Joan R. Branham

Joan Branham

Professor of Art History
Department of Art History
Associate Dean, School of Arts and Sciences
Late-Antique and Medieval Cultures


Ph.D. –  Emory University
Room: Ruane 147; Hunt-Cavanagh 207

Areas of Expertise:

Theories of Sacred Space; Late-Antique and Medieval Jewish and Christian Art and Architecture; Iconoclasm; Ritual and Gender Studies; Sacrifice; the Jerusalem Temple.

Biographical and Research Background:

Joan Branham is Professor of Art History and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at Providence College where she teaches undergraduate, graduate and honors courses in late-antique and medieval art and architectural history.  She has been an invited visiting professor at Harvard University and Brown University, and Chairs the Board of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

Joan Branham obtained her PhD from Emory University in 1993 receiving Emory’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Research.  She conducted her doctoral work at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with an Interuniversity Fellowship for Jewish Studies, and wrote her dissertation with fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Kress Foundation.  Professor Branham has received a number of postdoctoral fellowships including the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School (2001-02 and 2007-08), National Endowment for the Humanities (2002), Chateaubriand Foundation at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, the Sorbonne, Paris (1994-95), and Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities (1993-94).

Professor Branham’s research interests include theories of sacred space, the relationship of gender, blood, and sacrifice in ancient Judaism and Christianity, the iconography of late-antique synagogues and churches, and textual and visual strategies—ancient and modern—to emulate the ancient Jerusalem Temple.  She has also participated as a scholarly consultant in documentary film projects including The Trial of Jesus (History Channel, 2004), Epic History of Blood (PBS, 2002), The Engineering Secrets of Hagia Sophia (Discovery Channel, 1999), The Bible’s Buried Secrets (NOVA / PBS, 2008), Building the Great Cathedrals (NOVA / PBS, 2010), and Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery (NOVA/PBS 2015).

Academic Positions and Awards:

Joan Branham

2014-2022, 2023-present:
Associate Dean,  School of Arts and Sciences, Providence College, responsible for Faculty Development and Curriculum; lead team member on initiatives such as Phi Beta Kappa, Decolonizing the Arts & Sciences, Interdisciplinary and scholars awards, and the Liberal Arts Task Force.

2022- 2023:
Interim Dean,  School of Arts and Sciences, Providence College, responsible for over 30 departments/programs, 60 major and minor programs, and 260 full-time faculty with the mission of advancing the liberal arts in the School of Art and Sciences.

2022- present:
President, Phi Beta Kappa Chapter – Gamma of Rhode Island. Lead on Phi Beat Kappa successful application for Providence College. Oversee Phi Beta Kappa selections, inductions, and chapter activities. Branham’s lecture at the installation of the chapter can be seen here.

Professor of Art History, Department of Art and Art History, Providence College, responsible for the medieval art history curriculum. 1999-2009: Associate Professor; 1995-1999: Assistant Professor, Providence College.

Chair of the Board
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Chair of Department
Department of Art and Art History, Providence College.

Chair of Fellowships, W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem. Responsible for chairing NEH and AIAR Fellowships committees in biblical studies, archaeology, religion, history, and art history.

Vice President, W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Acting Director, Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Harvard Divinity School. Scholarly project and graduate seminar: “Ritual, Gender, and Space in the Jerusalem Temple, Ancient Synagogues, and Early Churches.”

Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Providence College. Direct campus-wide program focusing on linking research and teaching for faculty.

, National Endowment for the Humanities

Visiting Scholar, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge

Visiting Associate Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture at Brown University.

Research Associate and Visiting Lecturer
, Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Harvard Divinity School.  Scholarly project and graduate seminar: “Sacred Space as Gendered Space: Women, Blood, and Sacrifice in Late Antiquity.”

Chateaubriand Postdoctoral Scholar
, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, Paris.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities

Ph.D., Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and Art History Department, Emory University. Dissertation: “Sacred Space in Ancient Jewish and Early Medieval Christian Architecture.” Dissertation advisers: Thomas Lyman, Emory University and Richard Brilliant, Columbia University.

Interuniversity Fellow for Jewish Studies, Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Diplôme d’études françaises, Centre d’études et de Recherches Interdisciplinaires en Théologie, Université de Strasbourg, France; Mention: Très Bien.

M.A. Religious Studies, B.A. Humanities, Florida State University; summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.

Courses Taught:

Black and White image of Joan Branham

Sacred Space in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (PC and Brown University)
Survey of Art History (team taught)
Blood:  An Interdisciplinary Faculty Seminar (team taught)
Ritual, Gender, and Space in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Harvard University)
Medieval Art and Architecture
Byzantine Art and Architecture
The Art of Sacrifice: Judaism and Christianity
Gothic Cathedrals Decoded
Space as Gendered Space (Harvard University)
Introduction to Jewish Art and Architecture
The Apocalypse in Art
Museum Studies
Directed Studies in Synagogues of Late Antiquity
Classical Art:  Greek and Roman
Love and Death in Roman Art
Principles of Research: Art History Senior Thesis

Teaching Philosophy:

The lust for learning is a contagious one. The Talmud says, “What comes from the heart, enters the heart.” Indeed, when I teach from the heart, and not solely from the head, I am communicating to students more than basic information; I am conveying a fundamental love of learning, itself.  Once the desire for knowledge has been ignited in the hearts of students as well, something transformative happens and they become masters of their own passion for learning.

Selected Publications

(for offprints, please go to


Marking the Sacred:  The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, co-editor with Beatrice St. Laurent and Michael Anthony Fowler, The Pennsylvania State University Press, forthcoming pending review.

Reimagining the Jerusalem Temple in Art and Religious History, forthcoming.

Articles in Journals and Edited Books:

Joan Branham at the Pantheon

The Jerusalem Temple” and “Chancel Screens,” The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology,  ed. Paul Corby Finney, 294, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2017), 732-740.

Mapping Sacrifice on Bodies and Spaces in Late-Antique Judaism and Early Christianity,” Architecture of the Sacred:  Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium, eds. Bonna Wescoat and Robert Ousterhout (NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 201-230.

The American Presence in Jerusalem: Through the Gates of the Albright Institute,” Unearthing Jerusalem:  150 Years of Archaeological Research in the Holy City, eds. Katharina Galor and Gideon Avni (Winona Lake, Indiana:  Eisenbrauns, 2011), 73-94.

The Temple that Won’t Quit: Constructing Sacred Space in Orlando’s Holy Land Theme Park,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Autumn 2008, vol. 36, no. 3, 18-31; reprinted in CrossCurrents, Fall 2009, 358-82.

Penetrating the Sacred: Breaches and Barriers in the Jerusalem Temple,” Thresholds of the Sacred: Architectural, Art Historical, Liturgical, and Theological Perspectives on Religious Screens, East and West, ed. Sharon Gerstel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 6-24.

Women as Objects of Sacrifice? An Early Christian ‘Chancel of the Virgins’,” La cuisine et l’autel: Les sacrifices en questions dans les sociétés de la Méditerranée ancienne, ed. S. Georgoudi, R. Koch Piettre, F. Schmidt (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006), 371-386.

Hedging the Holy: Walls as Symbolic Devices at Qumran,” Qumran The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, eds. Katharina Galor, Jean-Baptiste Humbert, and Jürgen Zangenberg (Boston: Brill, 2006), 117-131.

Bloody Women and Bloody Spaces: Menses and the Eucharist in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Spring 2002, vol. 30, no. 4, 15-22.

Mapping Tragedy in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” The Tragic in Architecture (Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2000), 54-59.

“Blutende Frauen und blutige Räume: Menstruation und Eucharistie in Spätantike und Mittelalter,” Vorträge aus dem Warburg-Haus, Band 3, 1999, 129-161.

Blood in Flux, Sanctity at Issue,” RES Anthropology and Aesthetics, XXXI, Spring 1997, 53-70.

Vicarious Sacrality: Temple Space in Ancient Synagogues,” Ancient Synagogues: Historical Analysis and Archaeological Discovery, II, eds. Dan Urman and Paul V. M. Flesher (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995), 319-345.

Sacred Space Under Erasure in Ancient Synagogues and Early Churches,” The Art Bulletin, LXXIV, 3, 1992, 375-394. Received the 1993 Award for Excellence in Graduate Research in the Humanities, Emory University.

Articles in Museum Journals and Catalogues:

“Through the Lens of Children,” Montessori Children’s House, Curator of exhibition of Children’s Art (Providence: Montessori Children’s House, 2001), 4-6.

Ritual Elements in the Art of Barnaby Evans,” Exhibition Notes, no. 7, (Providence: The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, 1999).

“Ot-Ha-Kalon — Badge of Shame: Traces of Medieval Markings,” Exhibition by Marcia Cohen, (Atlanta: Marcia Wood Gallery, 1995).

Sacrality and Aura in the Museum: Mute Objects and Articulate Space,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery , LII/LIII, 1994/1995, 33-47.

Additional Essays and Interviews on the World Wide Web and Radio:

Joan Branham at WGBH

“L’espace sacré dans le temple de Jérusalem: une promenade archéologique,”presentation to the Commission des relations avec les églises chrétiennes—CERC—at the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France, October 25, 2017.

WGBH/NPR Interview, “Attack on Culture: Why ISIS is Destroying Artifacts Across the Middle East,” July 22, 2015.

Art Under Attack: Iconoclasm from the Bible and Byzantium to ISIS,” Providence College Media Press Room and YouTube, July 2015.

The Crucifixion and Ice Cream: Inside Orlando’s most Unusual Theme Park, the Holy Land Experience,”, May 2008.

The Holy Land comes to Florida as a Theme Park,” The Harvard University Gazette, vol. 103, no. 20, March 20-April 2, 2008, 16-16.

“Blood in Ancient Judaism and Christianity,” Red Gold: The Epic Sotry of Blood, PBS, with Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, 2002.

Book Reviews:

Michael Peppard, The World’s Oldest Church:  Bible, Art, and Ritual at Dura-Europos, Syria, Yale University Press, 2016, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2018. pp.340-342.

Lee I. Levine, Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art, Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 41, no. 2, March/April 2015, 68-69.

Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Macdonald, w/Janet Tulloch, A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 112, no. 2, April 2008.

Michel Kaplan, ed., Le Sacré et son inscription dans l’espace à Byzance et en Occident, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 78, 4, October 2003, 1326-28.

Desmond Seward, Caravaggio: A Passionate Life, Providence: Studies in Western Civilization, 7, 2 Spring 1999, 210-211.

Steven Fine, ed., Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World, American Journal of Archaeology, 102, April 1998, 445-446.

Yoram Tsafrir, ed., Ancient Churches Revealed, American Journal of Archaeology, 100, January 1996, 194-195.

Documentary T.V. and Film Projects:

Joan Branham in Hagia

Hagia Sophia – Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery – NOVA/PBS, On-camera Scholarly Consultant (2015). Documentary film on the crown of Byzantine architecture, its magnitude and survival through 1500 years of earthquakes.

Building the Great Cathedrals – NOVA/PBS, On-camera Scholarly Consultant (2010).  A scholarly documentary on the engineering, history, and symbolism of medieval Gothic cathedrals.

The Bible’s Buried Secrets – NOVA/PBS, On-camera Scholarly Consultant (2008). A scholarly documentary on the origins of the Israelites and the archaeology of the Bible.

The Trial of Jesus – The History Channel, On-camera Scholarly Commentator and Writer (2004). A scholarly documentary on the trial and death of Jesus. View Providence College press release.

Sacred Space at Ground Zero – Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, September 6, 2002.  Program on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly examining the debate over whether or not the site of the World Trade Center can be categorized as “sacred space.”

Red Gold: The Epic Story of Blood – PBS, On-camera Scholarly Commentator (2002). Four-part series tracing the history of blood and its impact on religion, medicine, commerce, and popular culture.

Women Pharaohs – The Discovery Channel, Scholarly Consultant (2001). History of female cult–the Gods Wives of Amun–and women’s influence and power in ancient Egypt.

American Byzantine – PBS, On-camera Scholarly Commentator (2000). Byzantine elements in Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.

Hagia Sophia – The Discovery Channel, On-camera Scholarly Commentator (1999). Byzantine architecture and Justinian in documentary on Hagia Sophia.

Doomsday at the Dead Sea – The Discovery Channel, Writer and Scholarly Consultant (1997). Research and writing of script on apocalyptic attitudes and context of ancient Jewish sect at Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Ancient Skywatchers – The Discovery Channel, Writer and Scholarly Consultant (1996). Writing and editing of script on sacrificial and astronomical practices of Mayan and Anasazi cultures.

Joan Branham in Hagia