Assistant Professor of Religion Lee Jefferson co-edits “The Art of the Empire”
Professors at Centre College exemplify lifelong learning, remaining engaged in their academic interests beyond the classroom and often publishing their own work and research in their chosen fields. Such is the case of Assistant Professor of Religion Lee Jefferson, who recently co-edited a book published by Fortress Press. Additionally, he authored the introduction and a chapter in the volume entitled “Revisiting the Emperor Mystique: the Traditio Legis as an Anti-Imperial Image.”
The Art of the Empire contends that the art and imagery of Late Antiquity merits a more nuanced understanding of the context of the imperial period before and after Constantine. The chapters each treat an aspect of the relationship between early Christian art and the rituals, practices or imagery of the empire, offering a new and fresh perspective on the development of Christian art in its imperial background.
Throughout the process, Jefferson worked alongside co-editor Robin Jensen, a professor of Christian art and history at the University of Notre Dame and his graduate school mentor.
“While it has been years since I was in her classroom, I still feel like her student, and I am proud of that title,” Jefferson says. “The process was great since we already have a strong working relationship, but as this was my first book writing my own contribution and editing others, I was surprised at how difficult it was.”
The two began working on the book over three years ago, after several discussions with colleagues about the subject matter.
“If anything, the book is a promotional piece of what scholars can accomplish by just talking at conference meetings,” he jokes.
The book, as Jefferson describes it, is based on these conversations surrounding “the influence of imperial art upon the development of early Christian art.” He was interested in studying this topic because he finds the interdisciplinary methodology—studying both religion and art history—to be valuable.
“There has been little conversation between art historians and religious studies scholars about the role of the emperor and the imperial cult upon this genre of art and iconography,” Jefferson explains. “The ‘orthodox’ argument was never challenged, an argument that suggests images of Jesus in particular changed following the conversion of Constantine.
“In fact,” Jefferson adds, “the book epitomizes the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue at Centre, as my friend and colleague Jay Bloom, an art history professor, read early drafts of my chapter and was quite helpful.”
The Art of the Empire is now on sale and available online via Amazon or through the publisher Fortress Press.
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
October 20, 2015