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Harvey, Susan Ashbrook 1953- (Susan Jean Ashbrook Harvey)

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook 1953- (Susan Jean Ashbrook Harvey)


Born 1953, in Rochester, NY; father a seminary professor; married; children: Julia Claire. Education: Grinnell College, B.A., 1975; University of Birmingham, M.Litt., 1977, Ph.D., 1982. Religion: Eastern Orthodox.


Home—Lincoln, RI. Office—Brown University, P.O. Box 1927, 59 George St., Providence, RI 02912. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, assistant in New Testament Greek, 1981-82, instructor in Syriac, 1978-82, lecturer in theology, 1980-82; University of North Carolina, Greensboro, lecturer, 1982-83; University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, assistant professor, 1983-87; Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, 1987-1991, associate professor, 1991-2002, professor of religious studies, 2002—. Guest scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1987.


North American Patristic Society (president, 1998-2002), American Theological Society, American Academy of Religion, U.S. National Committee on Byzantine Studies, Byzantine Studies Conference, Orthodox Theological Society of America (president, 2003-05).


Marshall Scholar, University of Birmingham, 1975-78; research fellowship, American Association of University Women, 1979-1980; ACLS grant, 1983, travel grant, 1988, and fellowship, 2008; faculty research grants, Rochester University, 1984, 1985, and 1986; summer stipend, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), 1985; travel and collections grant, NEH, 1986; fellow in Byzantine studies, Dumbarton Oaks, 1987-88; faculty development grants, Brown University, 1988-89, 1990, and 1999; UTRA award, Brown University, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2006; NEH fellowship, 1993-94; George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard foundation fellowship, 1994-95; graduate school small grants program award, Brown University, 1999; Barrett Hazeltine Citation for Teaching Excellence, 2005; Cogut Center for the Humanities fellowship, Brown University, 2007; honorary doctorate, Grinnell College, 2007; Guggenheim fellowship, 2008.


(Translator and author of introduction, with Sebastian P. Brock) Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1987, updated edition with new preface, 1998.

Asceticism and Society in Crisis: John of Ephesus and the Lives of the Eastern Saints, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1990.

Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2006.

(Editor, with David G. Hunter) Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2008.

Contributor to books, including Horizons in Semitic Studies: Articles for the Student, edited by J.H. Eaton, Birmingham University, 1980; Images of Women in Antiquity, edited by A. Cameron and A. Kurht, Routledge, 1983, revised edition, 1993; Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by E. Ferguson, M. McHugh, F. Norris, and D. Scholer, Garland, 1990, 2nd edition, 1997; Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity, edited by V. Wimbush, Fortress, 1990; Historical Perspectives on Women and Christianity, edited by L. Coon, K. Haldane, and E. Sommer, University of Virginia Press, 1990; "Through the Eye of the Needle": Judeo-Christian Roots of Social Welfare, edited by Emily Albu Hanawalt and Carter Lindberg, Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994; Searching for Scriptures: A Feminist-Ecumenical Commentary, edited by E. Schüssler Fiorenza, Crossroad, 1994; The First One Hundred Years: A Centennial Anthology Celebrating Antiochian Orthodoxy in North America, edited by G.S. Corey, P.E. Gillquist, A.G. Mackoul, J. Sam, and P. Schneirla, Antakya Press, 1995; Woman in Prism and Focus: Her Profile in Major World Religions and in Christian Traditions, edited by Prasanna Vazheeparampil, Mar Thoma Yogam, 1996; The Early Church in Its Context: Essays in Honor of Everett Ferguson, edited by Abraham Malherbe, Frederick W. Norris, and James W. Thompson, Brill, 1998; Guide to the Late Antique World, edited by G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, Harvard University Press, 1999; After Bardaisan: Studies on Continuity and Change in Syriac Christianity in Honor of Han J.W. Drijvers, edited by G.J. Reinink and A.C. Klugkist, Peeters Press, 1999; Antioch: The Lost Ancient City, edited by C. Kondoleon, Princeton University Press, 2000; Christian Thought: A Brief History, edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper, Oxford University Press, 2002; Dominico Eloquio/In Lordly Eloquence: Essays on Patristic Exegesis in Honor of Robert Wilken, edited by P. Blowers, A. Christman, D. Hunter, and R. Darling Young, Eerdmans, 2001; Good and Faithful Servant: Stewardship in the Orthodox Tradition, edited by A. Scott, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003; Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, edited by Lewis Ayres, Andrew Louth, and Frances M. Young, Cambridge University Press, 2004; Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, edited by Katharina Wilson and Nadia Margolis, Greenwood Press, 2004; The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography, edited by Patricia Cox Miller and Dale Martin, Duke University Press, 2004; Wilderness: Essays in Honour of Frances M. Young, edited by R.S. Sugirtharajah, T & T Clark, 2005; The Religious Self in Antiquity, edited by David Brakke and Michael Satlow, Indiana University Press, 2005; Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1: Early Christianity: Origins to Constantine, edited by Margaret Mitchell and Frances M. Young, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Studies in Syrian Ascenticismin Honor of Sidney H. Griffith, edited by Robin A. Darling Young and Monica Blanchard, Catholic University of America Press, 2007; Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies, edited by S.A. Harvey and D.G. Hunter, Oxford University Press, 2008; Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, edited by Sebastian Brock, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, Gorgias Press; and Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, edited by Daniel Patte, Cambridge University Press.

Contributor to professional journals, including Canadian Society for Syriac Studies, Studia Patristica, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Vigiliae Christianae, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Quarterly, St. Nersess Theological Review, Sobornost/Eastern Churches Review, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Religious Studies Review, Journal of Roman Studies, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Le Muséon, Kanon, Journal of Theological Studies, Byzantion, and the New Statesman. Volume editor, "Writings of the Greco-Roman World Series," Scholars Press. Member of editorial and advisory boards for journals, including honorary board member, St. Nina Quarterly.


An authority on the early Christian Church and a scholar of the Syriac language, Susan Ashbrook Harvey is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She was born, however, into a family of Baptists whose members included ministers and a seminary professor, her father. Harvey recalled her childhood fondly to St. Nina Quarterly interviewer Tiva Regule: "I grew up surrounded by people talking about how to live in ways that reflected your faith." When she was in college, however, she struggled somewhat with institutional religion, though she said she "never lost my faith or doubted my identity as a Christian." A pivotal time for her came when she traveled to Greece during her junior year and became acquainted with the Eastern Orthodox Church. The religion touched her deeply, and about twelve years afterwards she converted. In undergraduate school, she had been interested in ancient Rome and Greece, but for her master's and doctorate degrees she focused on Byzantium and the early centuries of the Church. She also became fluent in the ancient Syrian tongue as she learned of that region's role in the early Church.

Now a respected professor of religious studies, Harvey has contributed to numerous scholarly books and journals and is the author of her own books as well. After serving as cotranslator of Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, she published Asceticism and Society in Crisis: John of Ephesus and the Lives of the Eastern Saints. This work studies the Lives of eastern saints by John of Ephesus, who lived during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the sixth century C.E. "Her purpose is to use the Lives to show how the heritage of ascetic spirituality in the Syrian world was pragmatically transformed by the exigencies of the sixth century: war, persecution, famine, plague, even collective hysteria," according to Peregrine Horden in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Harvey's intense analysis of John's writings, placing them within their political and social historic context, is an accomplishment that Horden deemed valuable, since no such study has been published since E.W. Brooks originally edited the texts in the 1920s. While Horden quibbled some with Harvey's choices in emphasizing, for example, the influence of contemporary issues on John's writings over traditional culture and deemphasizing the fact that, as John of Ephesus wrote his Lives, he was isolated in a monastery where daily society did not reach him. Nevertheless, concluded Horden, "Harvey has placed all those involved with the religious history of the late antique Middle East considerably in her debt."

Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination is a unique analysis of the role that smells played in the early Christian Church. From incense and spices used in ceremonies to the more common odors of ordinary living, smells were a lot more important to early Christians than they are today, many of them having very spiritual significance. "Christian writers argued that, although God is separated from his Creation by a giant gulf, nevertheless the universe—and people's sensory apprehensions thereof—could reveal something about the Creator," explained Lauren F. Winner in a Books & Culture review of Scenting Salvation. As Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire under Constantine, there grew a stronger sense of warning among aesthetics of the dangers of smell. Olfactory piety, or avoidance of enjoyment of smells or sensory excess, was part of a warning for "Christians against getting too comfortable in this world of political power and social prestige," Winner explained. Harvey, in general, uses her theme "creatively and insightfully" to illuminate a number of debates, according to Winner: "Just how world-renouncing was asceticism? How did early church figures, from Augustine to Chrysostom, think about the body? What is the relationship between the development of Christian piety and Christianity's imperial location?" Journal of Ecclesiastical History contributor Andrew Louth called the results of Harvey's work "truly wonderful. It opens up a whole new dimension of early Christian cultural history." Christine Shepardson further noted in Church History: "Beyond breathing new life into academic discussions of early Christianity, particularly its asceticism and liturgy, this book also places Syriac Christianity at center stage. In this respect, the book introduces readers to early Christian material that may be less familiar to them and demonstrates the significant role that Syria played in early Christian history."



Books & Culture, May 1, 2007, Lauren F. Winner, "Aromatheology," review of Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, p. 11.

Catholic Historical Review, April, 1991, Sebastian Brock, review of Asceticism and Society in Crisis: John of Ephesus and the Lives of the Eastern Saints, p. 289.

Church History, September, 1992, Charles Frazee, review of Asceticism and Society in Crisis, p. 395; June, 2007, Christine Shepardson, review of Scenting Salvation, p. 403.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July, 1994, Peregrine Horden, review of Asceticism and Society in Crisis, p. 490; October, 2007, Andrew Louth, review of Scenting Salvation, p. 726.

Journal of Near Eastern Studies, July, 2001, Terry G. Wilfong, review of Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, p. 204.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion, September, 2007, Derek Krueger, review of Scenting Salvation, p. 720.

Journal of Theological Studies, April, 1989, L.R. Wickham, review of Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, p. 353; October, 1991, Graham Gould, review of Asceticism and Society in Crisis, p. 746.

Times Literary Supplement, July 6, 1990, Henry Chadwick, review of Asceticism and Society in Crisis, p. 737.


Beth Mardutha, Syriac Institute Web site, (February 1, 2008), Robert Doran, review of Scenting Salvation.

Brown University Research Web site, (February 1, 2008), biography of Susan Ashbrook Harvey, and curriculum vitae.

St. Nina Quarterly Online, (August 26, 2005), Teva Regule, interview with Susan Ashbrook Harvey; (February 1, 2008), brief biography of Susan Ashbrook Harvey.

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