Dr Emma Loosely (pictured centre).

Dr Emma Loosley

Research News features a member of staff from the University in each edition, allowing you to find out more about members of the research community.

Dr Emma Loosley joined the College of Humanities in May 2013 as Associate Professor in Theology and Religion. 

What do you hope to achieve at Exeter?
I see Exeter as an environment that is more supportive of researchers in Humanities and Social Sciences. As the government cuts funding across education and research budgets, there is a tendency in some institutions to downgrade the humanities and throw all the money at science subjects.

I attended a lecture by the head of my previous institution where he referred to humanities lecturers as ‘dilettantes’ if this view comes from the top it is difficult to feel your work is valued or has significance.

I hope the Architecture and Asceticism: Cultural Interaction between Syria and Georgia in Late Antiquity (ERC) grant I began in November proves to be the starting point for a series of major projects exploring the interrelationships of the different church denominations in the Middle East and the Caucasus.

Could you tell us about your recent ERC grant and your intentions?
My ERC grant is to fund research into links between Syria and Georgia in late antiquity. The Georgians have always believed that after a first wave of evangelisation by St Nino in the fourth century, a second group ‘The Thirteen Syrian Fathers’ came and established monasteries in Georgia.

Both stories, that of St Nino and that of the Syrian Fathers, are recorded several hundred years after the events they describe and so while many religious Georgians take these beliefs as facts, other people think they are legends or stories that encompass a grain of historical fact.

I am looking at early Georgian ecclesiastical architecture and trying to study the early liturgy to see if there are any elements that point to tangible links between the two societies in the fourth to seventh centuries.

What inspired you to gain an interest in Middle Eastern Art and Architecture?
I was interested in the fact that when I studied for my MA on Classical and Byzantine Art the part between classical and byzantine was left more-or-less blank.

I discovered the work of Georges Tchalenko, a Russian emigré who worked in France and devoted his life to the archaeology of the Syrian Limestone Massif and I was hooked - I couldn't believe that so little research had been carried out on the region since he undertook his monumental three volume survey of the area in the 1950s.

From then I was determined to go and study the area, and a former tutor telling me ‘women don't go to Syria’ made me even more determined!

What makes you tick?
After finishing my PhD and I was asked by the Community of Al Khalil at Deir Mar Musa Al Habashi to go and excavate the monastery of Mar Elian Esh Sharqi.

I had problems getting a research permit. I was told it was because I was very young (28) and inexperienced, it was also suggested it was also an issue that I was female. I persevered and got the papers.

A year or so later I returned to my excavation after a day in Damascus to find a large book in English and Japanese waiting for me. It was a gift from the director of the Japanese Mission to Palmyra who had visited the site looking for me. He had heard the story of the English girl who had taken on the Department of Antiquities and got permission to run an excavation ‘and she is only 28!’.