A checkup of Late Antiquity

In late 2015, the Journal of Late Antiquity published a special issue on the intersections of religion, medicine, health, healing and disability in Late Antiquity. Guest edited by Kristi Upson-Saia and Heidi Marx-Wolf, the issue featured 10 essays on this growing area of research. Upson-Saia and Marx-Wolf joined us for a Q&A about the special issue.

JHUP: How did the issue come about?

Eds: This special issue is an outgrowth of ReMeDHe, the working group for Religion, Medicine, Disability, and Health in Late Antiquity, that we co-founded in 2013 and have co-directed since.  Both of us were starting new projects in these research areas. And we were also both looking to work collaboratively in order to figure out how to address gaps in the scholarship and  to overcome some of the more isolating aspects of academic life. We wanted to work in a more dialogic way right from the start of these new projects and we soon encountered a number of other scholars who felt the same way. We began by proposing a series of four panels at the 2014 meeting of the North American Patristics Society, as well as a pre-conference workshop. Some of the papers in this special issue were originally presented in those inaugural sessions. Since then, we meet regularly at NAPS. We have also created a listserv, website, and Facebook page to communicate with each other, and we have created a Zotero group to share our primary and secondary source bibliographies. We now have over 130 members, and we believe this signals how important and vibrant these research areas are right now, as well as a desire for cooperative modes of research.

JHUP: What drew you to this area of research?

Marx-Wolf: I was drawn to this area by way of my work on late Roman philosophy. In antiquity, the lines between religion, philosophy, and medicine are difficult to draw. So it wasn’t surprising that I kept encountering doctors when studying late ancient philosophers. I thought the connections warranted a closer look. I’ve also taught pre-modern cosmology and history of science for a number of years, and I so enjoy teaching the history of ancient medicine. So I knew that this was a direction I wanted to head in my research.

Upson-Saia: I began reading Greco-Roman medical sources in graduate school and was hooked right away. I was particularly fascinated with discussions of wounds and scars, which seemed to me to have been understudied. In addition to my research, I have enjoyed teaching courses like “Magic, Miracle, and Medicine in Antiquity” and “Health and Humanity,” a course I’ve team-taught with a health care economist and bioethicist.

We were both surprised to find that, despite robust interest in earlier and later epochs in the history of medicine and the history of disability, few scholars were focused on these topics in Late Antiquity. And yet, it is one of the most interesting and dynamic historical periods when it comes to social, cultural, and religious change. This dynamism is also apparent when one looks at topics related to health, illness, healing, and so forth. However, as we hypothesize in our co-authored essay on the “State of the Question,” this period has often been viewed using an outdated lens of decline and devolution when it comes to medicine. The aim of the ReMeDHe working group is to look at this period with a different lens, one that focuses on the aforementioned dynamism. Hopefully, readers will catch more than just a glimpse of that when they explore the essays in the volume.

JHUP: What does it mean to take these discussions from smaller groups to a larger stage in this journal?

Eds: We are very excited to continue the kinds of conversations and collaborations characteristic of the working group with an even larger group of scholars whose interests intersect with our own, even if but peripherally. We’re also hoping to entice more people to consider working in these areas and strongly encourage them to join the ReMeDHe working group (remedhe.com).

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