Fellow 2023/2024Bronwen Neil

Fellowship Term: 02/2024 – 06/2024

Bronwen Neil is Professor of Ancient History in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University (Sydney). Her research focuses on Roman cultural history from the fourth to tenth centuries, with an emphasis on east-west church relations, letters, gender and hagiography. She works on the history of interactions between early Byzantium and the early medieval West. She has held a von Humboldt Fellowship in Bonn and shorter fellowships at Durham University and the University of Ottawa. She is an elected fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and is the elected chair of the Religion section. She has recently published two books on ancient letter-writing in Latin, Greek and Syriac, co-authored with Pauline Allen: Greek and Latin Letters in Late Antiquity: The Christianisation of a Literary Form (Cambridge, 2020) and Conflict and Negotiation in the Early Church (Washington DC, 2020). Her most recent book is Dreams and Divination from Byzantium to Baghdad (400-1000 CE) (Oxford, 2021). 


Prof Neil was seconded to the Australian Research Council as Executive Director for Humanities and Creative Arts in 2020-2021. Recently Prof Neil's research has included creative arts methodologies informed by a 'public history' approach to European and Indigenous knowledge-sharing. In 2020, she and Prof Tom Murray from Macquarie University were awarded a Fonds Pacifique grant to explore the concept of ra'ui (prohibition) on the Cook Islands for the management of food scarcity. Partnering with the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, Prof Neil and director Tom Murray and others are producing a short film shot with 360 degree cameras on the practice of ra'ui for environmental sustainability and the enduring importance of the waka moana (sea canoe) as a cultural symbol in the Cook Islands and the Pacific more broadly. Funding from the Australian Research Council has included a Future Fellowship on "Dreams, Violence and Prophecy from Early Christianity to the Rise of Islam" and a Discovery Project which focused on "Crises of Leadership in the Eastern Roman Empire (250-1000 CE)", with co-investigators from Macquarie University and the University of Ottawa.

 University profile page

In the spotlight: Bronwen Neil 


Back to the Garden? Ancient imaginaries and concepts of the (post-)apocalypse in Europe & the Pacific

This project brings material and oral cultures about the end of the world from two very different traditions together: those of the Pacific Islands and the early Christian Mediterranean.  In both of these regions, people were heavily reliant on the sea for their survival. Its tides, its creatures and its destructive power played a part in their cultural imaginaries. Pacific cosmologies emphasise the creative and destructive powers of their gods as well as the importance of living in harmony with nature. I seek to retrieve a similar narrative from the early Roman Christian tradition, which also accepted the destructive power of the divine revealed through natural events. These two very different cultures developed similar cosmologies to deal with frequent natural disasters and a perilous existence that depended on unpredictable climate patterns. Spiritual interpretations of natural phenomena, such as floods, earthquakes, famines and comets, were common to both traditions. After the introduction of Christianity to the Pacific by European and local missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, indigenous Pacific cultures often included elements of early Christian mythology. Concepts of divine and human sovereignty over nature reflected different ancient cultural beliefs and were preserved in some of the earliest accounts of missionary and colonial enterprises in the Pacific. These concepts continue to exist side-by-side in an uneasy hybrid that informs diverse modern day positions on environmental issues.