I was delighted to find in today’s mail my copy of Nathaniel J. Morehouse’s Death’s Dominion: Power, Identity, and Memory at the Fourth-Century Martyr Shrine (Studies in Ancient Religion and Culture; Sheffield: Equinox, 2016). Not only is this Nat’s first book, but it is also the very first volume in the “Studies in Ancient Religion and Culture” series (SARC), a book series for which serve as editor.
I want to express my deepest congratulations to Nat on his first (of many!) books. In working with Nat to bring this project to published form, I have found him a kind a gentle soul. And this book is a wonderful contribution to scholarship, a contribution that I hope will find many successors from Nat’s pen over the years. Although SARC has several projects currently in the works, Death’s Dominion perhaps best engages the power dynamics at play within ancient social history (whereas the other projects—all of which I am thrilled to have in the pipeline—are a bit more theoretically oriented). Death’s Dominion is also of particular interest to me, given my increasing interest in early Christian martyrdom and martyr discourse. Nat’s book will hold a welcomed place on not only a shelf in my personal library, but I hope on many shelves in many studies and libraries.
Here is the full description of Death’s Dominion:
“Through a discussion of power dynamics with a critical eye towards the political situation of influential Christian leaders including Constantine, Damasus, Ambrose, and Augustine, Death’s Dominion demonstrates the ways in which these individuals sought to craft Christian identity and cultural memory around the martyr shrine. Other recent scholarship on the martyr cult has conflated issues of the early fifth century with those from the early fourth, with little discussion of the development of the martyr cult during the intervening decades. Death’s Dominion corrects that omission by presenting a diachronic focus on the development of the martyr cult in the pivotal fourth century. During this period the martyr cult was repeatedly a decisive tool for the augmentation and solidification of civil and religious authority.
“Late in the fourth century pilgrimage created a network within Christianity which ultimately led to a catholic Christian understanding of the martyrs’ graves by broadening the appeal of regional practices to disparate audiences. This simultaneously reinforced and subverted the desired message of those who sought to craft the meaning associated with the martyrs’ remains. Pilgrims helped manufacture a homogenized understanding of the martyr cult ultimately enabling it to become one of the most identifiable features of Christianity in subsequent centuries.”