Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Local Dynamics of Globalization in the Pre-Modern Levant


Already during the Bronze Age, the Eastern Mediterranean (the Levant) experienced the formation of secondary states and empires that promoted early forms of globalization. This development caught on, with the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Abbasid and Ottoman empires as good examples. One often speaks about such empires as agents for cultural development. But, in reality, how profound were the changes they initiated for instance in people’s daily lives? What forces would pull in the direction of local change, and what counter-forces would work in the direction of stability? The aim for the researchers in LDG is to explore these and related questions in six different empirical contexts, to let findings in these six contexts elucidate each other, and to formulate theoretical models for studying the local dynamics of globalization in pre-modern societies. Professor Terje Stordalen, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, is the coordinator of the project, with project co-originator Øystein (Sten) LaBianca, Andrews University (archaeology), as the associate coordinator. These two together with Professor Birgit Meyer, Utrecht University (social anthropology), are responsible for developing the theoretical aspects of the project. The individual projects in LDG include Professor LaBianca’s work on local and global discourses as they are mirrored in the archaeological record of Tall Hisban, Jordan. Findings in excavations at this site go back to the Bronze Age and document a number of pre-modern as well as modern empires. They also indicate aspects of daily life having been less influenced by changing empires. This renders Hisban as a metaphor for the analytical perspective of LDG. Prof. Stordalen examines how elite biblical literature and archaeological material from localized contexts mirror different sets of religious practices in different social fields of ancient Hebrew society. Professor Diana Edelman, will investigate the formation of popular and elite identities in Palestine after the fall of the autonomous Israelite state. Professor Øyvind Norderval, University of Oslo, will research elite interpretations of various localized building programs of Emperor Constantine in the Holy Land. Associate Professor Marina Prusac Lindhagen, University of Oslo, will study how the multi-ethnic Jerusalem of Constantine was interpreted as a Christian program by later generations of elites. Eveline J van der Steen PhD, will research how the ideals and practice of honour and hospitality among 19th century Bedouin tribes shaped their politics and those of the wider region. And finally, Professor Bethany Walker, Missouri State University, will investigate migration as a counter strategy to globalization in the pre-modern Eastern Mediterranean, especially under the Islamic empires.

End Report

While the disciplinary oriented parts of our research developed along expected trajectories, the inter-disciplinary research offered considerable resistance and was in need of constant re-definition and re-conceptualisation throughout our year at CAS. In the end, while we do think our project remains within the perimeters outlined in our project description, our way of defining and conceptualising the research problems making up this thematic area has experienced considerable change.

Among the more important theoretical developments is a deeper understanding of the Levant as a region and of the way that current characteristics of this region may be connected to age-old specifics of cultural production in the area. The Levant is made up of multiple micro-regions that each have their own particular risks and cultural productions. What binds these micro-regions together as a region is partly certain geological features and partly the geopolitical and historical fact that the region serves as a bridge connecting three continents. Three millennia of local cultural fragmentation and intense exposure for incoming culture seem to have given a particular environment for cultural production, one that produced a high number of remarkably resilient cultural products. In our material, these products include the propensity to produce culturally canonical collections of literature as well as the templates of worldwide pilgrimage and veneration of saints. The resilience of these products – their ability to withstand cultural competition, to travel across cultural borders, and to change drastically over the centuries without losing a sense of identity – we stipulate is related precisely to their original climate of cultural production, with interaction and confrontation between trans-local / globalising and local interests. These insights and the arguments promoting them are going to come out as leading points in our joint volume Levantine Entanglements: Dynamics of the Local and the Global in Premodern Times.

            Another development, more in line with our project proposal, is that we have crystallized a new theoretical understanding of diachronic cultural production in the Levant. As part of this theoretical construct, we have established particular ways of approaching certain theorems – among them collective remembering (cultural memory), canonicity and canonization. Some insights related to these theorems are already published in the first volume related to our project: The Formative Past and the Formation of the Future.

In addition to these volumes mentioned above, a number of fellows in the project are working on monographs and other larger works.

In our experience, it would not have been possible to fund this kind of cross-disciplinary co-operation on the edge of established knowledge, on this scale in any other setting than CAS. The year at CAS brought the LDG project off the ground. Offering opportunities for international exposure and co-operation and internal concentration and discussion, CAS laid the foundation for the various LDG publications. More importantly: the process gave core members of the group the opportunity to re-frame the intellectual foundation of their scholarship, gaining new depths and new perspectives. These will form the basis from which we are going to conduct our academic work for the rest of our careers. We believe this is likely to open up new vistas of research on the Levant within the various disciplines that are involved in our project, including anthropology, archaeology, art history, biblical studies, history, and religious studies.

All LDG members have agreed to continue to collaborate until our respective contributions to our joint volume are completed. There is a similar process of co-operation involving many (not all) LDG members around another volume of collected papers from the workshop “Contested Desires.” In addition, core members of the group (Stordalen, LaBianca, Walker, and Meyer) are very likely to keep co-operating in various configurations for the coming years. It is too early to specify what projects will come out of these configurations.


  • Berge, Kåre
    Professor Norwegian Teacher Academy University College 2014/2015
  • Edelman, Diana Vikander
    Professor 2014/2015
  • LaBianca, Øystein Sakala
    Professor Andrews University 2014/2015
  • Meyer, Birgit
    Professor Utrecht University 2014/2015
  • Norderval, Øyvind
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2014/2015
  • Teigen, Håkon Steinar Fiane
    Ph. D. Candidate University of Bergen (UiB) 2014/2015
  • Walker, Bethany Joelle
    Professor University of Bonn 2014/2015
  • van der Steen, Eveline
    Independent Scholar Independent Scholar 2014/2015

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