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Doctoral Student Sonia Dixon Receives Scarborough Fellowship at American School of Classical Studies in Athens

Published August 9, 2021

Sonia DixonArt History doctoral student Sonia Dixon has accepted the William Sanders Scarborough Fellowship at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) for the fall of 2021.  Sonia is among the first cohort to receive the Scarborough Fellowship, which will support research for her dissertation on the origin and meaning of the chi-rho symbol in the Late Antique and early Byzantine period.

The American School of Classical Studies introduced the fellowship in June, 2020, to foster diversity at the School and to honor the memory of the groundbreaking African American classical scholar William Sanders Scarborough (1852–1926): “Scarborough’s scholarship included philological works on Greek and Roman authors, as well as studies of African languages and African American folklore. His First Lessons in Greek (1881) was the first foreign language textbook by an African American author.” The fellowship is intended to encourage diversity in the fields of Classical and Hellenic Studies and the Humanities more broadly by supporting scholars from underrepresented groups in their research.

In their offer, the fellowship committee extolls Sonia’s research: “Your careful study of rhi-rho imagery across multiple media and regions of the Late Antique world holds great promise for advancing our understanding of this iconography that is so central to the history of early Christianity and the later Roman Empire. The combination of your art historical research with your service in the Army offers a vital opportunity to improve the safeguarding of the world’s cultural heritage.”

Dr. Lynn Jones, under whose direction Sonia is preparing her dissertation, further explains the significance of Sonia’s approach to the topic of the chi-rho:

“In her study, Sonia has pinpointed the bias in scholarship which has both assumed and privileged Christianity and Constantine I in the evolution and meaning of the chi-rho. She has also identified what is absent from all studies that focus on it: they center on Rome and Constantinople. While Christianity, Constantine, Rome, and Constantinople all have their place in this evolution, no study moves outside this limited context. Sonia will change that, beginning with Greece.  She will examine where, and when, it occurs, expanding our understanding of the evolution of the chi-rho. Her work seeks to contextualize its use, and thus offer new insight into the cultures which adopted and displayed it.”