My current research is largely focused on ancient Assyria, particularly the Neo-Assyrian period, but engages with a number of other cultures, including Babylonians, Aramaeans, Urarṭians, and Elamites, among others. My research interests include the intersection of political structures and religion at the state level, socio-cultural traditions and innovations, comparative religious methodology, hierarchy and gender at the divine level, and how different religious systems interact with or react to one another within various contexts of intercultural contact.
I am also interested in the use of the ancient past in the modern Middle East, and how the appropriation, reclamation, or rejection of this past informs the current political situations. In particular, I work on identity construction based on ancient heritage, from small communities such as the Assyrians and Chaldeans, to state-level efforts in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt.
Current Project: Urban Gods: Ancient Near Eastern Religious Centers in the 1st Millennium BCE
Project Supervisor: Martti Nissinen
The aim of this project is to examine the complex relationship between the divine world and the urban landscape through case studies of some of the main religious centers in the ancient Near East during the 1st millennium BCE. Specifically, I am interested in the following questions: how is a religious center defined, and how does it relate to other cities, particularly political capitals and cities with prominent temples? How do the political spaces of the palaces and the religious spaces of temples interact with one another? How does the status of a religious center affect royal investment, the movement of resources, and the urban topography and demographics? How are religious centers affected by socio-cultural and political changes, or how do they affect them in return? The cities included are largely those of Assyria, including Assur, Arbela, Kurbail, and Nineveh, but these are placed in conversation with important religious centers in nearby areas, such as Babylon and Nippur in Babylonia and Jerusalem in the Levant.
Completed Project: Official Religion in the Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions
Project Supervisor: Eckart Frahm
This study untangles the threads of political power, religious ideology, and cultural change in the Assyrian Empire from c. 1000-600 BCE. Official religion comprises a state-sponsored pantheon and religious practices and policies meant for the Assyrian heartland, and can be distinguished from other, parallel forms of religion such as personal or imperial. Characterized by complex and shifting hierarchies of gods, Assyria’s official religion was subject to changing political tides, the personal interests of kings, and theological innovations. While the uses of divine names in texts commissioned by the king may initially appear to be unsystematic expressions of personal piety, this study shows that the choice of specific gods reflects political motives, power relations, geographical and intercultural concerns, and socio-cultural developments.
The goals of this project are to: 1. identify and catalogue the invocations of gods in the official text corpus, 2. understand the characteristics of the gods through their epithets and roles in the texts, and 3. to address larger historical, social, and religious questions pertaining to the nature and role of Neo-Assyrian official religion. Which gods constitute the Neo-Assyrian official pantheon and how do the hierarchies evolve during Assyria’s imperial phase? To what extent are the differences diachronic, geographical, or cultural? In what ways does state policy affect official religion, and what are the implications of political-religious shifts? In what cases are “foreign” gods (i.e. non-Assyrian gods) appropriated into or rejected from the Assyrian pantheon and why? Overall, the approach of this project is two-fold. First, by collecting data from a variety of texts that include the names of gods or lists of gods, this study serves as a reference work for scholars of Assyrian religion in the Neo-Assyrian period. Second, this project provides an overarching historical analysis of the development of the Neo-Assyrian pantheon and official religion that deepens the modern understanding of connections between major facets of Neo-Assyrian culture and society, including intellectual traditions, imperial policy and diplomacy, and cult and ritual.