For my project, I would like to work within the people and religion themes. From what I have learned of the Sogdians thus far, it seems like you cannot separate the two from each other. Religion (or at least the structure of) leaks into their architecture, burial rites, and possibly everyday life.
Within these larger themes, I have three topics that I am especially excited about. However, they do not have much to do with the state religion, Zoroastrianism. First, Judith Lerner’s mention of traces of Judaism within Sogdiana piqued my interest. If Judaism was, in fact, practiced, would these people be considered Sogdian Jews or Jewish Sogdians? Which identity takes precedence? Further, the fact that Judaism is not a missionary religion makes me think that possibly these Jews intermarried with Sogdians—a claim I do not think I can necessarily “prove,” but am willing to explore.
Secondly, I want to explore Nestorian Christianity in Sogdiana between the rise of Constantinople and the Islamic conquest. One of the objects on our Omeka list is a Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines, which makes me wonder what the Christian church would look like and how would it function within the community. Did they actively “spread the Word” as Paul urged? I also have toyed around with the idea of consulting the Pauline epistles and other Christian texts from the early Church to see if there are mentions of Sogdians or a Sogdian-like people. This is already proving difficult, but I like the project. For this project, I will consult the Pauline epistles of the New Testament as well as non-canonical Christian texts from the first and second century CE. I also would like to get a copy of Aleksandr Naymar’s dissertation: “Sogdiana, Its Christians and Byzantium: A Study of Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages.”
Finally, I want to look at the use of grapes in Sogdian iconography. Grapes, because they show up in Sogdian art, are an important motif and a symbol of the “Sogdian way of life” (Grenet, Religious Diversity, 464). But how exactly do they represent this? We know from “The Sogdian Merchants in China and India” by Nicholas Sims-Williams that grapes reached China via the Sogdians (61). It was obviously an important export, but what was the grape’s role at home? I want to explore the religious, cultural, and cross-cultural significance of the grape vine in the context of the Sogdians. I have yet to pick out a time period, but I think that would depend a bit on my object selections. This essay would rely heavily on the object studies portion of the project.
From our bibliography, I think I will find the following sources helpful: “The Space Between” by Bonnie Cheng, Dynamics in the History of Religions, Vol. 5, Along the Ancient Silk Routes by Herbert Härtel and Marianne Yaldiz, and Temporis : Central Asian Art by Vladimir Lukonin and Anatoly Ivanov. I have found the Online Museum Resources on Asian art helpful thus far. Outside the bibliography (besides what I have previously listed in the proposal), the Encyclopeadia Iranica and A State of Mixture by Richard E. Payne have become useful just through quick skimming and research. I have found a lot so far on Nestorianism and grape iconography, but am finding more difficulty with the Judaism project.