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Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-03-31

The Catholic church has been a key institution in world history for the last sixteen centuries. Remarkably, the church consolidated as a supra-regional institution with increasingly formal regulations at precisely the time when the western Roman Empire disintegrated into a mosaic of independent kingdoms. But how was the church constructed in such a context of political fragmentation? How did the transition from informal mutual aid to more formal hierarchical structures of law- and policy-making come about? With innovative methods of social inquiry this project (CONNEC) seeks to offer new answers to these crucial historiographical questions.

CONNEC uses social network analysis and software to trace four processes: how clerical networks adapted to the new secular contexts, how these interactions shaped the development of ecclesiastical law, how clerics constructed and disseminated discourses that supported different structures of the church, and how networks fostered compliance and a sense of accountability among clerics. CONNEC’s use of state-of-the-art methods is enhanced by the implementation of cutting-edge digital technologies, adapting network analysis software for late antique sources.

By bringing together digital tools with qualitative textual analysis, CONNEC seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding of a key process of world history. Beyond its scientific impact, this research also tackles a pressing issue for citizens and policy makers. The most recent challenges to the European integration have revealed the difficulties of building cohesive entities over a mosaic of national identities and legal systems. Late antique clerics faced similar challenges and our research will reveal how they confronted them.
CONNEC comprises four research strands whose activities have been organised into five work packages.

1. The Visual Prosopography Strand focuses on developing digital tools to analyse and map episcopal networks
a. Alexander Watzinger and Christoph Hoffman, CONNEC’s software developers, have significantly progressed in developing Open Atlas, CONNEC’s geographical visualisation and analytical tool and database.
b. Dr Victoria Leonard has reconstructed Saint Augustine’s epistolary, including previously uncharted letters (the so-called ‘ghost letters’), which have been uploaded to Open Atlas and will be available for analysis and visualisation on this platform.

2. The Ecclesiastical Law strand seeks to evaluate the evolution of ecclesiastical legislation in light of clerical networks. Dr Alice Hicklin has mapped the letter collection of pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) (which will be available on Open Atlas). She is currently writing an article on how Gregory used clerical conflicts in Sardinia to strengthen his hold in the island by enacting ad hoc legislation and enlarging his network of contacts.

3. The Connected Minds Strand explores conflicting ecclesiological ideas. Christie Pavey (PhD student) has mapped the connections among council attendees in Africa from 390 to 425 and has found previously unnoticed patterns that will help her understand how clusters of clerics strived to impose their ideological and ecclesiological views in those councils.

4. The Ecclesiastical Government strand focuses on analysing clerical strategies to monitor and control the behaviour of their peers.
a. David Natal (PI) has published one chapter (forthcoming September 2020) on female imaginary networks. David has also submitted an article that shows how indirect clerical connections hampered the implementation of episcopal authority in late fourth century northern Italy. David is currently working on a monograph tentatively entitled ‘Faith and Trust. Building the Papacy in times of Leo the Great’
b. Amal Shehata’s (PhD Student) subproject looks at how populist discourses mobilised networks of believers in Alexandria and how mob violence contributed to the establishment of the incipient patriarchate. Amal’s bottom-up approach and Natal’s top-down analysis of supra-regional ecclesiastical institutions complement each other.

5. Dissemination of our research
a. Organisation of events. Sapfo Psani (CONNEC’s project officer) has coordinated the organisation of three training events on databases and network analysis, five conferences, and one workshop.
b. Participation in other scientific meetings. In addition to our sponsored events, CONNEC’s team members have participated in international scientific meetings at London, Oxford, and Leon (Spain).
c. Digital dissemination. Sapfo has developed CONNEC’s brand identity and website, and manages the project’s social media.
d. Scientific collaborations. We have established collaboration with other teams working on related topics in Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, and the UK.
As explained above, CONNEC’s methodology is helping us to get past the representation strategy of the sources by successfully unveiling previously unnoticed patterns of clerical interactions. In doing so, CONNEC is contributing to nuancing our understanding of how peer pressure and ideology helped to establish more formal structures of law and policy making in the late antique church.
During the next 30 months, we expect that CONNEC will provide results in five main areas:
1. Digital outcomes.
a. Research software. Open Atlas has been adapted to analyse and visualise scant and scattered relational source material.This open-source software is now available for other social scientists and for the larger public.
b. Digital database. At the end of the project we will offer an open-access database of late antique letter collections, which will be available for consultation, analysis and visualisation. At the moment the database comprises the letters of Augustine and Gregory the Great, but we also expect to include the letters of Ambrose of Milan and Leo the Great.
3. Publications and PhD theses: By the end of the project, we expect to have submitted two PhD theses and have published five articles (including one already published and one forthcoming), one monograph, and one collective volume.
4. Historiographical impact. We expect that these publications will contribute to advancing current scholarship on the construction of the late antique ecclesiastical institutions in four key research areas: a) how clerical interactions shaped institutions, b) how existing secular law moulded the formulation and application of ecclesiastical law, c) how a variety of discourses underpinned different visions of the church, and d) how clerics promoted an ideal clerical behaviour and mobilised their ecclesiastical and secular networks to achieve compliance among their peers.
5. Social impact: In 2021 we will organise an event for the wider public. Tentatively entitled 'From Polis to Boris. Faith, Belonging, and Supra-Regional Institutions in Historical Perspective', this event will compare how religious beliefs had intervened in processes of institution building and political fragmentation from Antiquity to the Brexit Referendum.