Connecting with Ancient but Global Conversations


by Courtney Quirin

Arthur Urbano

Excitement struck Arthur Urbano of Providence College when he opened up his email to find the following alert: “Someone from Holy See (Vatican City State) just searched for you on Google.”

As a professor of Theology, this is just the kind of audience he’s hoping to attract as he gears up for this third sabbatical trip to early Christian archaeological sites across Italy, Greece and France.

“For me it is important to be part of an international conversation in a field that is ancient, but truly global,” says Arthur.

Based in America but conducting his work abroad, the trajectory of Arthur’s research rests on cultivating an international network of scholars, who lately he’s been finding through and pairing up with on his cross-Atlantic research expeditions.

“This international exchange of scholarship has opened up channels of communication that I might not have enjoyed otherwise. The sabbatical grant awarded to me by the International Catacomb Society has made the visits possible, and helps to establish and maintain the exchange before and after my field work,” says Arthur.

Using to identify and contact archaeologists and historians of early Christianity in Italy and Greece, Arthur has connected with several academics, such as the President of the Center for Byzantine Research in Thessaloniki, Greece. From there the President introduced Arthur to several of his archaeologist colleagues, who Arthur then met in-person on his last overseas trip this March.

Meeting leading researchers like those in Thessaloniki, who work in foreign yet related fields, Arthur says he gets a lot out of these in-person exchanges.

“The contact through helped lead me to other scholars who are actively engaged in the study of the archaeological material that I need to understand for my own work. Not being an archaeologist, I rely on their work to help me interpret it culturally and theologically. Sure, I can read their books and articles, but to sit down and talk with them— and maybe hear a little bit about what they have coming through the pipeline in their own research— helped me immensely,” says Arthur.

For example, Arthur explains, “One of these researchers in Thessaloniki introduced me to a late Roman floor mosaic in North Africa that has images of philosophers which bear a lot of resemblance to depictions of saints in Christian art. This was fantastic because I did not know about it, and it will fit very nicely into my own project.”

Arthur’s new colleague also prepared a bibliography for him to get him up to speed before his visit. “She introduced me to a whole corner of the field of late antique art that I was not yet familiar with,” adds Arthur.

Exchanges like these are a two-way street, stretching all the way back to the East Coast, where Arthur continues the dialogue. For example, after returning from his March visit in Thessaloniki, Arthur shared one of his articles on mosaics with his new Greek colleague in order to gain feedback and expand on previous conversations.

“In terms of early Christian art and archaeology, I envy those scholars who work and live in places where they come into contact with these sites routinely. They have a perspective I don’t. Likewise, American scholarship in the field can contribute theoretical directions and currents to European scholarship.”

And while forging these international relationships enriches Arthur’s research, the icing on the cake is that they are also helping him build his reputation across this vast and global field.

“I’m a relatively young scholar, new in the field and in publishing, so is a chance for my work to be found more easily and have my name associated more readily within the field. It adds a more immediate level of visibility then some of the more traditional channels of networking, like print journals and meeting people at conferences, do.”

Academic Bio:
Arthur Urbano is an Associate Professor of Theology at Providence College where his research on early Christianity covers topics of art, archaeology, dress and intellectual identity in the Late Antiquity. Arthur was awarded a grant by the International Catacomb Society and is currently on sabbatical, returning to Providence College this fall.

Arthur’s work can be viewed here.


by Courtney Quirin, Science Writer

Comments May 8, 2013
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