From September 14-16, 2018, eleven scholars gathered on the campus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary to explore the theme of “Byzantine Materiality.” Organized by the Sacred Arts Initiative (SAI), which is funded by a grant from the Foundation, the workshop was the first part of a two-part interdisciplinary event exploring matter, materials, and materiality in Byzantine art and culture. Part two will be a public conference held May 8-11, 2019.

“Popular descriptions of Byzantium often emphasize the mystical and immaterial while overlooking the mediating role of matter implied by the Christian belief in the incarnation,” said Evan Freeman, seminary alumnus and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University. “At the same time, scholars have historically prioritized questions of form, iconography, and meaning in their study of Byzantine art and architecture. But as technology makes the human experience ever more digital and effectively immaterial, scholars across numerous disciplines—including Byzantine studies—have begun reconsidering the significance of matter and materiality.”

The September workshop was closed to the public in order to give the eleven invited scholars who will be the main speakers at the May conference a chance to discuss drafts of their conference papers and to develop the conference theme as a group. Topics of discussion included Byzantine and ancient theories of matter and form; the use and significance of materials such as wood, stone, gold, and glass in ecclesiastical and other contexts; the roles of matter and materials in the Eucharist, icons, relics, and reliquaries; the rite for consecrating a church; sensory experiences of liturgy; and the neuroscience of viewing icons. At the May event, the scholars will present their papers to the public.