CFP: The Afterlife of the Body
Organizer-refereed panel at the SCS Annual Meeting 2024
Organized by Malina Buturovic (Princeton University) and Kathleen Cruz (UC Davis)
Discussion of the relationship between Hellenistic and Imperial philosophy, on the one hand, and Christian debates over the resurrection of the body, on the other, has been sharply framed by Oscar Cullman’s influential view that Christian understandings of resurrection emerged under the influence of a Jewish tradition of “psychosomatic” resurrection (resurrection of the whole person, body and soul), specifically in contrast to Greco-Roman philosophical ideas of self as soul (and body as, therefore, irrelevant) (Cullman 1965: 9-53 and Bynum 1995: 5-6). In her writing about the resurrection debates, however, Candida Moss (2019: 9) points to the many cultural practices in the Graeco-Roman world that reflect a much more ambivalent set of attitudes towards the body/embodiment of the deceased:
“… funerary rituals assumed that the shadowy dead had human needs like thirst and hunger, and artwork portrayed the dead as they were during their lives. Though not images of resurrection, this complex of practices nurtured an understanding of the afterlife in which the deceased were no longer embodied in a fleshy container, but their shades or souls were described as if they were.”
This panel aims to flesh out the territory that Moss gestures toward here: the many domains of 1st-2nd century CE Graeco-Roman material culture, art, literature, practice, and thought where the deceased is not merely a disembodied soul. Rather, a preoccupation with the deceased’s body and a tendency to imagine the deceased herself as embodied together shape a deep concern for “the afterlife of the body,” parallel to the afterlife of the soul.
The 1stto 2nd century CE represents a particularly intriguing window for this discussion. During this period, philosophers and theologians began to insist that the true self was the soul after death. Yet, fascination with both the fate of the body after death and with the deceased as embodied remained. Caroline Walker Bynum’s scholarship has drawn on Christian interest in the resurrected body to explore the importance of the body to concepts of personal identity, notwithstanding theological commitments to self as soul (Bynum 1992: 239-98). The importance of ghosts, corpses, necromancers, and statues (to name a few examples) in Greco-Roman culture of the 1stto 2nd century CE suggests a similar ambivalence around embodiment and identity during this earlier period. The problem of “the afterlife of the body” opens onto questions like: am I my corpse? Or am I not—and what does this mean for my identity and embodiment while I am alive? Where does the part of myself that is my body go after death? How could I be myself without any body at all?
In this panel we invite papers from scholars working on a variety of bodies of evidence to think through the “afterlife of the body” in the 1st-2nd century CE Graeco-Roman world. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:
- representations of ghosts/shades and the dead body in art, literature, and/or material culture
- the cultural practice of and literary/artistic engagement with necromancy
- the ritual treatment of the corpse before and after burial
- cultural attitudes toward the dead body (and axes of difference based on the characteristics of that body)
- funerary statuary and ritual
- theories of generational continuity
- Christian theories of bodily resurrection
- reception of Graeco-Roman attitudes toward and engagement with the dead body in different periods and/or contexts
- the afterlives of bodies within modern disciplinary constructions of Classics (for instance, in light of bioarchaeological methods)
Papers will be 20-minutes long and given at the AIA/SCS annual meeting in January 2024. Please send anonymized abstracts of 350-500 words (not including bibliography) as .doc or .pdf files to email@example.com by February 15, 2023.
If you have any questions, please contact Kathleen Cruz (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Malina Buturovic (email@example.com).
Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1995. The Resurrection of the Body. New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press.
Cullmann, Oscar. 1965. “Immortality and Resurrection.” In Immortality and Resurrection, edited by Krister Stendhal, 9-53. New York.
Moss, Candida. 2019. Divine Bodies: Resurrecting Perfection in the New Testament and Early Christianity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.