck@kcl.ac.uk, or through the form on this website’s contact page.

Image credit: Peter Paul Rubens, Constantius appoints Constantine as his successor (1622); copyright-free access provided via wikimedia.com