Experiencing Insecurity: Pain, Trauma and Suffering in the Roman Empire Conference

Experiencing Insecurity: Pain, Trauma, and Suffering in the Roman Empire (Abstracts)


Register Here: https://forms.gle/QN2FKmPkGUC1eBPW6 
Registration Deadline is Friday, March 1oth.

The Boston University Classical Studies Department will be holding a conference entitled Experiencing Insecurity: Pain, Trauma and Suffering in the Roman Empire this Spring.

The conference will be held in person at Boston University on Thursday, March 16th and Friday, March 17th.

Conference Schedule

March 16th, Thursday (BU Law School, Barrister’s’ Hall)

2:00-3:30 Session 1

Alain M Gowing ‘Tangled, chaotic and hideous’: the triumviral proscriptions in Roman memory”

Michèle Lowrie “The caring leader perverted, Lucan’s De bello civili

4:00-5:30 Session 2

Gareth Williams “The Insecurities of Therapeutic Philosophy in Roman Discourse: Some Symptoms, Effects, Consequences, and Implications”

Maia Kotrosits “Late Ancient Hagiography as Literature of Grief”

5:30 Reception

6:30 Dinner

March 17th, Friday (BU School of Theology, Room B24)

9:00-10:00 Keynote 

Erica James

10:15-12:30 Session 3 

James Uden “Embodying the Wounded Veteran in the Roman Empire”

Luis Menéndez-Antuña “Analgesic literary strategies: how do the canonic gospels blunt the crucifixion pain?”

Tori Lee “Hic crine, hic veste: Violence and Bodily Violability in Imperial Pastoral Literature”

12:30-2:00 Lunch break

2:00-4:15 Session 4

Virginia Closs “Solitudo as State and Space in Early Imperial Literature”

Christopher A. Frilingos “The Suffering and the Glory: Problems in the Therapeutic Criticism of the Book of Revelation”

Zsuzsa Várhelyi “The ghosts of Neronian Rome: narrative and affective strategies of coping with recent traumatic experiences in the pseudo-Senecan Octavia

4:45-6:15 Session 5

Inger Kuin “Coping Without the Gods? Religious Disbelief and Insecurity in the Roman Empire”

Basil Dufallo “Optimism Beyond Political Trauma in Tacitus and Pliny”

Conference Statement

Recent years have seen an evolving interest in the conceptualization of what could be best summarized as the experience of “insecurity” in the Roman empire. Although imperial rhetoric of praise often tended to describe this period in terms of unparalleled peace and security, modern studies have brought focus to the numerous civil conflicts and societal repression that intermittently yet regularly characterized these centuries. The detailed history of the upheavals has been carefully studied by historians, and the past decades expanded this work into the memory and commemoration of these events. As we suggest, now is the time for another expansion of scholarly perspectives to incorporate issues related to the transformation of subjectivities in response to the traumatic experiences of violence and oppression. We intend to address responses to the historical realities from a wide range of perspectives incorporating the work of scholars from fields as varied as Greek and Latin literature, history, gender studies and religion.

Our use of the term ‘insecurity’ draws from the work of the medical anthropologist, Erica Caple James, who develops the concept of ‘ensekirite’ (Haitian Creole for ‘insecurity’) in her pioneering work Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti (2010), an ethnographic study of the impact of political violence, regime change, and natural disaster in 1990s Haiti. James defines ensekirite as ‘embodied uncertainty’, a political subjectivity formed from the ‘seemingly random political and criminal violence that ebbed and flowed in waves amid ongoing economic, social, and environmental decline’. James’ aim in that book was not merely to analyze the ‘negative nexus of power’ (sex, gender, violence, trauma) that shaped Haitians’ lives. Instead, her focus was on forms of subjectivity that people formulated as a response to the almost unimaginable challenges around them.

In seeking to bring the theoretical sophistication of contemporary medical anthropology and trauma studies, we will face the problems of the limitations of our material, of the recurrent biases towards elite male speakers, and of the difficulty of recovering personal responses to political events. But our aim is to view the evidence through new and multiple theoretical lenses and broaden the conversation about the Roman Empire as much as possible beyond the disciplinary confines of Classical Studies.


Sponsored by Boston University Center for the Humanities, Department of Classical Studies, Department of Religion, the Health Humanities Program, and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.