Glenn Peers

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline History
Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin

Research project

Spaces of Ritual and Prayer: Late Antique Palestinian Sites of World Making


Spaces of ritual and prayer were not simply made environments within which human agents attempted to make saved selves. Those spaces, skyed by their constellations of objects, were replete with subjects, who were not limited to human. Acts of prayer, liturgy and meditation always occurred in bodied settings and always within a space that participated in, determined and changed according to those acts. Likewise, those settings inevitably altered human agents in their presence.

Various cells and communal places of worship within Mar Saba in the Judaean Desert can be analytically imagined from these points of view. The cells are combinations of present surface (stone and dirt) and alterations and supplements (niches for prayer, icons, books, light, food; and beds). The human agent in that space does not perform a one-way gaze, but is integrated into a series of relations with the setting that changes him, as he changes it. All the conditions of such a space needs thinking about: the visual content, as well other sensory aspects, like temperature and smell, soft and hard, varieties of dark, power and weakness of food. Moreover, cells in the monastery and those in the hillsides have related and different conditions, all of which need careful analysis and responsible imagining. That necessary continuum of nature into prayer and ritual within these quasi-built spaces forcefully affected the aims and results of those devotional actions by those monks. And when these agents came together as in the naos, naturally some of the conditions intensified as others weakened.


Examining historical spaces of such mutually transforming acts, along with objects comprising them, reveals a ritual world not restricted to human-bound narratives and goals, but a world in which heterogeneous agents worked in concert to perform expansive salvation. Trying to escape or sidestep some of the normative descriptions in contemporary texts, art-historical analysis of these spatial and sensory conditions shows the contingent and relational aspects of ritual and prayer in a place like Mar Saba.




Glenn Peers is Professor of Art History with special regard to Early Medieval and Byzantine Art at the University of Texas at Austin. Peers received his M.A. from McGill University, Montréal and gained his Ph.D. at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a Licentiate in Medieval Studies from the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in the University of Toronto. He has held various fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Selected publications


Byzantine Things in the World, (ed.), The Menil Collection, Yale University Press, Houston, 2013. 

'Under Gods: Stories from the Soho Road. Photographs by Liz Hingley',  Material Religion vol. 9, no. 2, 2013, pp. 261-264.


'Forging Byzantine Animals: Manuel Philes in Renaissance France', Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici, vol. 49, 2012, pp. 79-103. 


'Object Relations: Theorizing the Late Antique Viewer', in S.F. Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Oxford University Press, New York, 2012, pp. 970-993. 

'Real-Living Painting: Quasi-Objects and Dividuation in the Byzantine World', Religion and the Arts, vol. 16, no. 5, 2012, pp. 433-460.


Sacred Shock: Framing Visual Experience in Byzantium, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 2004.

Subtle Bodies: Representing Angels in Byzantium, Transformations in Late Antiquity, vol. 32, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Art History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History and Law