Strategic Plan
Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Perception & Intersectionality

By Roland Betancourt
As an art historian, trained across art history, visual studies, and anthropology departments in my undergraduate and graduate studies, teaching and researching in a Visual Studies program presents the opportunity to work past traditional historical periodization and look beyond inadequate divisions between popular culture and art. My primary research to date has focused on the Byzantine Empire, namely the Roman Empire in the medieval period, based in the city of Constantinople and ranging roughly from 330 to 1453 CE.

My first book, Sight, Touch, and Imagination in Byzantium (Cambridge University Press, 2018), surveys classical, late antique, and medieval theories of vision to elaborate on how various spheres of the Byzantine world categorized and comprehended sensation and perception. At stake is how the affordances and limitations of the senses came to mediate the realities that art and rhetoric wished to convey. This research has been furthered by my second book project, The Byzantine Gospel Lectionary: Text, Image, and Sound in the Divine Liturgy, which considers the role that the senses played in the reading, recitation, imagination, and reception of the Gospel text over the course of the liturgy. By looking at marginal images in manuscripts of the text, chant marks indicating how the text was to be read, and the types of sonic and acoustic spaces in which the ritual occurred, this book challenges modern notions of time-based media to show how image, text, and sound interacted with one another in Byzantium.

Currently, my research addresses subjugated and erased groups in the medieval and Early Christian worlds. This book project, Byzantine Intersectionality, unfurls a series of minuscule histories that give voice to pertinent matters today. The book, for example, looks at debates regarding the consent of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, the proliferation of abortives and contraceptives in both common and elite circles of the Early Christian world and how knowledge of their uses were used to sexually shame women for social and political ends, the popularity of transgender monks and the various ascetic, social, and surgical practices associated with gender transitioning in Byzantium, the embrace of same-sex desire in monastic communities and preponderance of queer erotic discourses regarding the spiritual union with God, the representation of skin color at the intersection of race and gender, and articulations of mental and physical disability across the Byzantine Empire. The aim of this book is to strike at the Early Christian origins of these various matters and better come to understand not simply how modern the Middle Ages were, but rather how much its concerns have persisted over time. This is a past that is not “medieval” in a pejorative sense, but one that is nuanced and complex, at times far more restrictive and conservative than our own, and at other times, far more open and accepting.
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