Karen Stern conducts research across disciplines of archaeology, history and religion and teaches courses on Mediterranean cultural history and material culture of Jews in the Greek and Roman worlds. She has conducted field research throughout the Mediterranean and has excavated in Petra (Jordan), Sepphoris (Israel), and ancient Pylos and the Athenian Agora (Greece). Having taught at Dartmouth College, USC and Brown University, she served as a research fellow of the NEH, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (Jerusalem), Getty Villa and Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University. She has been invited to speak at universities including Tel Aviv University, Boston University, Oxford University, Columbia University and Bard Graduate Center. Her recent book with Princeton University Press considers ancient graffiti and daily lives of Jewish populations in late antiquity; the Daily Beast, Atlas Obscura, NPR, Guardian, Ha'aretz, and Chinese CCTV have featured her work.
Spring Bible & Archaeology Fest 2023
Synagogue as Sensorium: Jews, the Senses, and Worship in Antiquity
Synagogues remain subjects of ongoing, intensive, and exciting archaeological investigation. This is so, even if the meaning of the term “synagogue” shifted considerably across time and regions in antiquity, variously designating a building, a space for gathering, or a communal institution associated with prayer. This talk, however, will take the discussion of the synagogue in yet another direction, by emphasizing the sensory dimensions of life inside ancient synagogues—experiences that were as much physical and corporeal as they were emotional or spiritual. Drawing from robust scholarship of material and everyday religion, the history of experience, and the history of the senses, this lecture considers the importance of sensory data in investigating Jewish life and worship throughout the Mediterranean. The synagogue, indeed, was a sensorium; reassessments of its archaeological features allow us to reclaim fragments of daily life that took place inside these remarkable spaces.