Welcoming the new Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies, Evan Freeman

February 05, 2024

The SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies welcomes the new Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies, Evan Freeman.  

Founded in 1996 and made possible through contributions made by the Hellenic Community of Vancouver as well as matching funds from the Province of BC, the Chair's mandate is to promote research and teaching in Grek language, literature, history and culture in ancient, medieval and modern times.  

Professor Freeman specializes in art and ritual of the Byzantine empire and cross-cultural interactions in the wider medieval world. After completing his PhD in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University, Professor Freeman held an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Smarthistory, the Center for Public Art History, and an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

Before joining the Department of Global Humanities at Simon Fraser University, he taught at Queens College, City University of New York, and Portland State University.

Read more from our interview with Evan below.

Please tells us about your academic journey and how you became interested in studying the art and ritual of the Byzantine Empire and cross-cultural interactions in the wider medieval world.

I became fascinated with the icons of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire when I was studying art and religion as an undergraduate student. I wrote my first master’s thesis on modern receptions of Byzantine icons in the twentieth century, and a second master’s thesis on Middle Byzantine processional crosses, which propelled me into my doctoral studies.

I completed my PhD in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University in 2019, where I wrote my dissertation on portable objects used in the Divine Liturgy during the Middle Byzantine period (c. 843–1204 CE), including the censer, Gospel book, and diskos and chalice. Today, we often encounter these objects in museums or books, where they tend to appear fairly static. But these objects were dynamic and powerful in their original ritual settings: moving through streets and churches in processions, and helping to transform ritual materials, such as the Eucharistic bread and wine. These objects also illustrate connections between the ancient Greco-Roman world and other medieval cultures. For example, some Byzantine chalices were created by repurposing antique stone vessels. Another chalice incorporated a glass bowl from Islamic lands, probably Iran or Egypt. So, I think they show that the medieval world was more diverse and connected than we often imagine.

After my time at Yale, I held a post-doctoral fellowship at Smarthistory, the Center for Public Art History, where I produced open educational resources, including videos, essays, and an edited volume on Byzantine art and architecture. More recently, I held an Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Regensburg, Germany, where I expanded my research on art and ritual to study mosaics and other monumental art that adorned Byzantine churches.

What motivated you to take on the role of the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies, and how do you see this position aligning with your interests for Byzantine studies and cross-cultural interactions?

I’m thrilled to be taking on the role of the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in beautiful British Columbia. SFU has a well-established reputation for excellence in research, teaching, and public engagement. I feel especially lucky to be joining such a remarkable group of scholars, staff, and students at the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies and the Global Humanities Department. It’s exciting to be working in a genuinely interdisciplinary setting, and to have colleagues who study the ancient Greco-Roman world, Byzantium, as well as the modern Greek state. For me, this is the ideal place to pursue research, teaching, and public engagement. My work has already been enriched by new relationships and conversations, and I’m excited about new collaborations with colleagues at the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies.

As the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies, what are your goals for research and teaching within humanities?

I am about to publish a volume, titled, Byzantine Materiality (De Gruyter, 2024), which I co-edited with my colleague Roland Betancourt at the University of California, Irvine. This volume brings together contributions from several leading scholars and explores the power and significance of matter, materials, and media in the Byzantine world, including precious metals, ivories, floor mosaics, relics, and more. I’m also preparing a book manuscript on portable Byzantine ritual objects, as well as several other articles and book chapters, which examine ornamental motifs in Justinian’s Hagia Sophia, the interplay of monumental art and artificial lighting in rock-cut churches in Byzantine Cappadocia, and more. Additionally, I continue the research I began during my Humboldt fellowship, which explores how the Byzantines visualized the past in monumental mosaics and wall paintings in Greece and the wider Byzantine world.

I’m developing art history courses that I hope will complement the rich curriculum already offered to SFU students in the Global Humanities Department. I’m teaching a course on the art of the global Middle Ages, from c. 6th to 15th centuries, which presents visual material in a variety of media from cultures across Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas, including Byzantium, the Umayyad Caliphate, Kyivan Rus', Norman Sicily, the Mongol Empire, the Mexica Empire, and more, as well as a course with a more modern focus on art from the 15th century to the present. I’m also developing an upper-level course on Byzantine icons and iconoclasm. These courses enable students to explore different cultures through a visual lens, while also teaching them to engage critically with the visual material that surrounds all of us today. Additionally, it’s been a pleasure to coteach “The Greek World” and “Introduction to Global Humanities” with colleagues from the Global Humanities Department, which has helped me learn more about the pedagogical culture of the department.

In addition to research and teaching, I’m also eager to continue my service to the broader field of Byzantine Studies as well as my public outreach efforts. I was recently elected to the governing board of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America, which organizes the annual Byzantine Studies Conference where scholars and graduate students from around the world present research. Additionally, I continue to serve as Contributing Editor for Byzantine Art at Smarthistory, where I plan to keep expanding high-quality educational content on Byzantine art history that is accessible and freely available to students, teachers, and the broader public. And I’m excited to develop new collaborative projects with colleagues at SFU and beyond, to further collaborative research and public outreach in Byzantine and Hellenic Studies.

To learn more about the courses Evan Freeman will be teaching, please visit the course offerings page of the Department of Global Humanities.

Learn more here!