Refutatio Romana Wins the CSSR MA Essay Prize

Judean CoinEach year the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion (CSSR) awards three essay prizes: one at the undergraduate level, one at the M.A. level, and one at the Ph.D. level. The contest is open to anyone who is brave enough to submit their work, and persons from all of the various sub-disciplines of religion compete with each other for the top honour.

I am happy to announce that my essay submission was the prize-winning essay at the Master’s level for 2016! It won by unanimous decision. By now, many of you will be familiar with this paper, “Refutatio Romana:  The Political Dimensions of Religious Alterity in Tacitus’ Histories 5,” as I recently presented a version of it at the CLARE conference in Calgary (which, by the way, was a wonderful experience!). As I mentioned previously, this paper investigates Tacitus’ sudden shift on foreign religion from one of acceptance (e.g. in the case of the Germans or the Brits) to one of rejection in the case of the Judeans. Since I study Dionysiac cult, I analysed this disjunction through Tacitus’ discussion of the Roman wine god Liber and the Judean ritual of Sukkot.

Here is what the committee had to say about my essay:

The writer exhibits strong research and writing skills and a mastery of numerous contexts, literature and cultures in an examination of Roman and Judean understandings of religious and cultural identities, treatment of “the other,” and worship of the divine. Using primary and secondary sources on Plutarch’s and Tacitus’ writings, a strong methodological approach emerges that displays a breadth and depth of anthropological, postcolonial and literary analyses. Bringing ancient texts forward to contemporary relevancy in an engaging and well-constructed argument is accomplished with a good degree of self-awareness in terms of methodology, theory and self-location. This paper emphasises the ongoing need for strong textual analysis within the realm of Religious Studies.

This essay was written as part of a course at the University of Toronto on the Roman historian Tacitus, and I am grateful to my professor for providing the opportunity to prepare what has unwittingly become a quite well-traveled paper. I am also grateful to everyone who has, at one point or another, provided feedback on ways my argument could be improved and for additional angles to consider. Of course, I offer my sincerest thanks to the CSSR and the committee for this award.