Øyvind Norderval, University of Oslo, The Imperial Building Programs of Emperor Constantine (306-337 A.D.) and his Followers.

    Before the reign of the emperor Constantine (306-337) Jerusalem and Palestine in general had no specific impact on Christian belief and identity. The land and its former capital were tokens of Judaism, which was regarded by the Christians as spiritually dead. The Christians, instead, considered themselves to be citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. However, when Constantine conquered his co-emperor Licinius in 324 and won the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Palestine became a significant area, politically and religiously. This led to imperial building programs not only in Jerusalem, but also for instance in Bethlehem and in Mamreh. Within a few decades, many biblical sites were “refounded” and “reconstructed”. Very early on, they became increasingly important sites of Christian pilgrimage framed by elaborated liturgical practices (The Pilgrim of Bordeaux; Egeria’s Travels). This process of sanctification became an important part of the imperial ideology of reign in the fourth and fifth centuries.

    In his project Norderval will shed light on the process of how imperial initiatives led to local constructions of religious legitimacy and identity and how the area thus became important for pilgrimage (Smith 1978, 1989, 1990; MacCormack 1990; Markus 1994, 1998; Rosen and Suiter 2006). One can here see a reciprocal relationship between centre and periphery, between imperializing and local discourses. Palestine, and in particular Jerusalem, gained increasing importance; for instance, Jerusalem was given the status as a patriarchal see at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but already in 325 the First Council of Nicaea attributed special honour to the bishopric of Jerusalem.

Norderval argues that this was in part so because the political grammar of these religious programs continued a cultural function of imperial religion well back in the pre-Christian Roman Empire – the religion’s usefulness to imperial power.  The project is part of a larger study by Norderval: State and Religion in the First Centuries of the Common Era—a project he has been working on for several years.

Short CV

Øyvind Norderval is Professor History of the Ancient, Faculty of Theology, UiO. Prior to his current affiliation, Norderval was Associate professor, then Professor and Head of Department for the Department of Religious Studies, University of Tromsø (1996-2008), where he was in charge of establishing the Department and programs for pastoral and other education. Among other positions he has been Associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Trondheim (1995-96). Norderval has had several research periods abroad, among them Paris 1982-1983 (École pratique des hautes Études, Sorbonne); Alexander von Humboldt fellow 1988-1989 (Kiel, Christian Albrechts Universität); Rome 2001-2002 (Augustinianum). Among his current research interests is a long-standing research and publication record on the interface between Christianity and the Roman Empire before, under, and after Constantine.