James Corke-Webster: The Persecution of Christians in the Ancient World: From the Ground Up (50th Episode)

One of the perennial questions in society is how we should deal with difference. In particular, the issue of religious difference has vexed societies around the globe: this is true not just for our present times, but also for ancient civilisations such as the Roman Empire. In its heyday, the Roman world spanned Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and inevitably it included people of various faiths and convictions, notably Jews and Christians. Often when we think of Roman persecution of the latter group, we think of the systematic targeting of Christians as a religious minority. But with new advances in scholarship, a much more complex picture is emerging of the interactions between Romans and Christians in the ancient world.

In the landmark 50th episode of The Provocateur, I talk to James Corke-Webster, lecturer in Roman history at King’s College London, about the persecution of Christians in the ancient world. We discuss how James came to be interested in the subject, the history of scholarship on the persecution of Christians, how James argues for a more ‘bottom-up’ approach, the documentary evidence for persecution from both the Christian and the Roman sides, the various punishments that were meted out to Christians and the differences between the reality of persecution and the memory of it. We also discuss the significance of James’ work for later Roman history and even the present day. 

You can listen to the podcast here:

Further Reading:

Barnes, Timothy D. (1968) “Legislation Against the Christians”, JRS 58: 32–50.

Corke-Webster, J. (2017) Trouble in Pontus: The Pliny-Trajan Correspondence on the Christians Reconsidered”, TAPA 147.2, 371-411.

de Ste Croix, G. E. M. (1963) “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?”, Past & Present 26.1, 6–38.

Moss, C. (2013) The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. San Francisco: HarperOne.

Rives, J. (1999) “The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire”, JRS 89: 135–54.

Shaw, B. (2015) “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution”, JRS 105: 73–100.

Loubna El Amine: Hierarchy, Status and Order in Classical Confucian Political Thought

China remains one of the world’s oldest, richest and most enduring civilisations, stretching back thousands of years. Among its many contributions to the world history of ideas is the Confucian school of thought, which could arguably be said to be the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Even as Mao strenuously repudiated Confucian ideals in the 20th century, the legacies of Confucius and his followers can still be found in Chinese society today: for example, the emphasis on filial piety, harmony and social stability. Confucianism has even been claimed to be the bedrock of a ‘pan-Asian’ identity, as part of the debate on Asian values. These currents might suggest that if we want to understand the Chinese mindset both then and now, we should try to examine Confucianism more closely.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Loubna El Amine, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, to discuss her take on Classical Confucian political thought. We start by thinking about why Confucianism matters in the context of studying non-Western thought, before going on to discuss more specifically the work of Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. Then we talk about Loubna’s radical new interpretation of Confucianism, which stresses the importance of hierarchy, status and order in the Confucian worldview, as opposed to the standard account which argues for the centrality of virtue. We also touch on the complexities of defining Confucianism and what it means to Chinese society today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary texts:

Confucius (1979) The Analects, translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2003) Confucius: Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Ivanhoe, Philip and Bryan Van Norden (eds.) (2005) Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, second edition. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mencius (1970) Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2008) Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Bryan Van Norden. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Xunzi (1988-1994) Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, 3 vols. Translated by John Knoblock. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

——— (2014) Xunzi: The Complete Text. Translated by Eric Hutton. Princeton University Press.

Secondary readings:

Angle, Stephen C. (2017) “Social and Political Thought in Chinese Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/chinese-social-political/>.

Brindley, Erica (2009) “‘Why Use an Ox-Cleaver to Carve a Chicken?’ The Sociology of the Junzi Ideal in the Lunyu.” Philosophy East and West 59 (1): 47–70.

Hsiao, Kung-Chuan (1979) History of Chinese Political Thought. Translated by Frederick Mote. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fingarette, Herbert (1972) Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Pines, Yuri (2009) Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Salkever, Stephen G and Michael Nylan (1994) “Comparative Political Philosophy and Liberal Education: “Looking for Friends in History,” Political Science and Politics 27:2, pp. 238-247.

Schwartz, Benjamin (1985) The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.