Elizabeth DePalma Digeser

Department of History
University of California Santa Barbara


Roman Religion in Politics and Thought in the 3-5th Century CE


Ph.D.    University of California, Santa Barbara (History)
M.A.      University of California, Santa Barbara (History)
M. A.     The Johns Hopkins University (Psychology)
B. A.      State University of New York at Buffalo (Psychology)


I study the intersection of religion and philosophy with Roman politics, as well as the process of "conversion" in Late Antiquity. My latest book, A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution (Cornell 2012), explores the interactions of Platonist philosophers and Christian theologians in the period leading up to the Great Persecution of AD 303-11. My new research explores the issue of religious diversity within the Roman Empire: when religions appeared in the center from the frontier, when did Romans appropriate them? When did their differences spark violence? What happened to these tensions when imperial administration moved out of the city of Rome to the cities of Trier, Milan, Serdica (Sofia), Constantinople (Istanbul) and Antioch? Increasingly in my research, I am interested in exploring the relevance of theories of identity formation and cultural entanglement first used by historians to study the southwest US borderlands. 

As a student of Hal Drake in the mid 90's, I've always been interested in how attempts to categorize people into neat groups politically or religiously run up against the difficulties of lived experience. Hal opened my eyes to the gray area in Constantine's lived experience: was he "pagan"? Christian? Neither? A hybrid? And I have pursued these questions across my career, starting with my first book, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome. Of course categorization is also a problem for contemporary historians, and I have become increasingly alert to problems associated with our own tacit acceptance of categories and boundaries that ancient authors draw for us, and want us to accept (This is a point that I explore in "Origen on the Limes" and again in "The Usefulness of Borderlands Concepts in Ancient History: The Case of Origen as Monster").


My current research focuses on religious violence, both soft (defining heretics, polemics) and hard (persecution), and changing conceptions of "pagan" and Christian communities from both an internal and external perspective (what might be called identity politics).



A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists and the Great Persecution. Cornell University Press, 2012.

The Making of a Christian Empire:  Lactantius and Rome.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.  Paperback, released 2012.

The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe and the Early Islamic World, ed. with Justin Stephens, R. M. Frakes. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010.

Religious Identity in Late Antiquity, R. M. Frakes and Elizabeth Digeser, edd. Toronto: Edgar Kent, 2006.

The Making of a Christian Empire:  Lactantius and Rome.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000. 


My teaching interests more broadly cover Roman history. I teach HIST 112A, a borderlands approach to the origins of Rome and the motivations for Roman imperialism, 112C, a course on the third and fourth century of the Roman Empire, 112D, a course on Late Antiquity, and 114A, the history of Christianity. At the graduate level, I teach a two-quarter research seminar on topics of current interest to my graduate students, and a series of reading seminars (201E) on contemporary historiography on Rome from its origins through Late Antiquity. These seminars are designed to prepare people for their MA and Ph.D. exams.