Partnership with Berlin to explore religion in the ancient world

20th December 2018

Somerville Ancient History Fellow Beate Dignas and two Berlin academics will lead a project that has been awarded seed funding from the Oxford-Berlin Research Partnership, an international collaboration established in 2017.

Working together with Professor Claudia Tiersch from the Humboldt Universität and Professor Susanne Gödde from the Freie Universität, Professor Dignas will turn the spotlight on ethnicity, culture and religion as fundamental resources of regional identities in the Hellenistic World and the Roman Empire.

The Oxford-Berlin Research Partnership was established between the University of Oxford and four Berlin partners. A call for proposals to create close research collaboration in the humanities, social sciences, medicine and the STEM subjects has resulted in 29 projects being selected by expert committees, who considered each project’s quality and innovative content, the level of cooperation, and the probability of future funding.

The focus of Professor Dignas’ investigation will be the role of religion and local religious markers, with the aim of explaining how regional persistence in the face of Graeco-Roman cultural dominance was expressed in religious terms.

In light of the ‘integrating’ quality normally ascribed to religion in the context of empire, the approach is only conceivable within the wider ‘post-colonial’ shift in the study of ancient empires. Rather than looking at elite culture within the Roman Empire the project will steer attention towards expressions of regional and provincial culture. It is a project that depends on and will foster widely interdisciplinary cooperation.

Professor Dignas said that she is looking forward to this collaboration because: “understanding the agents, genres and media that embody ancient religion require the synergy of experts in many fields”.

The award, which will enable intellectual exchange and academic workshops in both Oxford and Berlin for the next 18 months, is designed to encourage applications for future funding to set up a long-term collaboration. All activities will include participation and contributions by the project leaders and established colleagues in their respective departments as well as doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, who will form an important part of the partnership. The total seed funding for the 29 projects will be 450,000 euros.

Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College, said: “I am delighted that this exciting project has secured funding from the Ox/Ber Research Partnership. Despite Brexit, Somerville and Oxford remain institutions with global horizons and I look forward to deepening collaboration with our German partners across the arts, sciences and social sciences.”


Marcus Aurelius sacrificing at the temple of Jupiter


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