External Scientific Member
Following the comparative project of Empires of Faith, Elsner is pursuing work on the wider late antiquity between the Mediterranean and Asia, including ventures into China and India. He is particularly concerned with the creation of new iconographies and visual cultures in response to the rise of new religions. These include notably the multiple forms of Christianity between the Latin West, Byzantine empire and the many Christianities in Asia and Africa 'east' of Byzantium in a multitude of languages, on the one hand, and the multiple forms of Buddhism manifested in numerous linguistic traditions across the Indian subcontinent, the Silk Road and into China.
Other research interests remain in the art of the Roman empire, broadly conceived to include late antiquity and the early middle ages and including Byzantium as well as the pre-Christian Classical world. His research began by looking at the way art was viewed in antiquity, which led to an interest in all kinds of reception from ritual and pilgrimage in the case of religious art to the literary description of art (including the rhetorical technique known as ekphrasis) to the more recent collecting and display of art as well as its modern historiography and receptions. Since the art of antiquity has such a privileged, indeed canonical, position in our culture, the study of its receptions is an exploration of more recent history's varied, competing and often ideologically charged understandings of its own past.