about me

I am a university professor, writer, and researcher whose work centers on the city of Rome during the Roman Empire and late antiquity. On this website you can follow my blog or twitter page, check out my Academia.edu or Brown University pages, or see what else I’ve been up to recently. cropped-denzey-author-photos-004.jpg

I have a number of projects all going at the same time, which is my preferred way of working. I’m working on two separate book projects right now. The first is on “lived religion” or “lived experience” in Christian antiquity and late antiquity. I’m fascinated by the question of how ordinary people understood themselves and what sort of meaning they might have ascribed to their lives. Did they think of themselves as “Christian,” for example? What did that look like, practically speaking? What sorts of practices did they engage? How did they present themselves, at different points in time and to different audiences? What was important to them? Since most of our sources in antiquity come from the elite or sub-elite, how can we find out what non-elites were about in meaningful and sophisticated ways (that means not just lumping everyone together as “the masses” and making assumptions about how “the masses” behaved). To try to get into these hidden worlds, I work with unusual sources, including archaeology, material culture, and inscriptions. By extension, this project brings me into theoretical worlds such as practice theory and the work of theorists such as Michel De Certeau. It also makes me think a good deal about ancient praxis, including baptism, magic, exorcism, burial, and commemoration.

My second book project explores the manner in which early modern, Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Rome crucially shaped our understanding of what formative Christianity in Rome really looked like. Anyone who has been to Rome can discern the tremendous influence of the Counter-Reformation, not the least of which is the palpable, visceral presence of the Saints. Many of these saints are local or, at least, have connections to Rome’s early Christian past. They are arranged, displayed, and deployed in provocative ways that are presented as timelessly authentic. But did Christianity in, say, fourth-century Rome really look like our early modern sources say it did? If not, then what were Christians really doing in late antique Rome? How can we find out?

My book projects take me to Rome very often, which is my favorite place to be.

8 thoughts on “about me

  1. Hi Nicola,
    I so enjoyed your conversation about Mary Magdalene on Tapestry that I checked out your website to find out about your work. I was delighted to learn you are Canadian. I have just ordered a copy of your “Into to Gnosticism” for my summer reading.
    Cheers, James


  2. I’ve just assigned your Tapestry podcast to 2nd and 3rd year students in my “Women and Gender in the New Testament” class at the University of Nottingham! Will let you know how they like it! (I love it.) Cheers from a fellow Canuck in England! ~Sara Parks


  3. Hi Nicola, I love the Studying the Roman Empire and early Christian history and I would love to follow you on whatever project you are up to next.


  4. I enjoyed your contributions to the CNN program on Jesus.
    My interest is the military history of Rome in Judea.
    I believe we still do not have an adequate telling of the Pontius Pilate story.
    Do you have Italian heritage?

    Vic DiEleanora
    Elk Grove, CA


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