My research examines the religious and cultural conversion of early medieval Europe. I investigate the power of people, places, and things to negotiate the permeable medieval boundaries of the sacred and secular, both through rituals and objects. My research interests include interdisciplinary studies of conversion, material culture, and religion in medieval Europe; the history of encounter, exchange, and inculturation; material and digital historical methods; the use of water for sacred and secular purposes in the medieval landscape; and studies of sacred space, baptism, and other rites of passage in medieval and early modern mission contexts. I am currently preparing my manuscript for publication while co-editing the forthcoming multidisciplinary volume Water in Early Medieval England and contributing to two long-term collaborative research projects: Baptisteries of the Early Christian World, and Project Andvari, a digital portal to the visual world of early medieval Europe.
Living Water, Living Stone: The History and Material Culture of Baptism in Early Medieval England, c.600–c.1200 examines the formation of Christian identity in Europe through the ritual performances of baptism. Baptism was an essential act of social and religious initiation experienced by the majority of people in Europe, and yet historians have struggled to understand its administration, practice, and meanings for ordinary lay participants as England transitioned from paganism to Christianity. Rather than a uniform indicator of Christian identity as described in clerical texts and current scholarship, baptism changed dramatically between the sixth and twelfth centuries. I show how what began as a flexible array of diverse religious practices located in watery landscapes, Roman-style baptisteries, portable spoons, lead tubs, and wooden buckets, evolved into a ritual standardized in the stone baptismal font, a form which persists to this day. I deploy an interdisciplinary methodology that engages robustly with church archaeology, art history, and religious studies to demonstrate how baptism created localized religious identities for new adult and infant converts. Baptismal objects both united and divided new Christians in the early Middle Ages. This study transforms our definition of a united medieval Christendom by radically reinterpreting the long-term practice of baptism as a slow process of Christianization in Europe from below.
For an interactive map of the early medieval baptismal fonts that composed Appendix B of my dissertation, see the Digital page of this website.