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Photo of Professor Emma Loosley

Professor Emma Loosley

Associate Professor


01392 725689


Emma studied for a BA in History and History of Art at the University of York (1991-1994), where she specialised in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. She then worked back in time and took an MA (1994-1995) in Classical and Byzantine Art at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. It was during her MA that she discovered Late Antique Syria, which became the subject of her PhD thesis at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

After graduating from SOAS in February 2001 she spent three years living and working as an archaeologist, fund-raiser, secretary and potato-peeler for the Community of Al-Khalil at Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi in Syria. The Community is dedicated to hospitality and Christian-Islamic dialogue and she spent the summers directing an archaeological excavation for the Community at their other monastery, Deir Mar Elian in Qaryatayn, and the rest of the year dealing with all English correspondence, greeting guests and helping with general chores (hence potato-peeling). During this period she was a visiting lecturer at SOAS and at the Université Saint Esprit de Kaslik in Lebanon. She also worked for the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Information as an archaeologist studying the artefacts found at a sixth-century monastery on the island of Sir Bani Yas.

In January 2004 she took up a position teaching Oriental Christian and Islamic Art at the University of Manchester and in 2010 she was appointed Senior Lecturer. During this time she was also a visiting lecturer at the Art University of Isfahan, Iran, the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia, the University of Tehran, the Teacher Training University of Tehran and the Amirkabir Polytechnic College, Tehran, Iran

She joined the University of Exeter as an Associate Professor in April 2013 and from November 2012 has been working on a five-year European Research Council funded project entitled Architecture and Asceticism: Cultural Interaction between Syria and Georgia in Late Antiquity exploring the purported Syrian evangelisation of Georgia in the fifth century and seeking to answer why the Georgians left the Oriental Orthodox fold to join with the Constantinopolitan Church in the early seventh century.

Research supervision


I am interested in supervising subjects in the following fields:

  • Oriental Christian and early Islamic Art, Architecture and Archaeology
  •  Late Antique and Medieval Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Ecclesiastical History
  •  Oriental Liturgies
  • Issues relating to Middle Eastern Christianity of any period
  • European Travellers in the Middle East 
  • Themes of syncretism and inter-religious and inter-cultural exchange in the Middle East and surrounding area


My completed PhD Students include:

Saeid Khaghani, Iran,  “The Effect of Iranian Identity on Mosque Architecture”

Ahmet Sezgin, Turkey, “Perceptions of  Mimar Sinan from the Constitutional Revolution until the present day” 

Catherine Taylor, USA, “Late Antique Images of the Virgin Annunciate Spinning”

Ermioni Karachliou, Greece, “The Byzantine Churches of the Paliochora Peninsula, Aegina”

Lucy O’Connor, UK, “A reliquary box from the Sancta Sanctorum of St John Lateran” 

Contribution to discipline


Editorial boards:

A member of the editorial board of the Brill “Texts and Studies in Eastern Christianity” series

Academic societies:

Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London

Grants received:

2014 HASS Strategy Project Development Fund, University of Exeter, £7,000 to arrange a workshop to bring scholars from Georgia and Israel to discuss setting up a research network on Early Christian Jerusalem

2012    €954,523 from the European Research Council for a five year project entitled Architecture and Asceticism: Cultural Interaction between Syria and Georgia in Late Antiquity

2010   Grant from the Osmane Aïdi Foundation, Damascus, to cover full board and lodging for the British-Syrian Archaeological mission to Zalabiyeh

2009   British Academy Small Grant of £6,700 for fieldwork in Iran. Changes to the political situation meant that this was eventually spent in 2010 on the excavation of the Byzantine citadel of Zalabiyeh on the river Euphrates in Syria

2008   Leverhulme Research Fellowship of £18,165 replacement teaching costs to cover 5 months leave from the University of Manchester in order to complete a monograph (Messiah and Mahdi, see publications below)

2004    Society of Antiquaries - £2,000 for Dayr Mar Elian Archaeological Project and University of Southampton - £1,200 for Dayr Mar Elian  Archaeological Project.

2004    University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities Research Support Fund - £2,200 for research in Isfahan, Iran.

2003    Council for British Research in the Levant - £3,000 for Dayr Mar Elian project.      

2003    Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust - £750 for Dayr Mar Elian project.

2002    Society of Antiquaries - £1,200 for Dayr Mar Elian project.

2002   Council for British Research in the Levant - £5,947 for Dayr Mar Elian project.

2001    Anglian and Eastern Churches Association - £500 for community work in Syria

2001   Harold Buxton Trust - £1000 for community work with Syrian Christians

2001   Foreign and Commonwealth Office - £4400 for Dayr Mar Elian project

(£2400 personal expenses, £2000 equipment).

2001  Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius - £500 for Dayr Mar Elian project.


Prizes won:

2001 Frend Prize from the Society of Antiquaries for a young scholar in the field of Christian Archaeology

2006 Awarded the Shield of the Jamia’ Abu Noor (Islamic University of Syria) for services to Muslim-Christian understanding


Archaeological Fieldwork experience:

2000 Homs Citadel Excavation, Syria as a volunteer on a School of Oriental and African Studies project

2000-2004 Founder and Director of the Dayr Mar Elian Archaeological Project (DMEAP) in Qaryatayn, Syria. This is a monastic site founded in late antiquity that later became (and remains) a dual site of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims

2001-2002 Archaeological survey for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Service (ADIAS)

2001-2002 Post-excavation and bibliographical research on the site of Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Service (ADIAS) carried out in Abu Dhabi and the UK

2010-  Director of the British-Syrian Mission to Zalabiyeh on the Euphrates, a Byzantine-Umayyad Citadel. Fieldwork began in 2010 but has now been postponed  indefinitely at the request of the DGAM (Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums) due to the situation in Syria



Emma has an active presence in the media. She has made appearances on the Radio 4 programmes In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg discussing the Safavid Dynasty of Iran, Beyond Belief discussing the role religion is playing in the Syrian civil war and Today talking about the threat posed to Middle Eastern Christians by IS. On television she has contributed to the BBC1 National News, BBC2 Victoria Derbyshire Show, BBC World's GMT programme and the BBC News Channel several times to discuss the destruction of the Temples of Baalshamin and Bel in Palmyra. She has also been interviewed for the BBC Farsi television service.

She has has been interviewed widely over a range of radio outlets including BBC regional radio in Manchester, Devon and Berkshire, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Foyle (Northern Ireland), Premier Christian Radio and Lithuanian National Radio.

In online news outlets she has been quoted on the BBC News online site and the International Business Times, as well as being the subject of a piece on the popular 'Erasmus' column in The Economist online.

In print she has been interviewed by The Times and has written articles for The Observer and The Catholic Herald.


Modules taught