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Research

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Dr James Corke-Webster, BA. MPhil. PhD

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41687
Room number: 211

Contact Dr James Corke-Webster (email at james.corke-webster@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

James Corke-Webster is Assistant Professor in Classics. He is primarily a Roman historian, working mainly in the imperial period and with particular interests in both early Christian and late antique history and literature. He has studied both Classics and Theology, and was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Manchester for his BA, MPhil and PhD respectively, before spending a year on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Berkeley, California. He held a one year lectureship at the University of Edinburgh before moving to Durham in 2014.

Current Research Projects

I am currently finishing a monograph arising from my doctoral work, provisionally entitled Rewriting Empire: Eusebius of Caesarea and the First Christian History. This is an extended historiographical treatment of Eusebius’ fourth century Ecclesiastical History, a text that continues to serve as scholars’ primary gateway to arguably the most important influential three hundred years of western history – the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire, from its birth under the emperor Tiberius to its eventual “triumph” under Constantine. I seek to offer the first systematic study that considers the History in the light of its fourth century circumstances and its author’s personal history, commitments and literary abilities. I argue that it is not simply an attempt to record Christianity’s history in the first three centuries, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from Christianity’s past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth century context. Eusebius presents to an audience of elite Graeco-Roman Christians a picture of their faith that smooths of its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature and relationship to Rome. And he does so not only to respond more effectively than his predecessors to common conservative criticisms of Christians among Graeco-Roman elites, but to suggest that Christianity was and had always been the preserve of true Roman values, and thus the Empire’s natural heir. This radical re-reading of Eusebius is anticipated in a forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review

My next major project, Paperwork and Persecution: From Administrative Violence to Christian Identity, is a major new study of the so-called "persecution” of the Christians. Building upon my first monograph, it seeks to peer behind Eusebius’ stylised narrative to explore two issues: first, the reality of Christian experience on the ground under Roman hegemony, and second, the process by which these experiences were “written up” by Christian authors into martyr tales and ultimately a persecution narrative. The project is built upon a series of case studies, the first of which, on Christian experience of violence under the emperor Trajan and his appointed governor Pliny in the early second century AD, will be published in two articles. One, currently under review at TAPA, roots these letters in their local provincial context to argue that in reality they record not persecution but a beleaguered governor seeking to shut down as swiftly as possible a local escalating issue that is threatening to get away from him. The second, forthcoming in Classical Quarterly, considers how that on-the-ground reality was recorded and misremembered by later Christian authors over the next successive centuries. In future case studies I intend to offer new interpretations of both the Decian and Diocletianic persecutions.

I am also the Principal Investigator, together with Dr. Christa Gray of the University of Reading, of a project entitled Constructed Sainthood: The Genesis of Hagiography. Based upon two conferences, in Edinburgh (May 2015) and Durham (November 2016), this project is gathering international experts to produce a journal special edition on late antique and mediaeval hagiography. Thanks to its abundance, this material has often been taken for granted, and has been successfully mined for religious, cultic and socio-historical purposes. But in literary terms it remains mysterious, and its genesis is particularly neglected. Our proposed volume investigates a series of converging and mutually illuminating approaches to the question of how hagiographical texts came into being.

Doctoral Supervision

I am interested in supervising students wishing to work in all areas of early Christian studies, but especially in Christianity as embedded in the Graeco-Roman world, as well as late antiquity, Roman historiography and Roman religion more generally.

Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Selected Grants

  • 2016: Constructed Sainthood: Test Cases for a Literary Approach to Hagiography (£8162.60 from The British Academy)