Recovering Hymnography Symposium

May 1516, 2022
University of Chicago--TBA
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Susan Ashbrook HarveyBrown University

Brian Dunkle, S.J.Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

Ashley PurpuraPurdue University

Fr. Andrew SummersonUniversity of Toronto and Lumen Christi Institute

Erin WalshUniversity of Chicago

Jeffrey WickesUniversity of Notre Dame

Cappella RomanaVocal Ensemble

The Lumen Christi Institute, The Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, and the Fordham Center for Orthodox Christian Studies Present:

Recovering Hymnography Symposium

May 15-16, 2022 | University of Chicago

Free and open to the public. Please note you must register for each day separately.

This symposium will explore the tradition of hymnography as both prayer and pedagogy, sharing insights about how biblical interpretation, ethical injunction, and theological reflection are combined with ritual reenactment in the texts they consider. Papers on early Christian liturgical hymnography in the Greek, Syriac, and Latin traditions will be shared and discussed with expert respondents. In so doing, the presenting scholars will shed light on the late antique Christian world’s practice of hymnography that is still preserved today by contemporary Eastern Christian worship.



May 15, 2022 | Rockefeller Memorial Chapel  (5850 S. Woodlawn Ave. Chicago, IL 60637)

4:00 PM   Keynote Address

"Singing the Sacred: Music and the Holy in Ancient Christianity," by Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Brown University

Why were hymns important for ancient Christianity? What did music add to poetry? Singing was an indelible part of daily life in the ancient Mediterranean world: in household and civic spaces, in celebrations, in mourning, and in religious devotions of all kinds. In the New Testament, singing hymns was fundamental to early Christian worship. Why did hymns matter? How did Christians in antiquity render singing sacred for their own purposes, able to articulate their own distinctive religious truths? What could make music “holy”? And how?

5:00 PM  Icons of Sound: Concert with Cappella Romana

The internationally renowned musical group Cappella Romana presents their concert “Icons of Sound” featuring pieces composed by the 9th century nun Kassia and interpretations of medieval Byzantine chant for the feast of the Holy Cross in Constantinople. 


May 16, 2022 | Swift Hall Common Room (1025 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637)

9:00 AM - 12:00 PM  Symposium presentations 

Presentations in this sympsosium include:

Brian Dunkle, “New Songs and Ancient Instruction: The Early Reception of Ambrose’s Hymns.”

Ashley Purpura, “Liturgical Name-Calling: Gender, Power, Performance, and the Akathistos Hymn”

Andrew Summerson, “Christ the Sea Monster: How Hymns Rephrase Patristic Thought on Jonah”

Erin G. Walsh, “Women and the Embodiment of Virtue in Syriac Poetry”

Jeffrey Wickes, “The Voices of the Martyrs’ Mothers in Syriac Liturgical Poetry”



This program is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc. This program is cosponsored by the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., is the Director of the Program in Early Cultures and the Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor of History and Religion at Brown University. Dr. Ashbrook Harvey specializes in late antique and Byzantine Christianity, with Syriac studies as her particular focus. She has published widely on topics relating to asceticism, hagiography, women and gender, hymnography, homiletics, and piety in late antique Christianity. She is presently working on biblical women in Syriac hymnography and homiletics, and the Syriac women's choirs that performed these works. She also continues to work on religion and the senses, in particular on the manner in which sensory rhetoric is used to heighten the emotional aspects of late antique religious texts. Liturgical lament, especially in Syriac and Greek, is another area of her current research.

Rev. Brian Dunkle, S.J., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He has published widely on topics in patristics and the history of Christianity, including Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan (Oxford, 2016), winner of the Best First Book Prize from the North American Patristics Society, and he has completed translations of ancient Greek and Latin Christian writings, including Ambrose of Milan: Treatises on Noah and David (Catholic University of America, 2020). His research interests include the development of early Christian verse and models of nature and grace in the early Church.

Ashley Purpura is Associate Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and a faculty fellow of the Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts Program at Purdue University. She holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University, and her research focuses on the history of Orthodox Christian thought in its Byzantine tradition. She investigates how historical religious practices and ways of thinking shape power structures and complex identities for past and present religious communities. She has published articles on religious authority and conceptions of gender, and her first book, God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium (Fordham University Press, 2018) examines the development and maintenance of “hierarchy” as a theological concept. With current projects, Purpura analyzes Orthodox Christian constructions of gender in relation to religious ideals of patriarchy, and the formation of religious identity in ritual contexts. 

Rev. Andrew Summerson, S.Th.D. is Assistant Professor of Greek Patristics at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, parish priest at St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Whiting, Indiana, and Program Fellow in Patristics and Eastern Christianity at the Lumen Christi Institute. He is the author of Divine Scripture and Human Emotion in Maximus the Confessor (Brill 2021). He is currently working on a monograph exploring Maximus the Confessor's interpretation of Gregory Nazianzen. 

Erin Walsh is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature in the University of Chicago Divinity School. She studies ancient and late antique Christianity with a focus on Syriac language and literature. Her current research focuses on the reception of biblical literature and the growth of asceticism within the eastern Roman and Persian Empires. Dr. Walsh is working on a book project examining the Nachleben of unnamed New Testament women in Syriac and Greek poetry, highlighting the work of Narsai of Nisibis, Jacob of Serugh, and Romanos Melodos. She teaches and writes upon a variety of topics in New Testament literature, the history of Biblical interpretation, Syriac language and literature, embodied practices, religious poetry, and multilingualism in the late antique and early Byzantine east. She is an affiliated faculty member with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. During the 2018-2019 academic year, she was a Junior Fellow in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University. Professor Walsh also serves as the Executive Editor for Christianity at Ancient Jew Review, a non-profit web journal devoted to the interdisciplinary study of ancient Judaism.

Jeffrey Wickes is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His scholarship focuses on the interplay between Syriac literature, theology, and liturgy in the context of late antique Christianity. Building projects that work from close readings of Syriac texts, he gravitates in his work towards larger questions of genre (especially poetry), religion, and theology as they play out within the historical horizons of late antique Christianity, and as those horizons meet our own in the contemporary world. His first two books focused on Syriac Christianity’s formative voice, Ephrem the Syrian, and sought to find the place where performative context and exegesis met in the space of Ephrem’s poetry. His current book turns to a range of Syriac hagiographical poems sung between the fourth and sixth centuries to ask questions around form, agency, time, and gender in late antique poetry and the cult of the saints. His work has been supported by grants from, among others, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, the Mellon Foundation, and the Dolores Zorhab Liebmann Fund.

Founded in 1991, Cappella Romana’s name refers to the medieval Greek concept of the Roman oikoumene (inhabited world), which embraced Rome and Western Europe, as well as the Byzantine Empire of Constantinople (“New Rome”) and its Slavic commonwealth. Cappella Romana has a special commitment to mastering the Slavic and Byzantine musical repertories in their original languages, thereby making accessible to the general public two great musical traditions that are little known in the West. In the field of contemporary music, Cappella Romana has taken a leading role in bringing to audiences the vocal works of such European contemporary composers as Michael Adamis, Ivan Moody, Arvo Pärt, and John Tavener, as well as promoting the work of North Americans such as Fr. Sergei Glagolev, Christos Hatzis, Peter Michaelides, and Tikey Zes. The vocal ensemble presents annual concert series in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, in addition to touring nationally and internationally. Critics have consistently praised these for their unusual and innovative programming, including numerous world and American premieres. The group regularly collaborates with such artists as conductor Paul Hillier, chant specialist Ioannis Arvanitis, and composer Ivan Moody.